Palm Beach is incredibly squishy. From the overstuffed couches at the Breakers Hotel, to the soft, luxurious velour slippers worn by the ubiquitous interior decorators, to the copious colostomy bags and thick, absorbent adult diapers worn by the old-guard WASP’s as they gently crunch their sumptuously upholstered antique Rolls Royces into each other in the car park of the Publix market, squishy luxury is the name of the game in Palm Beach.
Having just spent the weekend in this fascinatingly uptight resort, I am happy to report that the legendary P.B. commitment to self-indulgent, down-filled, glossy living-à la society photographer Slim Aarons-is utterly and wildly intact. During the 50’s and 60’s, Mr. Aarons focused his lens on what he described as “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” The resulting dreamy portraits of privileged poseurs in Palm Beach and other locations are currently setting the gold standard for snotty separatist living among the baby boomers who are now flocking to P.B. (For clarification, check out Mr. Aarons’ highly collectible 1974 book, A Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life -$250 and up on Amazon.com.)
Despite its continuing commitment to the squishy, bourgeois lifestyle, Palm Beach has come a long way since the Breakers sported a ‘Gentiles only’ sign and the main mode of conveyance was bicycle-drawn rickshaws affectionately known as “Afromobiles.” Though formerly very Gay 90’s (all the men were gay and all the women were 90), the median age is now creeping downwards, and New Yorkers of all persuasions who can no longer cope with the raucous sleaze of Miami Beach are calling Sotheby’s realtor du jour Alan Stenberg (561-818-0095) and snapping up jolie-laide 70’s condos in the SoSlo area (South of Sloane’s curve), then filling them with bargain furniture from the incredible antique stores in West Palm Beach.
The stores in question-the real reason to go to Palm Beach-are to be found on South Dixie Highway between Southern and Belvedere: Harris Kratz, Galere, Collins & McCullough, and Erhard Danenberg (below Southern), in particular, all offer a plethora of wacky plexi and kooky Chinoise, not to mention fabulously priced 1960’s Palm Beach Regency tall-boys and escritoires-so much groovier than the predictable mid-century modern designs to which you have hitherto been such a slavish devotee. So go berserk and don’t worry about shipping: Deramus Antique Services (561-493-4939) will happily schlep it all back to New York for you.
In sharp contrast to the West Palm furniture stores, the much-vaunted Palm Beach fashion-consignment stores suck horribly, unless you’re a P.B. resident and can rifle through the endless racks of size-16 St. John knits on a daily basis. The Church Mouse at 374 South Country Road is worth visiting because of its arch and gossipy clientele. As I trawled through the racks looking for bargain-priced vintage Mackies, I overheard ghoulish habituées eagerly anticipating the arrival of recently deceased clotheshorse Molly Wilmot’s snazzy duds.
Worth Avenue with its predictable roster of luxury brands can be bypassed, except for Steven Stolman. With his simple dressmaker chic (he was a disciple of the late Pauline Trigere), Mr. Stolman is able to inject a little hipness into that anachronistic Palm Beach chic. Snag a pair of his original 1960’s Dek Tillett print slacks ($285), and the vivacious proprietor will happily dispense tips about where to eat (e.g., the bar at Chez Jean-Pierre ) and which streets have the most glam and infamous houses.
Absolutely stay at the Breakers ( 561-655-6611); if it’s good enough for daytime Emmy winner Susan Lucci, it’s good enough for you. For the ultimate squish-athon, demand a room in the chi-chi Flagler Club, where concierge français Bernard Nicole will indulge your petulant Palm Beach–y mood swings. If you become nauseated by all the elitist luxe and crave a dose of realness, simply turn off Dixie Highway and head inland. The landscape is very Cops ; within blocks, you’ll find yourself “on location with the officers of law enforcement” rooting out unattractive people doing unattractive things in very unsavory places.
Squishy-seekers whose budgets do not extend to Palm Beach weekends: head to 22 East 72nd Street, where Steven Stolman, jeweler K.P. Thompson, John D’Orazio (Jackie’s last coiffeur) and silver-plated shell purveyors Ruzzetti & Gow all do their best to bring the Palm bitch to Manhattan. Also in the house: Stubbs & Wootton, makers of the squishiest, nelliest interior-decorating slipper-$225 without monogramming, $1,000 dollars with.
Don your slippers and pad down to the Fashion Institute of Technology to pay homage to the great Arnold Scaasi at his retrospective Exuberant Fashion , now through Jan. 4. In the topsy-turvy world of Palm Beach, where moguls and Presidential frock designers are more important than movie actors, Arnold Scaasi is a major celeb and P. Diddy isn’t. Before leaving P.B., my bloke and I were fortunate enough to be invited for an audience with the feisty couturier and his longtime partner, Parker Ladd. I showed my appreciation for the proffered tea and cucumber sandwiches by helpfully suggesting that the couple’s gorgeous, transplanted Nevelsons might be at risk for termite infestation-unintentionally plunging my hosts into something of a tizzy. Not very squishy of me.