“She made the world a prettier place,” Roberta Myers, editor in chief of Elle magazine, said on Monday night, April 26. She spoke of Estée Lauder, empress of the eponymous cosmetics empire, who had passed away on Saturday evening at her home on the Upper East Side. Nonetheless, a herd of black dresses and fuchsia pashminas gathered on Monday for the Hot Pink Party, a benefit that the late Ms. Lauder had personally underwritten and of which she was honorary chair for this year’s 10th anniversary of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The proceeds were to go to the BCRF, founded by daughter-in-law Evelyn Lauder. Yet neither Evelyn nor her husband, Leonard Lauder, were among those that filled the pink-tinted grand ballroom of the Waldorf.
“Out of respect and in honor of Estée Lauder, the immediate family, unfortunately, is not able to be in attendance this evening, but Evelyn Lauder and the entire Lauder family sends their sincerest thanks,” began actress Elizabeth Hurley, the mistress of ceremonies, before steering things in a cheerier direction. “You might like to know that this is the hottest party in town tonight. We’ve been sold out for a month!”
From there the evening, which raised $5.4 million, bifurcated into part celebration, part memorial. “I wouldn’t miss the Hot Pink Party for anything!” Mayor Bloomberg told the audience, and then added, “Our prayers are with Evelyn, her family and Estée Lauder.”
We caught Glamour editor Cindy Lieve on her way out, as she was heading to the Costume Institute Gala uptown. She took a moment to reflect on Estée Lauder’s life. “Today the beauty industry is full of ‘personalities,’ and she started that. There was never a sense before her that beauty companies could be spearheaded by people who were people. She began that, and now every beauty company has a person-a face, a celebrity-but she was the first. She was a real toughie, too-and if you’re a woman in business, you gotta be!”
Clad in a black pantsuit, playwright Wendy Wasserstein was all business. “I think it’s more what Estée Lauder meant to women in terms of being an entrepreneur. I think she means a lot to New Yorkers as well. She was a girl from New York who did good, was right up there with Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein, and she was ours! And not only that, she makes incredible skin cream!”
After dinner, Ms. Hurley introduced Elton John (“one of the greatest men in the universe”). He took to the stage in pinstriped pants and a hot pink silk ascot, and banged out hits like “Tiny Dancer,” “Benny and the Jets” and “Rocket Man.” The audience collectively waved the hot pink plastic “lite cubes” in time to the music.
Then Ms. Hurley unhooked herself from her boyfriend, Arun Nayar, and scampered over to The Transom in an electric pink gown, made especially for the party by Donatella Versace. Her arms and hands glittered with jewelry from Chopard, for whom Elton John designs a collection of watches.
“Estée Lauder herself was obviously an amazing woman, and it’s a big shock to the whole company that she’s not with us anymore, even if she hadn’t been out on the social circle for some time,” said Ms. Hurley. She is the former “face” of the cosmetics company, having taken a secondary role to model Carolyn Murphy, who replaced her in 2001. She remains involved in the cancer foundation and often does public appearances with Evelyn Lauder.
“What she really represented to me was an amazingly strong woman who did astoundingly well in business when most women were still in their aprons and did the dishes,” said Ms. Hurley. Lauder began her beauty dynasty in Queens, where she went by her given name, Esther Mentzer, and cooked up face creams in her kitchen. “She’s an astonishing story today in that there are very few people like her, let alone women like her-she just was way ahead of her time. She was apparently one of the best salespeople in the universe-as, indeed, is her son Leonard. He’s irresistible!” she giggled.
Also irresistible is Ms. Hurley’s own son, Damien Charles. “He’s 2 years, 2 weeks, 3-foot,” she said proudly. “He can speak, he can have tantrums-he’s astonishing. He’s at the ‘Mommy, don’t goooo!’ stage every time I have to leave the room. It’s horrible! I’m told the second he hears the door close, it stops, but I fall for it at least 20 times saying, ‘O.K., then, one more kiss!’ It’s sad, but it’s fabulous.”
Words, indeed, that perfectly captured the mood of the night.
Waiting for the Donald
Donald Trump and his hair were late to his book signing, but his fans didn’t seem to care.
“Donald! Donald!” they chanted as he strode into the Borders near Wall Street. He struck poses in the doorway before riding the escalator to the second floor, waving like Miss America. The line of people waiting to meet him spanned two stories, and inched along slowly. There were all types, each with their own reasons for loving the Donald.
“We’re here because he’s here,” said Fran Foley, a fiftysomething woman from Long Island who was waiting on the third floor with her friend Joanne Martell. They were holding copies of How to Get Rich, a book packed with career advice such as “Play Golf” and “Get a Great Assistant.”
“I like the fact that he was down in the dumps, financially in trouble, and he pulled himself back from the brink. You have to admire a man with that kind of stamina,” said Ms. Martell. “And I want a chance to look at that baby face, and see if it really is as baby as it comes across, and check out his hair! You know, he was on Larry King, and Larry actually touched it and pulled it and everything, you know, to say that it was real. But it is weird. It looks like underneath the top layers there’s something else going on on that scalp of his, and he tries to cover it over.”
Bill Vergakis, a burly man with a goatee, muscle T-shirt and leather fanny pack, had come from Hoboken.
“I’ve seen Donald Trump plenty of times before, ’cause I’m an actor, an extra. And I’ve been an extra in a movie where he had a cameo,” said Mr. Vergakis. “He’s a nice guy. I mean, I’ve talked to him before. You wouldn’t expect it from somebody who’s, like, a millionaire. So many of them are snotty, they don’t want to be bothered. He’s like a real down-to-earth type of guy.” Mr. Vergakis suddenly looked wistful. “Who knows, maybe next year, by this time, I’ll be here signing books,” he said.
“I’m in real estate myself,” added Ray Wein, an owner and operator of “historical properties” in Pennsylvania. “I left my business to come up and meet him today. He makes decisions, and moves forward and doesn’t second-guess himself, and I’m trying to be more like that in my business.”
Three women from Texas had been waiting about an hour.
“He talks about his hair in the book,” said Anne Shrader, with a slight drawl. “That’s what I respect about him, ’cause I don’t like his hair, but it doesn’t matter to him. It’s like Emerson would say, he’s not concerned about the good opinion of others.”
“He’s a different thinker. And we needed some good news! Business had a black eye, especially in Houston, cause of Enron, and Dynegy,” said Linda Mikeska. “Plus, I’m of Czech descent, and when he married Ivana and all, that’s what really got me pumped up!”
Then there was Mervin Abdool, a slight fellow in a neat blue dress shirt.
“I’m here because I collect signed books,” he said, underwhelmed. “I’m a really big Stephen King fan.”
Black and White Forever
Truman Capote’s Black and White ball in 1966 is often called “the party of the century” but how much fun could it really have been? The whole thing cost a measly $16,000. Norman Mailer tried to take it outside with McGeorge Bundy but had to settle with trading insults with Lillian Hellman. Lauren Bacall cut the rug with Jerome Robbins. The dance floor cleared. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. tried to cut in to no avail.
What else happened? The creepy, two-faced host skipped around asking everyone “aren’t we having a wonderful time?”-not a good sign. Frank Sinatra left early and hit a bar. Nevertheless, the clearly overrated party lives on.
On April 22, 2004, over 700 young literature enthusiasts-the Young Lions of the New York Public Library-put on black tie, white dresses and masks in homage to Capote’s silly snobfest. At 9:30 they began to file into the library’s Astor Room for disco hits and heavy drinking. Actor Chris Noth stood by the bar talking literature.
“It gave you a sense of a time and war that in some ways was politically reminiscent of what’s happening today,” he said of William Prochnau’s Once Upon a Distant War, before adding that the war in Iraq is “deplorable, a disaster and a big political scam.”
He was asked for the worst writing from the past century.
“What the fuck was that book, oh wait a minute, it was a pseudo-spiritual book?”
“Yes! I read a page of that and threw it in the fireplace. But I love Ms. Bushnell’s work.”
“I love Chris Noth’s work,” said Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell, throwing her arms around HBO’s “Mr. Big.”
She named Tolstoy as the writer who filled her with a sense of awe.
“What a snooty reply,” Mr. Noth said.
“No, if you want to know anything about relationships, read Anna Karenina.”
What writers have made them weep?
“Yeats,” he said, before slurring the following line: “Take down this book and softly read how one man loved the … something.”
“This is what makes me cry: Chris Noth reading poetry,” Ms. Bushnell said.
Later, Mr. Noth was talking about acid. “It’s a better drug than any other drug,” he said. “I believe that it has spiritual properties. I think the drugs today, they’re fucking violent and awful and have no redeeming spiritual values. And we’re living in a cultural boneyard. I suggest that you find a loved one and take half a tab.”
“Yes!” Ms. Bushnell said.
“Don’t do cocaine, that’s a terrible drug,” he continued. “But you can do some peyote too.” But he lit up at the mention of mushrooms and said to “call my agent” if any could ever be made available.
Techno-celebrity Moby was sitting nearby and fondly recalled an LSD trip from his college days. “I’ll never look at marble the same way,” Moby said. “The veins in marble, it’s frozen motion but when you’re on acid it’s unfrozen. Suddenly you see fluidity.”
He liked the idea of a benefit party for the New York Public Library with controlled substances. After all, theme nights in recent years have included “the Candy Colored 60′s”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Beat Generation: A Literary Happening.”
“If this party went until 7 in the morning and everyone took ecstasy, it would be the party sublime,” Moby said. “It’s funny because I smoked pot a couple weeks ago, and I don’t smoke a lot of pot, but pot in the last 20 years has become so strong that it’s essentially kind of like smoking acid.”
Moby looked around and agreed that no one there would remember the party 40 years from now. “Everyone should go home and have wonderful love and drug-fueled sex,” he said.