On the evening of Monday, May 2, as rain pelted down from the sky (as has been its wont in prior years), guests scampered out of their cars, armored vehicles and trucks-no cabs, thank you!-and up toward the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum for the Costume Institute Gala: hems dragging through the puddles, furs mottling, sling-backs unslinging. Some guests sensibly strode past the throngs of photographers lining those steps; others (“Oh, save me from that ghastly press line!”) doled out democratically to every camera flash.
The evening’s guests were divided into two camps: the girls that wore Chanel (Nicole Kidman, Vanessa Paradis, Ivanka Trump) and those that didn’t (various models, editors, Jennifer Connelly and the Olsen twins). The superstratum consisted of the women granted the privilege of wearing Chanel couture (Anna Wintour, Selma Blair, Daphne Guinness). Celebrities and socialites equal for a night-merci, Coco!
Inside, a veritable parc of topiary. Foliage everywhere: Camellia, Chanel’s signature flower, placed at strategic intervals. Rotundas of bay, box, yew; handsome dinner-jacketed hunks; bright-eyed Voguettes ushering guests toward the inner sanctums. Ms. Kidman, Ms. Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, the evening’s chairs, stood poised at the brink-the latter in sunglasses-welcoming guests and shaking each hand individually. Yes, despite the absence of the honorary chairs Princess Caroline of Monaco and Prinz Ernst of Hanover, this is what it must feel like to meet royalty. Through the exhibit’s darkened maze, Ms. Melania and her almighty bosom stood next to her brand-new husband, occasionally readjusting. One young socialite pointed at a dress behind glass and whispered to another: “Did you really try on the pink one?” In a corner, one model admired the other’s pregnant belly: “Ohmigod-cool!”
Inside yet another sculpture hall, guests festered in competitive flattery, a supermodel was found wearing the same dress (borrowed) as another woman (bought)-and, in the midst of it all, there was an equine creature (another supermodel) daydreaming in what looked like a duvet cover and Mrs. Trump’s wedding dress rolled into one. One of the more charming duos of the evening-the small, lovely-eyed Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood (soon to be seen in Everything Is Illuminated) and his mustachioed director, Liev Schreiber-were spotted near the bar. And then the trumpets blared, as all were summoned to enter the great hall of the American Wing-to dine.
Guests tumbled into the jardin-more topiary, gardenias, camellias and oxidized copper framing a façade and pulpit-some undoubtedly fearful that they’d been relegated to Siberia, the hazy periphery of irrelevance. Guests sat before their caviar and began complaining immediately. “I don’t eat red meat, and I take my dressing on the side.” “Dolce and Gabbana were supposed to show and didn’t come!” “I’ve been told we can smoke,” said one designer, lighting up. Others scampered to the restrooms to sneak cigarettes between courses. Wardens happily turned a blind eye. “I don’t care, man-I smoke myself,” said one, as starlet Erika Christensen was seen ducking below the horizon to wash her hands. Eventually, there were thank-yous. Ms. Kidman twinkled for the masses, introduced soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Dimitri Hvorostorsky to sing a pair of German lieder to electric guitar. In less than 10 minutes they were off, and dessert in.
A little shuffling. A lot of: “Are you really going to the dance? Come on, please-it won’t be like last year!” and “I’m tired, I have to work tomorrow, I don’t know … the unwashed masses … O.K., fine.” More shuffling; Olsen twins, hand in hand, pitter-pattering; and Naomi Watts mouthing to Ms. Connelly “Bun-GA-low EIGHT” with a slight squeal-a piece of information which the onlookers duly noted.
Spilling into the dance area, the party continued well beyond midnight-no unwashed masses to be seen, but a great profusion of chocolate strawberries. The Scissor Sisters blared. One by one, the revelers announced that they, too, were ready to descend upon North Chelsea, and made their way out into a taxi-less night.
On Thursday night, Air Tahiti Nui fêted its new nonstop service from New York to Papeete with a campy affair in the Maritime Hotel’s Hiro Ballroom.
As guests filtered downstairs and wandered, bemused, amidst the potted palms, a heavily tattooed Tahitian storyteller took the stage. “In the beginning, there was nothing,” he said solemnly. The early crowd seemed to agree with him, chatting restlessly and sipping bottles of warm Hinano beer. The performer blew a deep blast into his conch shell, completing the scene that had been branded by über-publicist Nadine Johnson as “retro-tribal chic.”
The Transom reflected that sometimes you don’t have to leave Manhattan to suffer the subtle, postcolonial embarrassments of package tourism.
Before the event, Vogue stylist Alberto Vivien had airlifted in a souvenir stand’s worth of cowrie shells, tiki idols and yards of woven pareau fabric, along with 20,000 flowers and 120 trees to re-create the (newly deforested?) isle of Tahiti in downtown Manhattan.
Mingling amidst the exotic foliage were token Tahitian natives and Francois Nars, the makeup magnate; Tiffany Limos, who appeared in the 1995 flick Kids and was reportedly eager to meet Tarita Brando, Marlon’s widow; and Ms. Brando, who may have been busy dodging Tiffany Limos.
Also in attendance was Mareva Georges, formerly known as Miss France and, before that, Miss Tahiti. Ms. Georges, draped in a black Valentino dress, said that she was four months pregnant and looking for “a beautiful Tahitian name” to bequeath her future son.
“I can’t live without Tahiti,” gushed Ms. Georges, expounding on the delights of her homeland. “You have a great spirit, and it’s still natural, unspoiled. You can touch the soul of the people. They’re still very, very pure.”
She paused, then continued conspiratorially: “They’re slow and the service is sometimes slow, but you have to overpass that and see the beauty of their soul. They really try hard,” she said.
Soon drummers in feathered headdresses appeared onstage, and a troupe of loincloth-clad male dancers began stomping and slapping to the beat.
Impressive as the presentation was, said Tahitian president Oscar Temaru, who was on hand for the festivities, the Maritime Hotel was no replacement for taking a nonstop flight and seeing paradise for oneself.
“In Tahiti, you can see the fish, talk to the fish, catch some fish and have some fresh fish for dinner,” Mr. Temeru said jovially. Gripping a driftwood podium, he also expounded on some of Tahiti’s less fishy pleasures.
“Enjoy! Enjoy the sunset,” he exulted. “From the sunset to the sunrise, from the sunrise to the sunset, while you’re drinking a mai tai, you can see both.”
That put The Transom in mind of something, but there were no mai tais to be found at the Maritime.
“We don’t have anything Jamaican,” said one bartender.
“I did send my liqueurs, but they’ve been held in customs,” moaned Dominique Brogi, who owns a distillery in Tahiti. She’d been hoping to promote Manuia, a new tropical liqueur, at the party, but the bottles were somewhere like J.F.K. airport, stalled in the hands of American officials. “I think the U.S. is very strict,” Ms. Brogi pouted.
President Temaru waved goodbye to the crowd, flanked by dancers and bellowing a hearty “See you in Tahiti!”
The crowd emptied out clutching goody bags with neatly folded sarongs and vials of Tahitian flower oil, buttoning up against strangely chilly air.
Sharpton’s New Show
Amid his various recent woes-not getting so many Presidential delegates, not having a horse in the Mayor’s race, appearing in cryptic news items beside the words “federal” and “investigation”-The Transom had counted the demise of Al Sharpton’s reality-television show on Spike TV, I Hate My Job, the most severe.
But as it turns out, Mr. Sharpton sort of hated that job anyway. And now he has a new show.
“I’m going on TV One,” he said during an interview in the small midtown cubicle he’s occupying while his Harlem headquarters is renovated.
No, not New York 1: TV One is a black-themed cable network distributed mostly by Comcast. It has a strong presence in the South and Midwest, but very little distribution in New York.
The general idea of the show, which starts taping next week and goes on air in July, is “Al Sharpton talks,” he said. “It’ll be me interviewing newsmakers-whoever I want.”
Mr. Sharpton said he had the option to renew the reality show and declined.
“I was experimenting. I wanted to see what happened,” he said. “Eight weeks, it was all right, but it obviously wasn’t what I want to do the rest of my life.”
More Blog Novelists!
The blogorrhea of the book world continues apace.
Twenty-six-year-old investment banker–cum–Times Sunday Styles writer Dana Vachon just sold two books to Riverhead publisher and vice president Cindy Spiegel. With the assistance of his famously aggressive agent (and former Tina Brown right hand) David Kuhn, Mr. Vachon signed for an eye-popping $650,000 advance.
Both will be novels, and will be Mr. Vachon’s first forays into book-writing. Ms. Spiegel described the first 70 pages of Mergers and Acquisitions: A Romance, which she read before bidding, as “really funny.”
“What I based everything on was the writing and what I think is his incredible talent,” said Ms. Spiegel. “The pages themselves were a little short on plot-it was more of a novel of manners than of plot. I mentioned that to the agent, and 20 minutes later I had a plot in my hand.”
“It was very, very impressive,” Ms. Spiegel continued.
Mr. Vachon maintained a blog for some time called “D-Nasty: The Life and Adventures of a 26 year old Investment Banker,” which offered his exploits and political musings, but Ms. Spiegel said she hadn’t even looked at it until after the deal was signed. Mr. Vachon said that as of late, he’s been too crushed by his 20-hour-a-day finance job to put much effort into it, although he said that New York Times culture editor Ariel Kaminer had “e-mailed him off of it” and given him an assignment for The Times’ Arts and Leisure section, “which was pretty cool.”
“I stopped blogging probably like a year ago,” said Mr. Vachon, adding that he’s quitting his day job soon to focus on writing. “Basically I was working at a bank, and blogging was a great outlet for me. It was like this transgressive act: These guys would send me home for the weekend and give me all this work to do, and I’d be like, ‘I’m going to write 2,000 words about Paris Hilton-it’s going to be fun.'”
Paint Me a Picture
“I don’t believe in boring benefits,” said Ruth Lande Shuman. The founder of Publicolor, a city nonprofit that uses art to help at-risk public-school students, hosted a benefit for her organization last Thursday night at the Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the Upper West Side.
The annual benefit, called “Stir, Splatter and Roll,” grouped paying guests with public-school students and professional artists at a dozen canvases set up around a large room book-ended by open bars. After an evening of semi-intoxicated painting, the canvases were to be hung at the school to brighten things up.
Dressed in a skirt that could’ve given Jackson Pollack vertigo, she was halfway through her stump speech about why painting is good for kids when something or someone caught her eye. In an instant, mid-sentence, our host was off fluttering about the room.
The Transom went back to watching socialites struggling not to spill Benjamin Moore on their Jimmy Choos-er, Kate Spades.
“I always wonder why they don’t do this in the hospitals, too,” said designer and new mother Kate Spade, after a late entrance to the party. This was her first night out with husband Andy since the birth earlier this year of their daughter. (“I would have been happy either way,” she told one guest, “but I get to dress this one up like a doll!”) Ms. Spade was honored at the event for her support of the organization. So, too, was Deputy Mayor Patti Harris. At the beginning of the benefit dinner, held in the school’s gym, Mayor Bloomberg arrived in a flurry of flashbulbs to pay tribute to his deputy and complain about how he permanently stained a pair of pants yellow at the event last year.
The benefit’s organizers provided white coveralls with little booties attached, but they were hardly flattering to Pilates-sculpted physiques and hardly accommodating to, say, a Chanel power suit, such as that worn by public-relations impresaria Susan Blond. Miss U.S.A. was there in a skin-tight purple gown and four-inch stilettos. She avoided the coveralls (and the painting, and the other guests), preferring mostly to hover by the bar. Smart lady.
Others, to their peril, spent much of the evening dodging sculptor Mark di Suvero, whose work sells for astronomical sums and who has exhibited in the National Gallery. He moved frenetically around the room, his beard tinted blue, thrusting a dripping paintbrush at trembling guests. He painted green squiggles on an orange canvas. Then he painted green dots on Chelsea art dealer Max Protetch’s left ear. And then he painted a green bowtie on the unsuspecting Transom’s perfectly good white button-down shirt.
Stanley Tucci, a longtime Publicolor supporter and the evening’s auctioneer, hovered with his publicist on the other side of the room. His father is a retired art teacher, he said, and his own personal painting strengths range “from the figurative to the abstract.”
Mr. Tucci stood out among the colorful in his impeccably tailored dark gray suit, but he didn’t want to make a visit to Mr. di Suvero and his eager paintbrush. “Oh, no,” he said. “I kind of like this suit. Maybe some other time …. “