Nan Kempner. Now there was a woman who knew how to live.
at last, was somebody who came right out and said, ‘I enjoy the good life because I enjoy the good life,’ rather than having some more profound approach to the subject,” said Tom Wolfe.
Kempner died Sunday at the age of 74 after a life of glorious and conspicuous indulgence. She was a New York socialite, a muse to geniuses, a happy hostess on the Upper East Side whose excesses were legendary: the ample Sunday spaghetti dinners she held in the 16-room Park Avenue duplex she inhabited for nearly half a century; the fortune she spent on couture, which she stored in her children’s bedrooms once they moved out; the plastic surgeries she’d boasted of enduring; the generosity she heaped on her friends.
was high society’s leggiest pillar. And friends say the upper crust sags a little now that she’s gone.
always found her so beautiful and elegant and generous and nice,” said fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who met Ms. Kempner on her honeymoon in Sardinia. “She was very elegant, and she never said anything bad about anybody.”
and I were very close,” said socialite Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman. “It’s very hard to say anything adequate about her.”
Kempner (neé Schlesinger) was born in 1930 in San Francisco and married Thomas Kempner in 1952. She had three children and six grandchildren.
was a great lady,” said Robert Caravaggi, a close friend, “and you’ll never see another one like her.”
Caravaggi is one of the owners of Swifty’s, the Upper East Side restaurant where, in her healthier days, Ms. Kempner would dine several days a week.
would come in to lunch looking as stylish as ever, even with her oxygen,” a tank of which she had to cart around because of her illness. “She was always loyal and gracious in person.”
was always known for being thin and in good shape and could fit into designer this and that,” recalled friend Peter Duchin. “Whenever you were sitting next to her, if you were as good a friend as I was, she would eat off your plate.
‘Oh, that looks good!’ she’d say. And she’d expect you to say, ‘Why don’t you have some?’ And you did. And she would.”
Duchin was a regular at Ms. Kempner’s Sunday dinners, where she would welcome Presidents and First Ladies, dignitaries and debutantes. “I remember one party she gave for us in the middle of a snowstorm,” he said. “You could see boots, snow gear piling up around the door, and Nan was hysterical. She thought it was great! She wanted people skiing down Park Avenue to see her.”
they did. Ms. Kempner came to embody not just the living but also the fictional prototype of the New York socialite.
loved to say that she was the basis of my creature in The Bonfire of the Vanities known as the ‘social X-ray,’” said Mr.
Wolfe. “In fact, she wasn’t. But she loved that so much that I was more than willing to cede it to her.”
got herself a part in the movie version of Bonfire of the Vanities, Mr. Wolfe remembered, as an extra in one of the party scenes. The director of the film really wanted her in it, but they had to keep postponing the shoot. And, ultimately, Ms. Kempner “didn’t hang around for the filming,” Mr. Wolfe said, “because, of course, she really had more important parties to go to.”
We Went to the Hamptons
years ago, when The Transom was young and pretty, it was often invited to weekend at an elegant Southampton home. The location was exquisite. It wasn’
too far from where psychonaut art dealer Andrew Crispo’s home exploded in 1989.
The Transom would go, on a wildly lurching afternoon train from Manhattan.
those days, travelers would congregate to smoke and cocktail between the cars.
The Transom’s innocent bare feet would dangle off the train’s steps as the greenery whizzed by.
at the end of that summer, quite unexpectedly, the rent came due. And so it was one morning that The Transom found itself kneeling at the foot of the lovely staircase. A bit of the Hamptons host’s genitalia had somehow found itself wedged in The Transom’s mouth.
“Mmph, mmph?” asked The Transom. “Shh,” said the host.
The Transom’s so over that now. Really.
And now, just to prove it, an account of this Fourth of July weekend past from those little plover-infested, jeep-loving seaside villages that could.
All David and Olivier wanted was “a typical American Fourth of July.”
David, who is German and 23, knew, from Ibiza, a blonde American girl named Claire Evans. They hadn’t seen each other in years. Two weeks ago, Ms. Evans ran into David at Cain in Manhattan. She casually extended an invitation to spend the holiday weekend with her family at their Shelter Island Heights Victorian getaway.
Evans was sitting in her bedroom at 3 p.m. on Friday. She heard her mother say, “Hi, I’m Claire’s mom.” A man with a German accent said, “Nice to meet you.”
David had arrived on her front porch with Olivier, who is French and 26, fresh off the Shelter Island Ferry.
Justin Mitchell, 36 and thepublisher of Social Life magazine, has a Benz with a license plate that reads 1NFAMOUS. He swears his sister chose it.
Mitchell, in a simple black T-shirt and a pair of rolled-up blue jeans, made at least three calls between noon and 12:15 p.m. on Saturday as he drove from the Southampton train station to his home. He uses 7,000 minutes a month—and that’s not counting his second cell phone.
of Social Life lurk outside spots like the Golden Pear, the new Intermix clothing store and James on Main. Mr.
Mitchell shrieks in delight whenever he sees it, and if it’s in somebody’s hands, he tries to see what’s being read.
summered out here back in the 70′s,” he said, gunning his Benz. Now he rents his own place on the weekends from an artist named Paul Castellano, and although the only time he called his mom today—she owns a house in town—was to ask for directions to the Blue Star Jet party, he still goes to see her every time he’s out.
use it to entertain,” said Mr. Mitchell of his house as we passed the gate.
Half a dozen other cars were parked in the driveway. A pair of Social Life interns walked up to the porch alongside us (“Hiiiiiii, Justin!”) and headed straight to the bedroom, where they changed into their bikinis.
try to give them perks,” Mitchell said. “They work so hard over at the magazine.”
Mr. Mitchell called. Two young ladies wearing extravagant summer dresses, one of them a senior in college and the other an ’04 graduate, strolled out from their room and onto the driveway.
first car was a ’67 Mustang convertible!” said the chirpier one. “My mom bought it for me when I was 13. It was hot!” Later, she made The Transom guess how much her Gucci shoes cost. Answer: $750. (Later that night, she would be seen locking lips with a young bachelor on the V.I.P. level of the Star Room, a nightclub that is one of Mr. Mitchell’s ad clients.)
Hamptons virgins,” the girls confessed in the car. “We’ve been invited out before, but we’re too lazy.” Mr. Mitchell put some Europop on the stereo and busted out a cigarillo.
friend text-messaged me at 6 o’clock in the morning saying he’s at Crobar,”
said between cell-phone calls. “Hahaha!”
even goes to Crobar?” The girls laughed.
Mitchell waved to some friends from his car. “Justin, we want to get in the Jacuzzi together,” one of the girls in the back seat said, giggling. “Can we do that? Can we have champagne? It’ll be the bubbly and the bubbly! Bikinis and champagne.”
Mitchell and the girls brunched at the crowded Golden Pear. A publicist friend of Mr. Mitchell’s approached with congratulations on the release of Social Life‘s new issue. “Your magazine is ev-er-y-where,” she enunciated.
know!” he said. “Have you even seen Hamptons anywhere?”
blew kisses, and Mr. Mitchell called out “Ciao!” as she left the restaurant.
At 2:30 on Saturday afternoon, a dozen women were browsing at the recently opened Alice+Olivia store in East Hampton. Its co-owner, Stacey Bendet, sat on a couch, wearing white Chanel sunglasses, a halter dress of her own design and a T-shirt she made that read “I Drink to Make You More Interesting.”
think one thing that has happened to East Hampton is that Main Street has turned into this sort of ubiquitous version of Middle America, with J. Crew and Starbucks,” she said. “I don’t want to feel like I’m in a strip mall.”
Bendet’s store is located in a little enclave just off Main Street. “It’s just gotten busier,” she said. “I think the general population here is the same. I mean, you’ve got wealthy people from New York that are here. For me, I felt very comfortable opening a store here, because you know your shoppers here, you know that down 27 everyday it’s Mercedes, Jaguars, Porsches, and you know that your customer is going to end up over here.”
June, after her store had only been open for one hour, a big black Bentley pulled up and two large, black-suited men got out. “They walked over and said, ‘Get her anything she wants,’” Ms. Bendet recalled. “And out of the car walks this tall blonde, like five-10, with boobs and everything, and she shopped here for two hours—thousands of dollars.
have people, families that have been coming out here for years and years, and then you have these younger people that are just playboys bringing out girls,”
Ms. Bendet continued. “I think this might be the summer of Scores, because I ‘ve heard all the clubs are having Scores girls come to dance.”
Justin Mitchell’s friends were lounging by the pool, a few of them reading Social Life, others drinking Amstel Lights. An iPod played “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day.
I was a prosecutor, I loved it,” said one thirtysomething in swim trunks.
“Putting people in jail, you know.”
Mitchell made his way to the private balcony upstairs. “I had an active social life, and I wanted to get the message out,” he said. “There’s so many things pulling people away from the social life. People are glued to the Internet, glued to text-messaging. There’s so many laws now! You have too many cars parked outside, and everyone gets a ticket. It’s hard to have a party.”
5 p.m., Mr. Mitchell said, “Tonight’s going to be the craziest night in the Hamptons. This is the calm before the storm.” He parked outside Citarella to pick up a snack of filet mignon, guacamole, mushrooms and prosciutto. The lobsters were $27; he passed. Mr. Mitchell threw his goods in the Benz. In the trunk were two boxes of Social Life magazines and a VHS copy of Star Wars.
Gabe coming out tonight?” one of the girls asked Mr. Mitchell in the car.
“Hah!” he said. “Gabe? That guy lives on Flaker Street!”
at Mr. Mitchell’s house, his guests sat around the kitchen table talking wedding rings. The lawyer, it seems, had been engaged for a few years before breaking it off, and Mr. Mitchell’s young ladies were asking all the obvious questions. “Yeah, I asked for it back,” the lawyer said. “It was 1.54 carats—all I could afford at the time.”
two recent law-school graduates gossiped about the night before. “I went on a date last night,” one of them said to her friend, a tube-topped, lipsticked blonde. “I’m done with dating …. He was wearing an Armani Exchange T-shirt.
Eh! Not to be snotty, but …. ”
not for you,” her friend said reassuringly.
not for me!”
conversation wandered, then settled on Cain at Cabana, where Mr. Mitchell had taken his posse the night before. “These guys aren’t hot; they’re handsome,”
the blonde one said. “Hot guys are 21.”
Mitchell went solo to the Blue Star Jets party at 7 p.m. It was at the home of the jet-timesharing company’s chief executive, Todd Rome. “It’s very rare that I run into a party that’s so amazing that I’ll stay longer than an hour,”
Mitchell said. The line to park was long: limos, Lincolns, an H2. “We’ll be late for dinner,” Mr. Mitchell said, his eyes racing as he walked up to the velvet rope. “But who cares?” The party was co-sponsored by Hamptons magazine.
de Silva practically strangled Mr. Mitchell at Mr. Rome’s house. Mr.
hadn’t yet followed up on an oblique promise to call her friend Jeffrey.
get like that,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It’s bad for your skin.”
De Silva laughed. “The only thing that’ll ruin my skin is a nuclear war.”
lawn was lined with luxury cars, their doors swung open auto-show style: a Ford GT, a Ferrari 430 Spider F1, a Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Mr. Mitchell walked the grounds, making conversation with every businessman he ran into:
great party, beautiful area, hot girls, etc. “That’s the former Macy’s C.E.O.,”
he said, pointing at a fellow walking along the grass.
During the Maidstone Club’s family-oriented Saturday-night activities, tunes wafted over the golf course circa 9 p.m. The Transom crawled through a fence into a neighboring cocktail party, the location so enchanting it might have made Dinah Shore blush. Dozens of fresh beautiful things floated about the jardin in bare feet and embellished frocks, talking of good art. “She’s the hottest girl in East Hampton, so clearly we’d make plans around her all summer,” one guest whispered of the hostess.
Justin Mitchell and his team drove confidently toward the East End, where a table at Jean-Luc waited. “You just gotta have fun in life, man. I really think that’s what it’s all about,” he told The Transom, a cigarillo in one hand; he floored the gas to 80. The law-school girls from his pool, now dressed in short skirts and some Christ bling around their necks, danced in their seats, screaming in excitement about the Star Room and text-messaging their friends.
with the families, in with the crazy young people,” Mr. Mitchell said at Jean-Luc. He kissed the hostess on the cheek, and all 10 people in his party were immediately seated in the main room. Drinks arrived. Mr. Mitchell made a grand toast. “This is to 1920!” he cried.
On Saturday night, it seemed that everyone in Shelter Island was wearing white pants and cable-knit sweaters and drinking white wine. Around 10:30 p.m., David expressed an interest in getting drunk, “fisherman’s bar”
style. With a bottle of whiskey and the memory of a girl, he wanted to amble down by the water. Beneath the hoisted American flag, homemade chocolate-chip cookies in hand, David said he was struck with how happy he was to have met “some regular Americans.”
he had questions. “What is a redneck? Is a hick the same as a redneck? What does this mean?” David had asked. Running cross-purposes to his rural fascinations, Shelter Island is no shantytown, and he and Olivier ended up at Sunset Beach. The Andre Balazs–run hotel and beachside restaurant—where earlier in the day, The Transom had seen Uma Thurman and Mr. Balazs exiting the restaurant—instead attracts linen-pants-ed, turquoise-bejeweled, ultra-tanned emigrants from the southern tip of Long Island looking to “get away” from the Hamptons for a night of tiki-torched “quaint-ness.”
The artsy-fartsy—which is to say, lawyer-free—beach party happened at Ditch Plains in Montauk. A little after 11 p.m., there was an ambitious and expanding fire; there were s’mores and cans of Coors Light. Various stylists, hotel owners—Maritime Hotel’s Sean MacPherson—and photographers—Danielle Levitt—gathered to snub the rest of the East End. Montauk, like Shelter Island, is where one now goes to get away from the getaways. “I mean, if I wanted to spend thousands of dollars on like two bottles of vodka at Star Room, I’d stay in New York,” said one beachgoer.
“We’re gonna tear the roof off this place!” Justin Mitchell yelled in his car, amping the Europop to unprecedented volumes. “Burn it down!”
up to the Star Room at 11:20 p.m., the highway was jammed—the entire road, Mitchell said, was trying to get in. “Look at it!” he exclaimed. “People are still coming to the Hamptons!” The girls fixed their hair in the mirror.
Mitchell had his guy Marciello bring him three bottles of Grey Goose, champagne, orange juice and a half-dozen Red Bulls. Uniformly overweight guys filled in the gaps between Italian girls in short skirts. Mr. Mitchell’s party got a table outside.
everyone had vodka Red Bulls. Mr. Mitchell nursed a glass of champagne. Only one or two members of the party left the table for any reason that night other than to use the bathroom. One guest literally did not move from her perch on the couch until 2 a.m., preferring instead to send and receive text messages with her friends. “I’m bored!” she said. “I’d walk around but it’s so crowded.
I like Cain better, where we were last night. Plus, I had half a glass of champagne, and I went to refill it and all the bottles were empty. So I decided to just play with my cell phone all night. I was supposed to meet someone, but they never showed up.”
Mitchell kept his position as well. He shook hands and poured drinks.
former prosecutor in Mr. Mitchell’s posse told a story about pissing off a judge so badly that he threw a pen at the court reporter. “Eh, he was a prick,”
he said. “No one likes him anyway, so what do I care? His wife left him a year later, took him to the cleaners. I’ve got a great apartment in Manhattan, and I’m at the Star Room. Everything worked out.”
German David, accustomed to
this sort of partying from his time at his various homes in Ibiza and St.
Tropez, had fun at Sunset Beach and thought it was “all right.” He and Olivier were completely drunk and wanted to get their pass-out on. “So, we hitchhiked,”
the self-described aristocrat explained at 3:30 a.m. “I had no idea where we were. I had never done this in my life. All of a sudden, we were in the middle of some forest. Someone, I don’t know who, picked us up and took us to the harbor and then we walked.”
was totally out of this world,” he said contentedly.
Justin Mitchell’s Saturday night was called early on account of houseguests. At 2 a.m. Sunday morning, he sweetly brought home one of his tragically drunk and barely conscious guests. He put her to sleep on a couch.
His crew came home at 4.
The next day, Sunday afternoon, the clerks were working overtime at Book Hampton. “O.K., I’ll look, what would it be under? O.K., Spielberg, Spielberg …. All right, that was … Overcoming Dyslexia? Thank you, Mr. Spielberg, we’ll take care of that for you.”
Shortly before Sunday slid into Monday, Olivier and David were hanging out in the Shelter Island kitchen. They had plowed their way through some fried-chicken platters and wondered what was next on the agenda. Their host, Ms. Evans, said that besides a few house parties and the inevitable Sunset Beach, there wasn’t that much stirring on the quiet island. “P. Diddy ‘s White Party is tonight,” she joked. “Let’s head down there.” David looked up.
“That’s where we should be tonight,” he said solemnly. “We couldn’t get in,”
said someone else.
there someone we could call?” asked David. Instead, they ended up sitting on the back porch, exiled with their cigarettes, where they drank their eighth bottle of North Fork merlot.
At 21 Water in Sag Harbor, an hour or so into Monday morning, two men quarreled about the Hamptons. The younger of the two claimed that after people saying the scene was “over” for the past five years, this year would be different. “The euro,” he said. True: Bathroom chatter was entirely in what, to The Transom’s untrained ear, sounded like Russian and Portuguese. Also:
bonuses, they agreed.
should really get to Nepal,” said Marc, the older of the two.
Monday afternoon, behind a sea of sun umbrellas, the Maidstone Club’s deck unfolded. “The stalker? Yeah! Everyone here’s been talking about it.
Apparently some Hispanic guy with a pair of Speedos on his head just jumped out of the dunes. I wouldn’t want to be doing my morning exercises with that going on.”
put the fear of God in that poor woman!” said a staff member of the recent attack. “And who saved her? Our 17-year-old lifeguard. He was having breakfast and heard the screams! I’d say that was pretty brave. Have you seen pictures of the guy? We’re pretty thrilled he’s been caught.”
of would-be rapists aside, a couple in embroidered polo shirts from Mill Reef Club were just plain plover-peeved that Monday afternoon. “It would have been nice to have the fireworks! These piping plovers—they’re like deer, they just keep reproducing. They’re not endangered anywhere else but New York! Did you know that in Hawaii their eggs are considered delicacies?”
“The piping plovers are the bane of my existence!” said the counter boy at East Hampton’s Scoop du Jour late on Monday. “I can’t even ride my truck onto the beach anymore. This sucks,” the server huffed, as he mashed candy bars inexpertly into a slab of ice cream. “It’s totally ruined my summer.”
Follow Rebecca Dana via RSS.