At the risk of sounding a bit elitist and foppish, I must confess that while Madge was trying to save Malawian infants, I spent most of last week attempting to conjure up the ghost of Marcel Proust.
Faced with the challenge of concocting an event to launch the new Lanvin men’s collection at Barneys, I opted for a Parisian salon theme. In keeping with the refined fin de siècle vibe of designer Alber Elbaz’s vision for fall, the invitation declared that the Lanvin party would be hosted by “the ghost of Marcel Proust.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, we served madeleines and Champagne to a sizeable horde of Elbaz fans. Upon arrival—and this was the ultra-cute part—guests were forced to don a “Hello, my name is … ” tag (from Staples) inscribed with the name of a Proust character. These names I acquired, not by slogging studiously through the entire Proust oeuvre, but simply by Googling “Proust characters” online. In fact, the entire undertaking was accomplished without me ever cracking open that dreaded book. The truth of the matter is that I know more about the DNA of gerbils than I do about À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. My familiarity extends no further than the whole madeleine thingy—proving, if nothing else, that this particular pastry must have a great publicist.
Proust devotees will be glad to hear that I was suitably punished—humiliated, even. My phony pose and my total ignorance of all things Proust was repeatedly exposed throughout the evening. Every time I proffered one of those pins—“Here! You can be the Duchesse de Guermantes” or “You look like a bit of a comte, take this one!”—guests demanded the back-story on each character. All except one: a French lady, needless to say, who rejected the nametags without even reading them on the basis that “everyone here knows who I am.” There goes that great Gallic sense of humor again!
Thank God for co-host André Leon Talley! Observing my ignorance, he took me aside and gave me some heartfelt advice. The Vogue editor—who was wearing, among other things, a couture black leather Chanel cardigan jacket festooned with gold chains and Prousty-looking bejeweled loafers—told me that the key was to “get past Swann’s Way” to what he described as “the szhooshing and the whooshing of the fabulous dresses and the rustle of the gorgeous taffetas on the stairs.” He also lauded “the perversity of the sex,” which allegedly turns À la Recherche into a veritable page-turner. “One minute you are lounging in a salon; the next minute you have little mice running over your naked body and tickling you,” explained the bilingual Monsieur Talley, concluding, while languidly trying on some men’s Lanvin lavender kid gloves: “If all else fails, then there’s always the audiotapes.”
Now to Malawi Madge. The hysteria around Madge’s adoption puts me in the unaccustomed position of actually defending a celebrity. It feels strange, but here goes: I fail to see why her hard-won fame—something which clearly has been instrumental in drawing attention to the plight of this faraway land—should not entitle her to jump the line just a little. And, since the British tabs are going to have telephoto lenses trained on her and her adoptee, there’s not much chance of her thrashing the little tyke with wire coat hangers or otherwise abusing him. Good luck, Madge! If little David doesn’t work out, there’s plenty more where he came from.
The Malawi/British-tabloid hysteria seems connected to the contemporary fetishization of kids and childrearing. Sadly, this is a trend that followed my arrival on the planet by three or four decades. When I was a tadpole, tadpoles were seen as annoying and expendable: Now that I am hurtling through middle age, I find that the situation has flipped, and middle-aged people have become the new tadpoles.
Regarding philanthropic celebs: Let’s hear it for local-lass-made-good Miss Lucy Liu. The Chinese-American thespian—a guest at the Lanvin fête—recently took up painting. Last month, she organized a show of her work at the Milk Gallery. The red dots rained down, raising over a quarter of a million dollars for UNICEF.
The unpretentious and hilarious Ms. Liu was by far the most attractive Proust attendee. Queens-born Lucy probably has the best cheekbones in America. Given that she’s clearly the Anna May Wong of the 21st century, isn’t it time that visage graced the cover of American Vogue?
Speaking of Proustian highbrow pursuits: All you hard-core intellectuals may wish to stop by the Borders Books at the Time Warner Center this coming Monday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. I will be hosting a salon of sorts for Joan Collins, after which the great lady herself will sign copies of her new book, entitled The Art of Living Well: Looking Good and Feeling Great (Sourcebooks, $24.95).
BYOM (bring your own madeleines)!
Follow Simon Doonan via RSS.