Socialites Come Out of Hibernation for Patrick McMullan at Elaine’s

patrick mcmullan Socialites Come Out of Hibernation for Patrick McMullan at ElainesIt’s been a long, cold, economically devastating winter, but at Elaine’s on Tuesday night for Patrick McMullan‘s party celebrating his 20 years with Interview magazine, the crowd was partying as though the events of the past few months were a bad hallucination. Or maybe everyone was hibernating in St. Barths, Tulum, Vermont, upstate New York, Paris? In any case, with Fashion Week looming, the party people—socialites young and old, the models, the notable PR flacks, and the gossip columnists (oh my!)—were back in business. Air-kissing, self-promoting, stumbling in heels too tall for comfort but just right for a party photo, giggling, picture-posing, shmoozing, dancing, introducing. Even the trays of underwhelming hors d’oeuvres, which for the past few months have gone largely untouched at various events (indulgence guilt?), were getting devoured before they left the immediate vicinity of the kitchen.   

There were Mr. McMullan’s friends from the old days, like gossip columnist Liz Smith, social fixture Anne Slater, and Iman the supermodel. There were newer friends like socialites Byrdie Bell, Olivia Palermo, and Ally Hilfiger. And there were the sorts of guests we rarely see out at New York parties that commence later than the cocktail hour, like interviewer Charlie Rose, Gayle King, and Rick and Kathy Hilton.

Around the room, Mr. McMullan’s photos from decades past were blown-up and displayed prominently. A photo of the photographer with Hillary Clinton hung over the bar; another shot of a teenage Leonardo DiCaprio, wearing ’90s-appropriate flannel and being carried by a few of his buddies, was on the opposite wall.

The guests wanted to make a few things clear about "Patrick." One, he is good at taking photos. Two, he is very nice. And three, his good photos are very nice to his subjects. 

"Patrick is the head of the diplomatic corps," Glenn O’Brian, editorial director of Interview, told the Daily Transom. "You have to have good manners to do what he does and remember people’s names. Patrick is great with people so he charms everybody and makes them feel at ease. That’s why he gets the good shot. When I met him he was following Stephen Saban around for Details. Stephen would write his nightlife column and Patrick would follow him around and take pictures. But he’s always had that Irish confidence."

Socialite Lydia Hearst, dressed in a floor-sweeping Herve Leger gown that kept getting caught under the feet of nearby guests as the place filled to capacity, took her praises of Mr. McMullan a step further. 

"Patrick is New York. When I think about Manhattan, I think about Patrick," she said. "I’ve known him since I was born; he’s always been a very close friend of the family."

The Daily Transom inquired whether socialites like herself favor Mr. McMullan over other party photogs when getting their picture snapped because his shots are almost always flattering. 

"Yes!" Ms. Hearst replied and flashed an angelic smile. The socialite told the Daily Transom that she couldn’t wait for fashion week to begin; her good friend, actress Michelle Trachtenberg, will be arriving in town in a few days and they will be hitting some shows together. 

Writer-socialite Anthony Haden-Guest was pushing his way through the crowd to get to the bar. And how long has he been acquainted with Mr. McMullan? 

"Probably since the Byzentine epoch," Mr. Guest replied, in his charmingly apathetic British accent.

"You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes an artist survive. It’s partly about keeping going, and he just keeps going," Mr. Guest said of the photographer. "I had an interesting conversation with Chuck Close once. When Chuck Close takes a photograph for a portrait, he wants complete complicity with his subject rather than ambush his subject. Patrick is definitely of the Chuck Close fashion. He likes familiarity."

Former Village Voice fashion columnist (and soon-to-be New York magazine fashion blogger) Lynn Yaeger pointed out one other reason to admire Mr. McMullan.

"I’ve actually known him for about 15 years, since I first started writing about fashion. He was very friendly and if you started in the fashion world back then you remembered who was friendly," said Ms. Yaeger. "And he’s interested in shooting everyone, not just famous people. And, I don’t know, he’s just ubiquitous."

Outside, earlier in the evening, the crowd of smokers had grown quiet as they peered over each others’ shoulders to gawk at financier Bruce Wasserstein strolling out of the restaurant with his new wife, 35-year-old Angela Chao. Mr. Wasserstein was well aware of the whispers and stares. He clutched Ms. Chao’s hand, warily looking around as the two walked some 10 feet to a chauffeured SUV and drove away at the reasonable hour of 9:30 p.m.