In a scene reminiscent of an Edith Wharton novel, the patrons of the Museum of the City of New York descended on the Grand Ballroom in the Plaza Hotel for 25th Annual Director’s Council Winter Ball.
The evening began with cocktails and Champagne in the frescoed Terrace Room under the crystal chandeliers made by Charles Winston (brother of jeweler Harry). They were dimmed to a wrinkle-erasing glow. The crowd, many of whom have been regulars at the party for years, greeted each other like it was the first day back at school. Men clapped each other’s tuxedoed backs while their wives air-kissed and then stood back to assess each others’ figures. As Oscar de la Renta was one of the evening’s hosts, many of the ladies wore his elegant, floral designs, which perfectly suited the occasion (except for the long trains, which their dates repeatedly tripped over in the pre-dinner crush). One person who did not trip over her train was de la Renta’s daughter, Eliza Reed Bolen, who managed to look chic in a flouncy polka dot dress that would have made anyone else look like a spotted meringue. When asked why she thought that the party committee had decided to move the party from its usual location at the museum on 103rd Street to the Plaza, she shook her head so that her enormous teardrop pearl and coral earrings swayed from side to side. “I have no idea.” Her husband Alex jumped in: “I think it was to give the party more space.”
As the Terrace Room filled up, The Observer bumped into Kristina Stewart Ward, society’s best-known Mormon writer and onetime Harper’s Bazaar scribe, who was more interested in talking about her recent move to gated-community Tuxedo Park than her writing. “It must be one of the only places where the men are more social than the women; they are always out and about.”
Sprightly Texan Lynn Wyatt was a standout in a black cut-out lace dress that managed to conceal more than it revealed, and when asked who made the dress, she said, “Why, Oscar de la Renta, of course; he’s one of mah favorite designers.”
We asked her why she thought the party had moved downtown, and she purred, “I don’t know, y’all should ask Mark Gilbertson that,” before slipping off after the man affectionately known as “the Pied Piper of the Upper East Side.”
We asked newly single Vanity Fair scribe Vicky Ward, who was kitted out in electric turquoise, when we could expect the follow-up to her dishy tell-all book about the collapse of Lehman Brothers. “Nothing at the moment, but we’ll talk,” she promised before dashing off.
As dinner was announced, the crowd drifted up the marble stairs, ladies clinging to their dates, desperately clutching folds of chiffon and lace and trying not to tumble on the highly polished surface.
Mrs. Schermerhorn Astor herself would have felt right at home in the Belle Epoque interior of the Plaza Ballroom. Large and lavishly decorated in cream and gold, the room was an anachronistic marvel. Long-stemmed yellow tulips towered overhead on rectangular tables. In between bites of fig galette, followed by rare roast beef, guests continued to speculate on why the party had moved locations.
Mr. Gilbertson, the driving force behind the ball and the long-standing chairman of the committee, filled them in: “We’re not at the museum this year because they are doing extensive renovations.” He then went on to say, “This party is not a celebrity party but it is a social party, and the same people come here year after year. We’ve been doing it for 25 years.” He added, gesturing to the room below, “Please, everyone, get out on the dance floor. We could have done away with it and sold more tickets.”
At that moment, Lady Gaga blasted out of the speakers, somewhat incongruous with the more delicate surroundings. But once the Pied Piper had issued an order, no one was going to refuse, and soon the floor was packed with couples dancing as crazily as they could in their constrained costumes. Allison Aston got into the spirit of the evening, lifting up her tiered skirt, cancan style.
As smoothly as the party began, it ended. At the stroke of midnight, revelers spilled out onto the street, smoking surreptitious cigarettes and piling into taxis to take them into the busy Manhattan night.