“Put your dancing shoes on!” Casita Maria chairwoman Jacqueline Weld Drake exclaimed to Shindigger last Monday. With Fashion Week a blurry recent memory, New York’s movers and shakers and socialites quickly turned their attention to the autumnal premieres, galas and openings.
On the evening in question, Ms. Drake led a flock of fancy patrons, including Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Jamee Gregory, Ann Dexter-Jones, Zac Posen and Adrienne Vittadini, to the vibrant and art-filled townhouse of John Demsey, group president of Estée Lauder companies.
The invite-only cocktail reception served as an appetizer for the pricier (and likely more boisterous) Oct. 22 gala. Mr. Demsey and his 5-year-old daughter, Marie Hélène Demsey, served as hosts to some 200 guests, who schmoozed and swigged white wine.
“This year, we’re honoring John Demsey who has shown great commitment to Casita Maria,” explained Ms. Drake, who wore a body-hugging safari-print dress. “As well as France Chrétien Desmarais, who has been a major philanthropist from Canada, and the jazz legend Eddie Palmieri.”
On our first pass to the bar, we noticed a Richard Avedon photograph. And Mr. Demsey’s apparently large appetite for modern art also materialized in the form of works by Robert Maxwell and Albert Watson.
“It’s a great honor to be honored by Casita Maria,” Mr. Demsey told Shindigger. “When I first came to New York over 25 years ago, one of the first events I went to was Casita Maria.”
The beauty titan spoke of his long history of supporting the organization and attending its many glamorous fundraisers, but there were few if any scintillating stories to recount. Thankfully, we were interrupted.
“Daddy, I wanna go and get some new shoes,” his daughter interjected in an adorable high-pitched shrill. The girl was wearing a frothy dress in coffee that came with a golden sequin embellishment in the shape of a large bow.
“To buy or to wear?” he responded apprehensively.
“To wear,” she chirped before bumbling up the stairs for a change in wardrobe.
“Any advice about giving parties?” we asked Mr. Demsey then.
“Call the exterminator!” he chuckled.
Which is advice gala co-chair Alina Cho might take literally.
“I do anything John Demsey tells me to do,” Ms. Cho confessed, once the cocktails were kicking in. “John is one of my closest friends. He tells me to be somewhere—I’m there. He tells me to introduce him—I do it.”
Indeed, the besties can often be spotted at the finest VIP parties: the NYC premiere of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a cocktail party for Tom Ford, Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Benefit and so on.
“We’re kindred spirits,” she said, jingling her gold bangles. “He’s one of the most giving people I know in this world.”
And as they say, it’s better to give than give in.
Speaking of which, Shindigger noticed more than a few guests gorging themselves at Il Gattopardo’s 12th anniversary party. The restaurant was also celebrating its new location in the handsome Rockefeller Townhouses on West 54th Street—an upgrade that will be well received.
“We have been on 54th Street for many years with Bice, then Sette MoMA at the Museum at Modern Art,” owner Gianfranco Sorrentino explained. “We have always loved the Rockefeller Townhouses, and then when it became available we knew it was the right time.”
According to Signore Sorrentino, the new-fangled space is all about simplicity, authenticity, hospitality, consistency and comfort. “Those have always been our main goals. And now we can do it better.”
Expect familiar faces from the art, style and entertainment worlds to gather for chef Vito Gnazzo’s mouth-watering Southern Italian cuisine. Some of his favorite patrons include: John Baldessari, Marina Abramovic, Richard Serra, Stanley Tucci, Isabella Rossellini, Paul McCartney, Sting, Naomi Campbell, Brunello Cucinelli, David Rockefeller and Glenn Lowry, just to name a few.
“We have fun with most of them,” he smiled. “The restaurant business is always a live performance.”
By way of example, Mr. Sorrentino explained, “When Bill Clinton celebrated his 65th birthday at the Leopard at des Artistes, security was very tight. Half an hour before the dinner, they completely changed the seating, as security strategy. That created a wave of moving customers to different tables, and, of course, we couldn’t explain why. They shortly understood, and thank God most of them were Democrats!”
Another place politics are at play these days is the New York City Opera. But while the progressive lyrical company is in financial and executive turmoil, perhaps its fortunes will change with the much-anticipated modern opera Anna Nicole. If a premiere event is any indication, the opera’s fabulous début and opening night party at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House last week might suggest a swerve to the positive.
“At first, I watched everything I could find of Anna and her life,” Sarah Joy Miller, who plays the prima donna, told Shindigger of her breast-to-riches character. “But quickly I realized that a driving force of her personality was a desire to be Marilyn Monroe.”
Like both of those babes, Ms. Miller has the blond tresses and va-va-voom figure for the role, which she executes with an enviably delicate coloratura.
“She desired a big life, and she wanted to be loved and accepted,” Ms. Miller explained. “I think many people can relate to that.”
Shindigger sure can.