The Orchid Thieves: Larceny Blossoms, But a Surprising Lack of Floral Dresses At The New York Botanical Garden Dinner

Baccarat's table at the New York Botanical Garden Orchid Dinner. (Photo: Cutty McGill)

Baccarat’s table at the New York Botanical Garden Orchid Dinner. (Photo: Cutty McGill)

There is a wonderful line in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America which reads, “One wants to move through life with elegance and grace, blossoming infrequently but with exquisite taste, and perfect timing, like a rare bloom, a zebra orchid . . . One wants . . . But one so seldom gets what one wants, does one?”

That may be true, unless one attended last evening’s New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental. Then they do. Providing, of course, that what they want is to bid several hundred dollars on exceedingly rare orchids to benefit the Orchid Collection and Orchid Show.

If you think to yourself, “I would quickly kill any flower that came into my vicinity, because I live in the land of the ice and snow and the polar vortex”, well, you may be correct. That is why an orchid care class with Marc Hachandourian, the Botanical Garden’s resident expert and manager of the Noel Greenhouse and curator of the Orchid Collection, was also one of the auction offerings. For $2,000 he promised to teach you his “tried-and-true-techniques for coaxing even the most recalcitrant orchid into flower.” On some level, one worries that those techniques involve living in a tropical climate, but maybe they merely require a spray bottle!

Surrounded by glorious blooms, you might have expected to see outfits peppered with poppies, but the female guests had seemingly taken Miranda Priestly’s withering dismissal, “Florals. How original,” to heart. Jean Shafiroff, herself a beautiful perennial, looked like a 1940’s movie star in an orange and gold polka dotted Oscar de la Renta, vowing that she was going to support the floral theme by “trying to bid on an orchid!”

And then there was model Francesca Vuillemin, who is an absolute dead ringer for Edie Sedgwick. She stood apart as a sort of tinfoil flower, with her icy blonde hair topping shiny, sparkling metallics by Gary Graham.  Charlotte Greenough, the senior knitwear designer for Milly, wore in a beautifully structured, modern Milly dress; so structured and cool in its black and white that it looked like something Alaia might have designed in his best days. (Somewhere in the background, Cher Horwitz is proclaiming that Milly has become ‘a totally important designer’.) She explained that Milly is a lot like flowers because “it always makes you happy!”

You will not find a well dressed woman in New York who will run the risk of being accused of trying too hard.

As for the actual elaborate floral pieces on the tables – like the one designed by David Salvatore of EDGE Mid-Century Designs – They might have been very gorgeous, and people might have been willing to bid hundreds of dollars on something similar placed in the adjoining auction room, but at the actual dinner, you could be assured to hear everyone complain that they blocked the view.

Men, on the other hand, seemed to blossom at the sartorial suggestiveness of the evening. They had been given a theme, and that theme was “flowers” and by God, they embraced it. The filmmaker Jonah Tulis proudly displayed his orange and grey floral tie, while Daniel Lombardi of Fendi Casa wore a displayed a stunning (and palm sized) diamond fern-shaped brooch.

Indeed, as the evening went on, the men seemed to flower still further, until a plethora possessed orchid boutonnieres. We finally stopped the designer Philip Gorrivan, who arranged a major bouquet on Table #3, to ask how he had come to have the beautiful flower on his lapel. “Oh,” he explained, “they were just on the table, so we took them and put them on!”

Sometimes, to move through life with elegance and grace, you have to break the rules.