Society Goes Salsa
Regal in her green and gold kaftan, salsa legend Celia Cruz leaned into the chorus of “Guantanamera” and watched the crowd before her catch fire. In a tent pitched near the sea lion tank at the Central Park Wildlife Center on Sept. 22, skeletal arms were flailing, and bony asses were shaking. Even socialite Nan Kempner was on the dance floor. On the sidelines, wallflowers were belting out “Guan-tan-a-me-e-rrra” with voices that had to be freaking out the locked-down zoological population.
For months, the press has been flogging the invasion of young, sexy Latinos, and Gotham’s social ranks were now getting the equivalent at Elisa Salinas’ “Noche Tropical” coming-out party in Manhattan. In her native Mexico, Ms. Salinas, a dark-skinned, full-lipped beauty, is well known as the vice president of television production for the TV Azteca S.A. network and as a member of one of the country’s wealthiest families. Although she is not related to former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, her family bought what is now TV Azteca from the Mexican Government in 1993 for $641 million. But here in New York, Ms. Salinas, who’s about to turn 34, wants to be known as the woman behind the Enrique Martinez women’s designer label. Enrique Martinez is not exactly a household name in fashion, and Ms. Salinas has chosen New York for her flagship boutique, scheduled to open on Oct. 8, where the clothes will sell for between $500 and $2,500. Ms. Salinas is no stranger to retailing: Her father, Hugo Salinas Rocha, was a founder of the Salinas y Rocha department-store chain. She and her husband, a TV producer named Juan Davide Burns, have three daughters.
Asked why she chose New York, Ms. Salinas referred to “Frank Sinatra’s wonderful song, ‘New York, New York.’ Here you get to be the center of the world in many ways.” Opening a store at the crossroads of the world does not guarantee success (just ask David Tang), but the party that Ms. Salinas threw suggests that she has given thought to how to connect with the right clientele. To accomplish this, Ms. Salinas allied herself with one of the city’s stalwart social charities, the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and one of its premier social events, the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show. Ms. Salinas’ public-relations agency, Dente & Cristina, suggested the alliance. “I think it was a good introduction to her here,” said Conrad Hanson, director of advertising at the firm. “Look at the people behind Sloan-Kettering and at the Winter Art and Antiques Show, and there’s her customer.”
The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering has traditionally been the beneficiary of a kickoff party for the Art and Antique Dealers Show, and this is where Ms. Salinas’ money came into play. Sources familiar with the situation said that Ms. Salinas made a $50,000 donation to the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering and picked up the cost of the Noche Tropical party, which seasoned party-throwers estimated cost in the $200,000 to $500,000 range. Ms. Salinas deemed this “an exaggeration” but declined to comment further.
In return, Ms. Salinas got the charity’s mailing list and some added value. Those who received the elegant booklet-like invitations made from exotic papers may not have recognized the Salinas name, but they were well acquainted with Mrs. Thomas L. Kempner, Mrs. Paul Soros and Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. Invitations that bear these names are not usually ignored. So before heading to the zoo, the invited crammed into the marble-trimmed sliver of a store Ms. Salinas has leased on Madison Avenue’s gold coast between 66th and 67th streets. Because no one knew Ms. Salinas and because there were only a handful of clothes on display (one partygoer remembered seeing only a suit and a dress) and because the store was unfinished and because the crowd was jaded, there were a few jokes about Colombian drug money on Madison Avenue. But by the time the crowd had moved into the heated tent, they were wondering who Ms. Salinas really was.
Ms. Salinas spent the night telling them. The crowd included Mrs. Buckley, Nina Griscom, Bill Blass, Tim and Helen Lee Schifter, Alexandra Lind, Mario Buatta, Carroll Petrie and Nancy Jarecki. Mrs. Salinas especially remembered Nan Kempner, Daisy Soros and Nicole Limbocker. “I think we planted the seeds to develop a nice friendship,” said Ms. Salinas.
Meanwhile, she had brought some of Mexico’s social elite, including TV Azteca chief executive Ricardo Salinas (who is her nephew even though he is several years older), and whom her publicist insisted is “the Ted Turner of Mexico.” Ms. Salinas also brought actress Rebecca de Alba, “the Sharon Stone of Mexico.”
Some of the New Yorkers did their best to mingle with Ms. Salinas’ crowd. Mrs. Buckley said that at one point she was speaking Spanish to one of Ms. Salinas’ friends and then turned to her escort for the evening, John Galliher, and forgot to switch back to English. “After I delivered this long monologue in Spanish, he looked at me and said, ‘Have you gone totally insane ?'”
Mostly the New York crowd and the Mexican crowd kept to their respective selves. “It was a lovely party, but it was like two separate parties were going on under one tent,” said Ms. Schifter, who rushed to add that it had “nothing to do with snobbiness” but rather was because the two groups had never met before.
“I didn’t get that impression,” said Ms. Salinas. “I think everybody had a good time.” When the Ricky Martin comparison was brought up, Ms. Salinas laughed. “I’m not that ambitious,” she said.
The noise level dropped a few decibels when David Bowie, his model wife Iman, and Elvis Costello and his wife, Caitlin O’Riordan, walked into the book party for British comedian Eric Idle at Michael’s restaurant. “We’re just gate crashers,” Mr. Costello said, right before a publicist thrust a copy of Mr. Idle’s novel, The Road to Mars , into his hands. The foursome were on their way to Tom Waits’ show at the Beacon, but Mr. Bowie stayed long enough for Mr. Idle to get a good look at the Thin White Duke’s new limp-hair-and-leather-look, which looks an awful lot like Garth Brooks’ The Life of Chris Gaines get-up. “What is it? Monkey glands? What are you on?” Mr. Idle demanded of Mr. Bowie. Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd asked Iman where the couple were living in the city. When Iman told him their downtown address, Mr. Aykroyd, who lives at 88th Street and First Avenue, replied: “Oh, I love that loft culture.” Also on hand were comedian Steve Martin (whose jacket blurb for Mr. Idle reads: “I laughed, I cried, and then I read the book.”), Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels, singer Paul Simon and Suddenly Susan star Brooke Shields, on whose show Mr. Idle plays a nasty magazine publisher. Mr. Idle called the sitcom gig “a complete brain-clearer.” Then he paused and said, “Brooke will kill me.”
Poof ! The magicians famous for making beasts vanish before Las Vegas audiences celebrated the New York premier of their 3-D Imax film, Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box , at the Rainbow Room on Sept. 27. They twirled Ivana Trump around the dance floor as three one-month-old lions played in the corner. Before the film was shown at Sony’s theater on the Upper West Side, Siegfried had gushed to the crowd, “This is the happiest time of my life. I’ve been through some good ones and some rough ones. When I met Roy, we changed mountains.” Some were less impressed. “At least there were no close-ups,” said Village Voice columnist Michael Musto afterward. At the party, Roy explained his connection with animals. “I have a family of 58 cats: tigers, lions, leopards, white lions, white tigers, snow leopards,” he said. Leaning in close, he added, “I feel closest to my black panther in personality. He sleeps with me, he meditates with me.”
True masters of illusion, Siegfried and Roy made “confirmed arrivals” Billy Crystal and Christy Turlington vanish before even arriving. But SoHo gallery owner Egizio Panetti did appear, pivoting to show off his leopard-print faux fur pants. “Today I tried to flirt with Siegfried and Roy,” he said. “They said hello to me and invited me to come to Las Vegas and stay with them.”
–Deborah Schoeneman .
The Transom Also Hears …
… What media-swacked columnist wouldn’t want to meet Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse’s aunt? So on Sept. 23, The Transom ventured to a private room at Le Cirque, where Caroline Newhouse, widow of Mr. Newhouse’s uncle Theodore Newhouse, held forth for Career Transition for Dancers. The organization helps find new jobs for dancers, who peak at around 30, and Ms. Newhouse was announcing a benefit that will take place on Oct. 25. Ms. Newhouse, who was wearing a ring that looked like a gold bar, abandoned her speech notes because she said it was too dark. Then, seeking to characterize the plight of over-the-hill dancers, she referred to Alexander Dubé, the organization’s secretary and treasurer and her close companion since her husband’s death, as “an old horse.” Mr. Dubé, who studied with the Joffrey Ballet, interrupted to say that he preferred the term “thoroughbred.” Later, he told a story about the time he and Ms. Newhouse visited a friend of hers who had just had a face lift. When the woman asked Ms. Newhouse how she looked, Ms. Newhouse stared at her friend and said, “I don’t think they gave you a face lift. I think they cut off your ears and sewed them back on.”