After walking up the oyster-hued carpet leading to the Council of Fashion Designers Awards at the New York Public Library on June 7, style mavens discussed the sartorial sins of summer.
“Flip-flops on Fifth Avenue!” groaned double nominee Michael Kors, his arm around aspiring starlet Molly Sims, whose fringed frock swept the floor. “I’m wearing high heels right now because when you have a model as a date, a guy needs a little height.” He lifted up his chunky shoes.
“Bikinis with cellu- leet !” shuddered Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, who had opted for a teal and yellow muumuu.
“Wearing no clothes,” said Martha Stewart, her mouth settling into a firm line. Ms. Stewart was wearing a white satin jacket and black cigarette pants; mercifully, she’d ditched the Birkin bag, arriving with women’s-wear nominee Ralph Rucci on her arm instead. For at the so-called “Oscars of the fashion industry,” the hottest accessory proved to be the designers themselves. Actress Natalie Portman had a Zac Posen copper flapper dress on her bod and the cream-sateen-clad Mr. Posen by her side (he would go on to win the Emerging Talent statue), while West Side power wife Jessica Seinfeld brought Narciso Rodriguez.
“You can’t make no mistakes in fashion,” declared hip-hop’s Jay-Z, who arrived almost an hour before his alleged girlfriend Beyoncé and was instantly swarmed by eager partygoers. “Fashion is about your attitude, because we all basically shop at the same places, so it’s about how you wear something. You gotta wear the clothes, don’t let them wear you. I gotta get me a drink now.”
What are people excited about wearing this summer?
“Baby barf!” said the singer Seal, who has been playing proud step-papa to luscious model Heidi Klum’s 5-week-old baby, Leni.
“I’m just happy if I fit into anything right now,” said Ms. Klum, who was poured into a gleaming red Kors gown that puddled around her feet. Encircling her wrist was a delicate rose-gold bracelet with her daughter’s name inset in rubies.
“My cheap Chinatown slippers!” said model Alek Wek, swilling orange juice on the rocks.
“I have bought a Pucci bathing suit-I’m very excited about that,” said Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour.
The library’s ballroom was awash in color, with crystal candelabras and clear vessels of emerald liquid twinkling down long parallel tables. In the foyer, curtains of green crystals hung from the archways. Stepford models had been scattered throughout the room, wearing austere ponytails, blue strappy heels and borrowed fuchsia Marc Jacobs frocks.
Across the street, the inevitable PETA pack was hoisting signs with a photo of an about-to-be-clubbed baby seal, protesting “[Donna] Karan’s Killer Look.” Ms. Karan was one of the last guests to arrive, after some trouble with the lace overlay on her lime dress. “It’s caught on my shoe!” she said, staggering a bit. “I’ve learned my lesson about lace!” And with that she hurried into the ballroom, leaving those in her wake with an eyeful of black thong.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer was squealing with pleasure. “I love parties!” she yelped as she trotted around the inner courtyard of Tavern on the Green, clutching a glass of Diet Coke with Lemon. “Who would have thought that I’m going to be at a party where there are all these security guards, and where the Mayor’s going to come and the Governor, and everybody knows me? Even Cindy Adams knows me! It’s wonderful to be Dr. Ruth!”
It was 5:30 p.m. on a steamy Monday evening, and the good doctor was in a state of near-ecstasy as politicians, media moguls, business machers and demi-celebrities from every walk of New York life began pouring into the old Manhattan boîte for one of the year’s great schmooze-fests: the 50th-anniversary celebration of Howard Rubenstein’s public-relations firm.
The affable septuagenarian, the soirée proved, was capable of being friends with just about everyone. Which is why the party seemed like such a sublime rat-fuck: By night’s end, some 3,000 people had crammed the corridors of Tavern on the Green to pay tribute to the father of spin.
“I’m not his client, but still I celebrate Howard,” said Dr. Ruth, who was small enough to fit in a pocketbook, and looked like the consummate bubby in her dark slacks, blue-striped silk chemise and sensible shoes.
“I told Howard’s wife that I would like someone like him as a husband-but without a wife. I told her because I wanted her to hear it from me, not someone else,” she added, before her attention was diverted by a popping flashbulb and she stage-dived into a photograph with Regis Philbin, Cindy Adams (who looked positively hieroglyphic in thick Nefertiti eyeliner) and the man of honor himself, Howard Rubenstein. Later the sly “sexpert” repeated the move just as a photographer was about to snap a rare photo of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Nestled between the unlikely pair, she beamed for the camera like the clueless love child of what might have been the world’s strangest political union.
There was Michael Bolton (remember him?), that sensitive soft-rock crooner, talking politics with a gaggle of hard-boiled local electeds in the restaurant’s glass-cased rotunda; the craggy-faced Rupert Murdoch squiring Wendy Deng, his youthful wife No. 3, through the crowd of publicists and media vipers; Cardinal Egan rubbing elbows with the divorced Duchess of York.
Indeed, during his 50 years as the city’s pre-eminent spin doctor, Mr. Rubenstein (or “Mr. Ruben,” as Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert called him during the press-conference portion of the evening) has been nothing if not a master at managing prickly personalities. He has represented Democrats and Republicans, unions and management, a cancer hospital and the Tobacco Institute, somehow stitching them all together into one seamless, if motley, portfolio.
“He is the Gretzky of Rolodexes,” said former Mayoral contender Mark Green, smiling at his sports reference. “He’s the Great One.”
“It’s like he’s my uncle: He gives me a place where I’m able to be myself,” said Duchess Fergie during a fidgety and somewhat depressing speech about the way Mr. Rubenstein had helped her turn her life around after her split from Prince Andrew in 1991. (Among other things, he was the fairy godfather who helped turn her into the Weight Watchers spokeswoman seven years ago.)
“He’s gotten me out of many scrapes,” she told The Transom a few minutes later, as two Secret Service agents ushered her and her black stilettos out of the event. “My whole life’s a scrape.”
Indeed, if there was one theme that popped up again and again during the golden-anniversary celebration, it was the 72-year-old spin maestro’s uncanny ability to “get people out of problems with the media,” as Senator Hillary Clinton put it.
“Now I wouldn’t know anything about that,” she chuckled as she stood at the podium, a large topiary gorilla looming behind her. “And I didn’t meet Howard early enough to have avoided a lot of that. But ever since I did make Howard’s acquaintance and develop a friendship with him, it’s just remarkable that I’ve stayed out of trouble as long as I have.”
Jared Hess, the 24-year-old creator of Napoleon Dynamite -an offbeat comedy to be released in New York on Friday-was recalling the first time the film was screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“I was dry-heaving,” Mr. Hess said.
How vivid! He was sitting on June 8 at a sun-drenched table in the dining room of the Essex House on Central Park South.
“I was just pacing outside. I expected to hear crickets. But people laughed from the very first shot to the very end. We got a standing ovation. It was a dream come true.”
That dream has brought the Midwesterner to New York for the first time. A little less than five months later, on the eve of the film’s release, Mr. Hess appears relaxed and confident, but wholly out of place-wearing a plaid cowboy shirt, jeans and a pair of gray suede New Balance shoes-in the ornate dining room. But it is, after all, the Muse of Not Fitting In that speaks through Mr. Hess. Napoleon Dynamite , about a gangly, bespectacled mouth-breather from rural Preston, Idaho (Mr. Hess’ hometown), played by newcomer Jon Heder, is a unique, refreshing homage to the awkwardness of high school, and if the buzz surrounding it is true, it could very well be the sleeper hit of the summer.
The buzz began after that first Sundance screening. Offers from studios-“everyone that I can think of”-began pouring in. His producer’s rep, the savvy veteran John Sloss, advised him to hold off scheduling meetings until the end of the second screening the next day. When that time came-before he could say, “Get Harvey!”-Mr. Hess was in a room with what seemed like the entire executive staff of Fox Searchlight Pictures, including president Peter Rice.
“They were all like, ‘We love this movie,'” he gushed from behind of a pair of brown rectangular glasses. Mr. Hess, who was in Park City with his wife, Jerusha Hess (who is also the co-writer of the film), said that the Searchlight team seemed “genuine.” They outlined how they’d like to market the film and when they’d like to release it. According to Mr. Hess, then they gave him an ultimatum: “We’re not leaving until we have this film. And by the way, we have a screening at 5, and if we have to leave and go to that and we haven’t closed the deal, we’re not coming back for it.”
Impressed by their group effort and their track record-especially the success they’d had with the indie thriller 28 Days Later -Mr. Hess, a Mormon who’d only recently dropped out of college, gave the O.K., and Mr. Sloss disappeared into a separate room with the studio’s attorney. He emerged, reportedly, with a deal between $3 million and $4.75 million for the film. Mr. Hess has yet to be paid, but he said that was customary until certain “delivery requirements” had been met. He assured The Transom, however, that he’d recently met his contractual obligations and hopes that “the ship will be arriving soon.” The film cost $200,000 to make-money producer Jeremy Coon secured through a relative, who will now be reimbursed.
But even though things seem to be working out quite well, Mr. Hess still remembers times on the set when he was more like Napoleon than the next Wes Anderson: “While we were shooting the film,” he said, “I was dry-heaving every morning of every day for the two weeks.”
The Museum of Modern Art never promised you a rose garden, but a garden of some sort would’ve sufficed for the institution’s 36th annual Garden Party, held at the musky Roseland Ballroom on the evening of Monday, June 7.
Ongoing renovation-how long has it been now?-at MoMA’s West 54th Street headquarters had forced the revelers from the cool and shady stone yard of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, where MoMA clever-clogs usually find themselves when it’s time to celebrate.
But MoMA had no problem getting its generous benefactors-the Lauders, the Rockefellers and Agnes Gund included-to slum it for the evening along with the odd celebrity. This year, MoMA honored a very odd one-Steve Martin, the Hollywood man of letters-for his support of contemporary art.
The actor’s collection reportedly includes works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Edward Hopper and David Hockney.
Sporting a pencil-thin mustache-he’s currently playing Inspector Clouseau in a remake of The Pink Panther -Mr. Martin arrived early and alone and quickly parked himself in a dimly lit corner of the ballroom’s bar. The Transom had been advised that the actor wasn’t talking to press, and indeed Mr. Martin’s mustachioed lips were tightly zipped. Attempts to engage were swiftly deflected, thanks in part to an overzealous male chargé d’affaires by his side.
“Here’s the problem,” said the zealous chargé d’affaires by his side. “He’s been shouting on set for a couple of days, and really we’re just standing here and not even talking to each other just to save his voice, so I don’t mean to be rude,” the aide said.
Mr. Martin nodded and appeared to have taken on the look and mannerisms of the socially awkward, poker-faced Inspector Clouseau.
The Transom moved on to another mustachioed, less anxious guest, John Waters. Asked what he made of Mr. Martin’s MoMA seal of approval, Mr. Waters was inscrutable.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “Collectors are honored with everything from having a door named after them in a museum to having their names on boards. He’s setting a good example so other movie stars become collectors.”
Mr. Waters, himself a collector of “art that makes you mad,” was less jovial about his own recent honor, presented to him by the MPAA: an NC-17 rating for his new film A Dirty Shame .
“From whence I came,” smiled Mr. Waters. “It’s no use in whining. I’ve had NC-17 ratings in my life for Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos . I personally was shocked this film got one. I lost the appeal. Here we are again: ‘NC John.'”
Was this a throwback to the culture wars of the 80’s, The Transom wondered?
“I don’t speak ill of the dead yet,” said Mr. Waters. “Let’s give it a week.”
Nap Time for Nicky
“I need these now,” Nicole Kidman announced, placing a pair of squared-off glasses on the bridge her patrician nose. She was about to present a Tony Award to Hugh Jackman for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Yet no librarian glasses could hide what was clear to everyone lining the red carpet on June 6: Nicole Kidman was tired.
It was hard not to think of reports that had came out earlier in the day that, after months of editing and 11th-hour additions, nothing and no one had been able to sharpen the vision behind the beleaguered remake of The Stepford Wives , due to hit theaters the following week.
In the end, a three-month production turned into an eight-month epic. “It was a long time, and I don’t do well with long times,” Ms. Kidman admitted to the New York Post at a press conference held June 3.
Something was very wrong on the set of Stepford -and it was no secret. Since cameras started rolling, rumors have circulated of fighting among the fembots and the men who love them. Specifically, Ms. Kidman and Bette Midler were said to have been at odds, while Christopher Walken reportedly bickered with director Frank Oz, who himself was having difficulties with the Paramount studio heads.
It couldn’t help matters that the night of the Los Angeles premiere, Ms. Kidman was busy reading from a teleprompter at Radio City Music Hall, throwing more support behind The Boy from Oz .
“She’s been a great supporter of mine,” the musical’s star and Ms. Kidman’s fellow Australian, Hugh Jackman, said later. “I know exactly how busy she is at the moment, and for her to be there tonight just meant the world to me.”
Even Ms. Kidman’s Stepford husband, Broadway star Matthew Broderick, attended the premiere, leaving real-life wife Sarah Jessica Parker to present the Tony Award for Best Musical with his Producers partner, Nathan Lane.
Yet Ms. Kidman stood by her man-her countryman, that is-whom she’d met through his wife, Australian soap star Deborra-Lee Furness. A longtime friend of Ms. Kidman’s, Ms. Furness even offered up her couch to the fluffy, strawberry-haired ingenue when she first moved to L.A.
Now more than a decade, a marriage, two kids, a divorce and one embattled movie later, that same hair was blond, blown straight and anchored back in a taut ponytail.
Glasses on, a decidedly sharp expression on her face, Ms. Kidman announced her friend as the winner. A short, businesslike congratulatory kiss followed.
“[Nicole] said to me, ‘If it’s not your name, I think I’m going to read yours out anyway,'” Mr. Jackman later recalled fondly to The Transom. “So I would have had a Tony for about 30 seconds before someone came and took us all to jail.”
At least she could have gotten some rest.
Here’s a way to beat the tedium of being an editorial assistant: call up the head of a rival publishing house and tell him you’re feeling like your life is all work and no recreation. Explain that you’re a singer, looking to get back into practice. Maybe he wants to get together and jam sometime?
That’s how Rakesh Satyal, a 23-year-old who works in the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group of Random House, got to know Jonathan Burnham, a classically trained pianist and the president and publisher of Miramax Books.
“I was having lunch in the city one day with Edmund White, who was my creative-writing teacher at Princeton, and he suggested that I contact his friend Jonathan,” Mr. Satyal said. (Mr. Burnham spent several years as editorial director of Chatto & Windus, which publishes Mr. White’s books in the U.K.) “I felt all right doing it because I had a legitimate point of connection, but I was kind of expecting him to say no.”
Mr. Burnham’s improbable acquiescence led to the birth of a cabaret act called “Rocky and Johnny,” in which Mr. Burnham accompanies Mr. Satyal in a program of show tunes and jazz standards by the likes of Gershwin, Bernstein and Elvis Costello.
Last Wednesday at Danny’s Skylight Room, in Danny’s Grand Sea Palace, a restaurant where “Bangkok meets Broadway” on West 46th Street, Rocky and Johnny were scheduled to perform at 9:15. The décor was more Thai than nautical: ginger-colored tablecloths, black lacquered chairs, glass panels with etchings of lilypads and carp. By 9:11, there were 15 people in the crowd: a trio in town from Miramax’s London office, a friend of Mr. Burnham’s and her daughters, a couple from Bloomsbury, plus six friends of Mr. Satyal’s from college. No one was sure about the balding guy with the magazine.
“If they don’t show, we’ll wait another five,” a technician said as he consulted the guest list. The small group tried to figure out how to meet the $10 food-and-drink minimum without going over it. Coronas, mostly, though the couple took the cheesecake.
Mr. Burnham, an urbane, well-built man in his 40’s, peeked out from the stage door, which doubled as a bus station. Minutes later, Mr. Satyal, who has a slim frame and an excitable manner, emerged from behind a curtain and made his way to a stool in the center of the stage. He was wearing a navy pinstriped suit with a crisp shirt and tie. His hair was parted far on the side, and it looked Brylcreemed, like Mr. Bean’s. He apologized for having a cold, which he’d contracted, he explained, trying to paint an apple-tree mural on the wall of his apartment.
“When I’m singing, I’m Nina Simone; when I’m speaking, I’m Joan Rivers,” he warned.
In spite of his sinus problems, Mr. Satyal launched into a snappy love song called “All I Care Is About,” in a deep yet fresh voice that was startlingly good. His soulful delivery sometimes seemed at odds with the flightiness of his monologues (Madonna! Star Jones! D.I.Y. interior design!), but Mr. Burnham, playing with a tucked chin and bobbing shoulders, followed his partner’s fluctuations expertly. A dusky blue light came on, and Mr. Satyal sang Fiona Apple’s “Slow Like Honey,” kneading the vowels with his voice until “honey” sounded more like “home.” The girl from Bloomsbury began to reach for her companion under the table. The room was entirely still-save for the sound of the busboy emptying beer bottles-as he hit the reaches of his falsetto.
The duo practices about every other week, usually on Sundays, at Mr. Burnham’s loft in Tribeca, where he keeps a baby grand. Their tastes in music complement each other: Mr. Burnham knows the old stuff, and Mr. Satyal introduces him to singers and songwriters like Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainright. Then there was the Enya Incident.
“I assured Rakesh that this was the only time this particular artist had ever been played in my apartment,” Mr. Burnham remembered.
Occasionally, the talk tends toward their day jobs-“We’ll talk about proposals we’ve both seen, and who’s taken what and who’s rejected what,” Mr. Satyal said-but more often, it doesn’t.
“The relationship is really through the music,” said Mr. Burnham, who, as a student until he was “about 30,” earned extra money playing cabaret in bars in places like Oxford, Paris and Venice. And while Mr. Burnham allows that the group, thus far, has drawn a largely literary following, he decried the notion of Rocky and Johnny as a niche act.
“I don’t want to make it a mandatory office thing to come,” he said. “And we’re trying to get it to be more than a publishing crowd.”
Mr. Burnham continued to play quiet foil to the star as they reached Mr. Satyal’s favorite part of the set, the “Moon River”/”Fly Me to the Moon” sequence, which provoked a flare of a grin from Mr. Burnham, who had spent most of the monologue shuffling through his music and trying to look serious. It was the “Mr. Cellophane” (from Chicago ) finale that had the audience laughing hardest. Mr. Satyal feigned haplessness with real talent as he slumped and pouted and sang, “Mister Cellophane / Shoulda been my name / ‘Cause you can look right through me / Walk right by me / And never ever know I’m there.”
Mr. Burnham left quickly after the performance, but Mr. Satyal stuck around talking to his friends, several of whom were old a cappella buddies. “Hey-somebody left a full drink,” one of them observed, pointing to a watery vodka cranberry at the Miramax table.