Sitting in our stalled cab on Park Avenue, The Observer stared at the bleary trail of red taillights lining the street, dotted with the flashing blue of police cruisers. Like a sad, static firework, traffic had come to a complete and utter halt. We were running uncharacteristically late, and, as we stared at the taxi’s now-muted screen our blood pressure began to rise slightly. Then, approaching 67th Street, we noticed an unusual number of Black SUVs. We did the some mental arithmetic: election year plus black Suburbans plus Upper East Side … there was only one explanation: the President was in town.
As we bounded out of our cab, a shivering policeman conducting traffic confirmed the suspicion. Attending a fundraiser down the block, the President had snarled traffic headed to the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory.
Passing beneath the scaffolds sheathing the site, we walked up the palatial steps and through the thick wooden doors. Just as we were checking our coat, we noticed Mayor Bloomberg and Diana Taylor make an early exit. Perhaps they had a fundraiser to attend. Inside, scores of New Yorkers had assembled to peek at the antiques. John and Carmen Thain, Fernanda Kellogg, Jonathan and Somers Farkas, Peter Brant and Tara Rockefeller entered the space, seeming unfazed by the honking, flashing, gridlocked spectacle unfolding on the street.
Peering into the room, we felt slightly overwhelmed. Standing in the entrance we could see glimpses of the sumptuous miscellany. Where to start? We spotted antique authority Leslie Keno, and decided to hear his expert assessment of the show. “I mean the Winter Antiques Show is one of the very best in the country and it brings together, in terms of quality of decorative arts and material culture, the best of the best,” he said with mounting excitement before rushing inside.
Jamee Gregory soon appeared, and explained to The Observer she had been attending to the show for over twenty-five years. “I hate January, so this is always fun and exciting and happy and you always see beautiful things and see your friends,” she gushed. We wondered if she procurred had any substantial or particularly memorable items at the event over the years. “Oh yes!” she proudly proclaimed. “I bought for my husband a print of Eddie 7, Edward the seventh, and it hangs proudly in our loo. But it’s very chic, its one of my favorite things.”
Phillip Yang, who sits on the board of the Winter Antiques Show, was unable to pick a favorite piece from his personal collection. “Well it’s so hard to tell, like picking which one of your children are your favorites,” he admitted. His bed, a canopied Ming-dynasty relic, was perhaps his most prized possession. “It’s actually fun to sleep in,” he told us. Of the President’s proximity Mr. Yang was decidedly diplomatic. “I hope it doesn’t affect the Winter Antiques Show, because this is a very worthwhile cause,” he said.
Suddenly, in a rush of fur, legs and brown tresses, Stephanie Seymour made a dramatic entrance. Initially refusing to pose for photos, Ms. Seymour charged inside.
We strolled through the labyrinthine showroom, passing a portrait of George Washington (we offered him a slight salute), a Chippendale Rococo mirror, 16th century suits of armor and a bound first edition of Leaves of Grass. We sipped a glass of champagne, and, finding our flute empty, was about to put it down on a nearby table before realizing it was in fact an early 19th century Venetian cabinet once belonging to William Randolph Hearst. To think what a water ring would have done to the plush, pedigreed piece! We offered our glass to a passing waiter.
As The Observer trotted past the stalls, eyes wide with amazement at the trove of obsolescent objets d’art, we felt suddenly very far from New York. For a brief moment, the Park Avenue Armory was transformed to a (very) high brow iteration of the Marché aux Pouces at Clignacourt.
We weren’t the only attendee with visions of Paris dancing in our head. We found Ari Kopelman greeting guests by a vintage Americana stall. He gushed about the newly renovated space, gesturing toward the high vaunted ceiling. “Now that the ceiling is completed, instead of having these big swags and everything that covered it, we opened it up and put spotlights up, so that you can see the whole ceilings. It’s kind of reminiscent of a wonderful French railroad station,” he said, squinting slightly as he looked toward the planchement. Gare du Nord, we offered? Apparently he was so taken with his subject matter, he didn’t hear.
“If people could understand that living with history is so exciting!” he chimed, waxing romantic. “Now that people are decorating in a more eclectic way, you can mix a lot of this kind of thing with contemporary settings. It gives texture, and it gives, I don’t know, a sense of place,” he said. “And it makes a room so much more interesting than when it’s done up with one particular look.”
Antiquing, of course, can be exhausting, and guests had developed a considerable appetites. Fortunately, between the stalls of six figure Persian rugs and vintage Cartier rings, buffets with sliders, home made potato chips and meat skewers were strategically situated around the room.
Unable to resist, we enjoyed a mini-red velvet cupcake (or two) at the dessert station. As we were enjoying the rich confection, we turned around and saw a diamond-and-enamel broach designed by Salvador Dalí. Where else on earth can one savor a cupcake while appraising priceless curios?
As the party was winding down, we noticed Ms. Seymour leave alongside Mr. Brant: antiquing heals old wounds, it seems.