Winterthur Museum & Country Estate’s Chic It Up! design conference rocked this town in more ways than one. The black-tie soiree on May 16 was as glam as expected, but the unseasonably cold and rainy weather left the designer crowd in lockdown, canceling what was to be a stunning finale at the reflecting pool. A little more champagne solved that problem. But all the alcohol in the state couldn’t numb the seismic shock caused by the sudden resignation of director Leslie Greene Bowman.
The announcement hit the press the same day as the party, which could’ve been a real downer, but Winterthur staffers put on happy faces to honor the estate’s second Chic It Up! which focused on 1930s design. Internationally acclaimed designers and architects, such as author Martin Wood of Yorkshire, England, descended upon the grounds for a flurry of weekend activities. Esteemed New Yorkers included architect Peter Pennoyer, designer Eric Cohler and decorator Jeni L. Sandberg of Christie’s. Pennoyer, dressed in an Armani tux from Venice, was thrilled to participate. “We think about Winterthur a lot in New York,” he said. “In many ways it is the soul of the decorating arts in America.”
Bowman accomplished much during her nine-year tenure. And while the Chic crowd was shaken and visibly stirred, all enjoyed tours of Henry Francis du Pont’s former home. Dedicated 28-year veteran Dorcas Taylor, who gently reminded Gabby not to step on Oriental carpets in the Port Royal entrance, led the tours. “No heels. Part of the conservation effort, you understand,” Taylor said as she swiftly changed subjects from footware to 10-foot tall grandfather clocks, chests of drawers made in the 1700s, and how her remote control can dim the new, state-of-the-art Slot Lux lighting system. The lighting is kinder to replicated fabrics.
UD’s faculty jazz band warmed the crowd with 1930s standards. After Duke Ellington and a little Chardonnay, everyone had forgotten the rain. Pale pink peonies scented the Galleries Reception Area. Candlelit tables dressed in white linen held favorite finger foods that the du Pont family enjoyed during the era.
Winterthur marketing director Tara Davis partied like it was 1939, turning heads in a full-length, strapless Lilly Pulitzer gown, lime green strappy sandals and turquoise earrings. “A lot of product” built her sassy blond bob, she said. Senior communications manager Vicki Saltzman was her usual charming self in a little Calvin Klein number, but who knew she possessed encyclopedic fashion smarts? As the beauties fluttered by, Saltzman named their designers faster than Joan Rivers would have.
Wilmington’s Judy Herdig was draped in a vintage Bergdorf Goodman jacket, a satin work of art with mink sleeves, a bit of silk chiffon and satin trim. She took off the jacket to reveal a battery-operated Swarovski crystal necklace that danced around her neck each time it caught the candlelight. Estate historian Maggie Lidz wore a pair of 1930s Kimono-style hostess pajamas that she nabbed at Rags to Riches Upscale Resale in Centreville. “I’m so comfy, I’ve decided to wear pajamas for every Chic It Up! from now on,” Lidz said. The occasion showcased the fantastic fashion of J. Thomas Savage, Winterthur’s director of museum affairs, who donned skull-and-crossbones slippers from London, a pique cotton shirt from Germany and a Leonardo Valenti dinner jacket. “And the socks are silk,” Savage said. “No garter, of course.”
Bowman kept a stiff upper lip amid required cocktail chatter because as she said, “The event is bittersweet.” Eye-catching in an Ann Lawrence black cocktail dress with jet bugle beads and a silk fringe hem, plus a cashmere scarf with white marabou feathers, Bowman enjoyed the party, knowing it would be her last at Winterthur before reporting for duty as new director of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation on October 1. “I leave a piece of my heart here,” she said. “But who can say no to Thomas Jefferson?”
Bowman did leave Winterthur in the trusty hands of former UD president David Roselle, who will serve as interim director until a national search renders a replacement. The out-of-town guests weren’t fazed by the news. They were simply enamored of Winterthur. The locals—the legions of Bowman fans—spoke quietly about the estate’s future. One long-time Winterthur member who wished to remain anonymous summed it up. “I’m not sure anyone really knew how much Leslie did here, and she deserves to be at the Jefferson. But, oh, what a loss.”
Grand Opera House executive director Steve Bailey, managing director Mark Fields and chairman Frank “Skip” Penella co-hosted a series of three preview nights for board members, public officials and other VIPs. In a multi-media presentation, The Grand presented a lineup that has something for just about everyone. From the Russian National Ballet Theatre to Bellydance Superstars, from David Crosby & Graham Nash to “One Night of Queen,” the list goes on. Audience members applauded—some even cheered—as each act was previewed. The loudest response was for The Fab Faux, who will headline the 2008 Grand Gala. Not your father’s tribute band, this group plays “the real Beatles sound,” with a full orchestra behind them. Get your frocks ready, ladies, this show is a must.
Not yet confirmed, Bailey announced that there was a “90 percent possibility” that David Byrne, former lead singer and songwriter for Talking Heads, may be booked. “That’s one show we would definitely go see,” said Joel Stango, a sales exec for AT&T. Last year he ordered tickets early in the season. “We had really good seats for all the shows,” Stango said. “At the k.d. lang concert, we were in the front row, and while she was singing, she actually grabbed my hand. I was sitting there saying to myself, ‘OK, she’s holding my hand, she’s holding my hand.’” Attorney Bob Goff is looking forward to seeing Philadanco, a modern dance company that travels internationally. “It will be nice not to have to leave the city,” Bob said. “We can walk to The Grand from our neighborhood. The Philadanco dancers have so much power, beauty and grace, we just can’t miss it.”… Ta-ta, ’til next time!