Paris When It Sizzles

In the latest installment of The Society Diaries by Lance Avery Morgan, jet with us to Paris we peek into will be called the party of the century and how it was created.

Planning ahead is a measure of class. The rich and even the middle class plan for future generations, but the poor can plan ahead only a few weeks or days.    Gloria Steinem

There would be so many others, with greater fortunes and larger intellects, who would be whisked away to Paris for the grand ball. In fact, it seemed, almost everyone arrived early this morning in The City of Lights, and nobody worried about having something to wear to any of the whirlwind events, especially the $25,000-per-ticket gala that Sabrina had been working on for almost a year with her team. They FedExed their bags ahead, and only traveled with irreplaceable essentials in a carry-on. The spectacular Givenchy, Chanel, Dior, Valentino and Herrera gowns were shipped in their own suitcases the size of small freezer boxes, and were immediately unpacked and pressed by the hotel’s French laundry experts.

Meanwhile, in the Marble Courtyard restaurant of the Four Seasons George V hotel, anyone who is anyone was getting perfectly smashed on glasses of Dom Perignon with a heavy-handed splash of Crème de Menthe, sipped in the midst of thousands of blue irises that flanked them in the courtyard.

Sabrina’s had more on her mind though. This bright summer morning had her contemplating her quest for authenticity had many times eluded her. Or, perhaps, it was often placed at great length for a substantial time, much to her chagrin. Sure, Sabrina had real jewels, real furs, real things, but what she wanted more than ever now was the real experiences and real people; things she was not finding in her home state of Texas. She was bigger than those around her, she thought, outgrowing them like a rose shoots above weeds amongst a well-tended garden.

In her new search for the meaning of life, Sabrina did not suffer fools or newcomers gladly. The high tech boom in Texas had made instant multi-millionaires of energy and tech geeks she would never have known otherwise. They were neither prepared for the confluence of substantial wealth, nor possessed a background that lent itself toward the correct stewarding of it. Social hillbillies were wearing thin on her, yet many of her guests this weekend were exactly those flourishing folks.

Enron scandal pushed aside, the oil and gas business became suddenly chic again, too. Suddenly venture capital firms were run by sons of construction workers who met their wives when they served them lattes at the local coffee house – these were the people funding new cultural landmarks, buying contemporary art at dizzying prices, and suddenly becoming instant beacons of society. Just add water in a large enough swimming pool and mix. Like hounds after the hare, the newly minted sought to create substance in record time, much like the Robber Barons before them. Where there’s a will there is a way.

Not purely relegated to Texas deal-making, Sabrina Goodfriend was experiencing the same boom in her trips to Los Angeles and New York, too, from her investments in indie film makers who would strike it big with Indian poverty-themed films that win Oscars, to the Wall Street set of hucksters whose hedge funds, with profits that bought estates in the Hamptons from traded up equity from midtown apartments, fueling it all the more.

She had started a small historical art preservation foundation, hoping that saving Sri Lankan or Ethiopian treasures would put her closer in touch with her own interior, but it led to her greedy characters straight from the pages of Barbara Hutton’s own tragic demise. There was the Hindu guru whom she met while on sabbatical at the ashram for a few weeks. Then the very vegan nutcase who told her that wheatgrass and turnips would be her saving graces, closely followed by the Manhattan medium-cum-astrologer who blamed all of Sabrina’s errors on Mercury being in retrograde when she was born.

Poor baby. Her unending search for authentic happiness and a feeling of belonging was like an unquenchable thirst or constant itch – when in reality, it was like trying to find a cure for a case of poison ivy after you’ve scratched everywhere already. The more you look outside yourself, the more elusive and irritating it becomes, she confided to me. In many ways, she was just like her brother, forever looking for the magic antidote to her own bad judgment of the scandals brewing around her.

But she couldn’t see any of this, and believed that giving a party in actual Paris would prove that she’s the real deal, too. No fake Eiffel Towers this time, by golly, like at her deb party. This time it would be for real.

Many of those on Sabrina’s guest list were doomed to the same fate but they hadn’t discovered it yet. The were guests at Le Grand Ball d’Eiffel Tower opening reception shindig that Sabrina co-hosted at the Ambassador’s residence, who had nine months ago received the elaborate, gold leaf box in which the invitation arrived, dotted with small semi-precious stones set in the could-carve-a-steak-with-it card stock. Those invited immediately understood that this would be an extraordinary four days.

“I wouldn’t dream of missing this,” said Belinda Babbit, who had flown over from New York and declared that every mile was worth it. She was but one of over 400 guests dressed to the nines in every color of the rainbow, there for the welcome party. The extended U.S. contingency traveled from Capitol Hill, Philly’s Main Line and Boston’s North Shore, as well as Chicago’s Riverside Drive, San Francisco’s Nob Hill and all points in between. Call it the primitive herd behavior of like following like, but the tribes of The New Jet Set always feel most comfortable when grazing around their own.

Sabrina was being watched closely with good reason this weekend because of her love of too many cocktails downed too quickly. Just two weeks ago she had dared to arrive at Cecilia’s coveted Ballet Ball this season two hours late and three sheets to the wind, knocking over a pair of gilded Chinoiserie candelabras standing six feet tall. For her grand entrance Sabrina wore a vintage Givenchy her grandmother Amanda had worn in 1958 at Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s Bal Oriental. It was the exact dress that Audrey Hepburn had worn that same evening, yet Hepburn’s was black and worn with a headdress, while Amanda Miller’s was white chiffon and worn with a tiara once owned by Queen Chantal of Albania, Prince Dominic’s great-grandmother. One can only imagine the hell Monsieur Givenchy had to pay that following Monday morning, getting that call from the movie star about the wire-crossed couture double entendre.

The stately candelabras, with eighteen white and well-lit taper candles on each, toppled to the ground, creating not only a commotion, but also quite a dainty fire on the floral carpet of the Four Seasons’ Grand Ballroom. The train of the dress that went into flames also captivated the entire ballroom. Mrs. Fortnight was not pleased with this showiness, even if it was an accident, and she had seen some accidents in her day. Her oil tycoon husband Barker Fortnight was not well at the time, plus his legal troubles to prove his innocence in the Middle Eastern arms sales trial that tarnished his already rusty reputation in the energy industry didn’t help either. The 1000 guests in the ballroom were similarly non-plussed. Many insiders feel this act of showboating, as it is called when upstaging a notable like Mrs. Fortnight, in retrospect may have hastened Sabrina’s early demise. Sabrina never intended to drink that much, as she confided in me the following day, but gosh darn it, she still could get nervous at the thought of appearing in a room of a thousand people, no matter how well she knew them.

This evening’s dinner, however, went off without a hitch and since most of us had arrived that afternoon we were dead on our feet and couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel. Pills taken, beds turned down, the crew in from the provinces was about to begin a weekend we would never forget.