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Big hair, big jewelry, big shoulders and big paychecks—cliches, all—converged to create the infamous Eighties social scene dominated by financial titans and their clotheshorse wives. WWD christened the era Nouvelle Society, coining the term early in the Reagan White House years. Days were spent shopping, smoking and decorating Park Avenue duplexes and sprawling Connecticut estates. At night it was party time. As ambassadors of the elite class, larger- (or thinner, in the case of Nan Kempner) than-life personalities such as Pat Buckley, Susan Gutfreund and Gayfryd Steinberg took turns upstaging each other with lavish spreads. “Welcome to my East Side apartment—you’ve all been to my West Side apartment before,” Beverly Sills told WWD at a 1987 party held in her honor at Steinberg’s 34-room Park Avenue pad that rivaled Gutfreund’s newly acquired Paris triplex, complete with its own car wash.
Two years later, Steinberg and Gutfreund were still duking it out for the title of flashiest hostess with dueling birthday parties for their husbands. In September 1989, John Gutfreund’s 60th was celebrated by 140 guests at Paris’ Musée Carnavalet—an intimate affair compared with Saul Steinberg’s 50th held a month earlier at the couple’s home in Quogue, New York. No expense was spared for the Robert Isabell-designed event inspired by Saul’s collection of Old Masters, which featured actors staged in tableau vivant imitations of the Vermeers.
And the Steinbergs were no less generous toward their daughter, Laura. Her 1988 wedding to Jonathan M. Tisch took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur and featured 500 guests and 50,000 French roses. The cost: $3 million.