NEW YORK — What’s the best thing about turning 100? In Eleanor Lambert’s case, it could well have been the gifts.
Her Fifth Avenue apartment was quickly filled with boxes and bags on Monday night, mixing with the stifling humidity of summer that made it difficult to take two steps without landing on toes, as the decorator Mario Buatta discovered, sweating his way into the crowd to deliver a carefully wrapped package at Lambert’s side. He stopped to greet another veteran fashion publicist, Helen O’Hagan, and handed her the box to hold as he reached to dab his brow. Only O’Hagan didn’t realize this, and the box went crashing to the floor with a sound of broken glass.
“That was an antique,” he cried, shaking its remnants.
He again made his way toward Lambert and this time handed the package to Cece Cord, who also missed. Buatta picked it up again, and extended the box toward Lambert’s grandson, Moses Berkson, and dropped it, but by then it had become clear the whole thing was a gag and that there was nothing but broken glass in the box in the first place.
The rest of the crowd — John Loring, Mary McFadden, Carmen Dell’Orifice, Amy Fine Collins, Anne Slater, Pamela Fiori, Harold Koda, Kenneth Jay Lane, Enid Nemy, June Weir and that sort — turned back to the party, munching on some of Lambert’s favorites such as garlic shrimp, peanut butter and bacon on toast, meatloaf and crates of Dom Perignon donated by the firm.
Last Thursday, Lambert, whose actual birthday was Sunday, celebrated with a slightly more low-key affair at Swifty’s, surrounded at the window table by designers Cathy Hardwick, Monika Tilley, McFadden, Han Feng, Mary Ann Restivo and Patricia Underwood, part of an annual tradition where they discuss jewels and travel plans.
McFadden had the best — a giant JAR ring of pavé sapphires and earrings made of blue diamonds the size of pet-store turtles, a remnant of her first marriage to Philip Harari, an executive with De Beers who brought her to South Africa. Tilley’s necklace was a rope made of gold threads. Underwood and Restivo wore pearls and summer hats. Hardwick, wearing simple earrings, announced she had just returned from a vacation in Beirut.“Oh, that’s the best party town,” said McFadden, and the designers compared notes on various trips to Venice, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Argentina, China and Hong Kong.
“We should open a travel agency,” Tilley suggested.
After crab cakes, corn fritters and cheese soufflé, it was time for presents. Underwood had made a chenille turban, Restivo gave Lambert a fur-and-lace-trimmed shawl of her own design, Feng’s gift was a dance music CD, Hardwick gave sachets and soaps, and Tilley had ordered a copy of the front page of The New York Times from Aug. 10, 1903, the day Lambert was born.
Again, McFadden stole the show, as Lambert unwrapped a porcelain figure that McFadden identified as Ming Dynasty. “Oh, dear,” Lambert said.
Not to worry. Earlier, McFadden had confessed that she had been in Hong Kong at the time of its handover to China, and sensing an opportunity, she offered several dealers half price.
“That’s the basis of my Buddhist collection,” she said.
“But how did you get them back?” Tilley asked.
McFadden looked at her with a smile and said, “I smuggled them, as always.”
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