Lily’s Garden of Earthly Delights * Britain’s African King?

A dinner in a garden is always a wonderful idea. When the dinner is inside, high above Central Park, it’s even better. No raindrops to keep falling on your head, which they’ve been doing in New York so much lately you could scream.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Lily Safra, recognized as one of the richest women in the world, a renowned philanthropist and a brilliant hostess, wanted to try something different for her most recent New York dinner. So, why not a garden party in the sky? Preston Bailey, the noted designer, was called in to create that vision. So what he did was take an empty apartment, one of two that Lily owns on Fifth Avenue, and turn it into a gorgeous setting with scenes straight from the French countryside with billions of blossoms in full bloom.

After drinks, before dinner in Lily’s other magnificent apartment on a higher floor, 60 guests were led downstairs to a destination unknown. When the elevator opened, 60 jaws dropped at the sight of a fabulous “conservatory,” fragrant with the smell of all those flowers. The foyer was decorated with huge images of gardens on the walls with hand-strung rose petals re-creating hanging wisteria in white and lavender. The “conservatory” walls were covered with 9-foot weathered latticework painted soft green and yellow. Hanging garlands of dendrobium orchids attached to 7-foot-tall columns built of elephant ear branches created a replica of a lovely garden folly.

For dinner, an intimate dining space was carved from a 47-foot-long empty room with 10-foot-high trellises painted in celadon hues. The ceiling was draped with a wire grid where thousands of white petals were strung together in hanging strands attached to fragrant lemon leaves to create the effect of dining under a giant wisteria tree. The walls were covered with printed screens with lilac rose petals gathered to seem as though they were dripping from the walls. The tables were centered with white peonies from Holland, cymbidium orchids, lavender sweet peas, blue hyacinths and Australian dendrobium orchids. At each window there were trellis arbors draped with celadon and pink Fatima orchid “curtains” outlining the park views. It was a scene of great beauty and those 60 who have been everywhere and done everything could hardly believe their eyes.

After dinner, the “Park Lounge” was the place to linger on delicate wrought-iron furniture under 10-foot-high topiary trees built of birch branches hanging with pears, lemons and limes. Smooth jazz was piped in for those who cared. Was there ever a more beautiful private party? You would have to ask dear old Louis XIV.

Herewith a sample of who was there — Lady Thatcher, the former prime minister of Great Britain; former prime minister of Canada Brian Mulroney and Mila Mulroney; Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Diana Taylor; Diane Sawyer; Lauren and John Veronis; Nancy Kissinger; Donna and Bill Acquavella; Princess Firyal of Jordan and Lionel Pincus; Muffie and Sherrell Aston; Mica and Ahmet Ertegun; Blaine and Robert Trump; Blaine’s mother, Jean Beard; Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera; Lynn and Oscar Wyatt, who flew in from Texas; Carroll Petrie; Liz and Damon Mezzacappa; Suzanne and Bill McDonough; Cécile and Ezra Zilka; Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner; Kimberly Rockefeller; Cari and Matthew Modine; Peggy Noonan; Joan Rivers; Terre and Marvin Hamlisch; Evelyn and Leonard Lauder; Patricia Patterson; Robert Higdon; Linda Wachner; Patty and Bernard Shaw; Mortimer Zuckerman, and on and on into the sweet-smelling night.

Speaking of Mila Mulroney, the stunning wife of the former Canadian prime minister, she has a birthday coming up, so her dear friend Hillie Mahoney gave her an early party at Doubles. Much of the social swim swam in because that’s what the social swim does best. Marvin Hamlisch sat down at the piano and wished Mila a happy birthday in the style of Bach, Beethoven and Marvin Hamlisch, of course.

All those names you know and love and read about every five minutes arrived dressed in their best, which is pretty good indeed. It wasn’t just one of those ladies’ lunches. Such tycoons as Lord Black (that’s Conrad Black, the media tycoon); Paul Desmarais, the billionaire Canadian industrialist; Jorge Pereira, the Portuguese mogul; financiers Lionel Pincus and Gerald Tsai, and of course Brian Mulroney couldn’t wait to show up. Neither could Ira Harris, Karl Wellner, Tom Quick, Frank Gifford and Robert Higdon, the Prince of Wales’ man in the U.S.A.

Everywhere you looked were such women who mean something as Deborah Norville, Jessie Araskog, Nancy Tsai, Cynthia Boardman, Allison Stern, Judy Ney, Jackie Desmarais, Patty Cisneros, Cristina Macaya, Nancy Silverman, Emilia Fanjul, Joan Rivers, Princess Firyal, Carroll Petrie, Hilary Geary, Grace Meigher, Claudine Pereira, Kathie Lee Gifford, Pat Patterson, Kate Gubelmann, Nicki Harris, Peggy Noonan, Alyne Massey, Julia Koch, Caroline Lapham (she is the Mulroneys’ daughter), Anna Mann, etc., etc., etc. They all just love Mila. They also just love Brian.

We can thank the British press for this one. The Prince of Wales has sent out 225 invitations for Prince William Arthur Philip Louis’s 21st birthday party on June 21st at Windsor castle. The invitations to the fancy-dress party, featuring a charging elephant, request that everyone dress “Out of Africa” in a nod to the movie that starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, plus the three months the Prince spent in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. Windsor’s elegant grounds will be turned into the African bush — or as close as possible — for the party. One thing Prince William doesn’t want is a stuffy affair, and it certainly won’t be. They say he’s still trying to decide whether to wear a pith helmet and a safari jacket, or surprise and thrill everyone topped by one of the many feathered headdresses his father, grandfather and Queen Elizabeth have collected during their travels over the years. All the senior royals are expected at the party except Prince Edward, who will be traveling abroad and yes, Camilla Parker Bowles, of whom William is quite fond, has been invited, as well as Uncle Earl Spencer and his mother, Princess Diana’s two sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes.

Meanwhile, the whole country is getting into the spirit. A company called Love Hearts is coming out with a limited edition of candies bearing the message “Happy 21 Wills,” and the royal mail issued four Prince William stamps in his honor. Happy birthday from the colonies, Wills.

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