This is the way it began, engraved, of course, on white stock: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kempner Jr., Miss Lina Kempner, Mr. and Mrs. James Kempner request the pleasure of your company to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kempner on Friday, May seventeenth at eight o’clock. The New York Botanical Gardens. Black tie. Please wear flowers.

So on that date at that hour, almost 500 guests, bedecked, bedizened, bejeweled, be-coutured and bespoken, and certainly be-flowered (the men and women alike), gathered in a perfumed pack to celebrate Nan and Tommy Kempner’s major milestone at a flowery fete hosted by their three children. Simply put, it was one of the greatest parties of recent years, exciting and glamorous in every aspect, an evening to see and be seen and, best of all, that wonderful, elusive ingredient called fun. (Yes, elusive. When was the last time you really had fun at a big party?)The Setting: Anyone who has ever visited the New York Botanical Gardens knows there are fewer more beautiful settings anywhere. How can you gild — or paint, if you will, that lily? The famous garden designer Madison Cox neither gilded nor painted — just put his remarkable stamp on the scene. He designed two tents, one for cocktails, one for dinner and dancing. For cocktails, the tent was made of off-white draped gauze and hung with a pair of ivy-clad chandeliers. The lighting was pale and soft and pink and perfect, and if you wished to wipe your dainty lips, there were dainty, hand-embroidered off-white linen napkins embroidered with olive green “K”s to do it with.Then it was on to the dinner tent, a walk through the 100-year old conservatory via a 60-foot long white lilac tunnel leading toward the entrance. And what an entrance and what a sight. The concept was to create an outdoor garden at night, complete with a 17th century boxwood patterned dance floor, 10-foot-tall evergreen hedges, clipped topiary trees, decorative urns and low maze-like hedges. Suspended from the “starry” midnight blue ceiling of the tent were 40,000 tiny lights giving depth to the “sky,” as well as 16 chandeliers, 12-branched and covered in ivy. Romance, drop-dead romance.

This story first appeared in the May 22, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The tables were simply treated with oatmeal linen cloths, white Wedgwood leaf plates and centerpieces of large ivy spheres surrounded by white votive candles in miniature hand-made terra-cotta pots. The large linen napkins were also hand-embroidered with an olive-green “K” and were specially made for the party. As were the votive candles, the ivy spheres and that fabulous lilac tunnel. Chic. Super-chic. As is, of course, Nan Kempner.

Nan wanted flowers “on” the guests, not on the tables. She wanted them to shine, she said, like flowers in a midnight garden. She wanted the greatest dance music, she said, so she imported Sammy Goz and his orchestra from Paris. Everyone who goes to the grandest parties is mad for Sammy Goz. He not only makes them want to dance, he makes them want to sing along with Sam — and they did. The dance floor was mobbed all night. Is it true that Cari Modine and Oscar de la Renta, the hottest dancers there, are thinking of turning pro together?

It was a night when the most beautiful, most fashionable women in society “shone” as Nan wanted them to. She herself lived up to her best-dressed-forever reputation in a long white silk Saint Laurent with long sleeves. Her extravagant crystal and coral necklace, hanging almost to her waist, was also designed by Yves Saint Laurent. Every famous top designer known to woman was represented under that starry tent and what a thrill that all the jewels came out for the night instead of hiding out in some dusty vault. And the flowers, the exquisite flowers worn in the hair like crowns, diadems, tiaras, on wrists, at waists, on shoulders, around necks, tucked over the ear like a Spanish dancer. In the men’s buttonholes too, carnations and gardenias. Pat Buckley wore her big rose right in the middle of her décolletage. Isn’t that the sort of joyousness we need right now, possibly more than ever? Congratulations, Nan and Tommy. And thank you for a perfect evening.

(See Friday’s column for who was there and what they wore and what they ate. I love a party with non-stop caviar, don’t you?).

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