As faithful readers know, we endeavor to give our rundown of the movers and shakers who show up at Michael’s every Wednesday a cheeky spin so as not to take ourselves too seriously about the whole power lunch thing. Today, aside from the obvious reason not to make light of an already featherweight subject, I’m too dumbstruck by a new acquaintance I made while making my rounds in the dining room to come up with a pithy opener.
When TV Guide‘s acting CEO Jack Kliger motioned me to come over and meet the handsome young man dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, I couldn’t imagine who he might be. An actor starring in a new crime procedural for CBS? A new reality star ready for his close-up? A family friend getting the full-court “Lunch at Michael’s” treatment? Well, I was half right. “This is Jonathan Alpeyrie,” said Jack. “He’s a combat photographer who was kidnapped in Syria and just released a few weeks ago.” The French-American photographer told me he was on his third trip to Syria when he was abducted at gunpoint by masked men at a checkpoint near Damascus and was held for 81 days. During his harrowing time spent in captivity, he was often chained to a bed and narrowly escaped execution after enraging a guard because he went to the bathroom without getting permission. The solider held a machine gun to Jonathan’s head before being called off by the other soldiers standing guard. Jonathan didn’t seem to want to talk much about his experience, so Jack, who is a close friend of Jonathan’s father, filled in the blanks.
“He was released (on July 18) after his ransom ($450,000) was paid,” he told me. According to Jack, both the FBI and CIA were involved in the negotiations. Last month, in an interview with the British Journal of Photography, Jonathan was quoted as saying he owes his freedom to “A Syrian man, close to the regime, a member of Parliament and a businessman looking for Edouard Elias and Didier Francois (two French journalists who went missing in Syria on June 7) who stumbled [upon] me.” He also told the outlet that even before he was kidnapped, he never thought it was a good idea to talk about kidnappings because it “adds value to hostages.”
Still, Jonathan told me a few people have advised him to write a book about his ordeal (I’d certainly read it). So if he wasn’t here to meet with publishers, what was he doing here in the center of the media universe? “Covering Fashion Week,” he told me with a bemused smile. That lightened the mood considerably and he seemed more than glad of it. “So,” I asked him, “What’s tougher: covering wars or documenting Fashion Week?” But I knew what his response would be. “Fashion Week, definitely,” he said with a smile. The kidnappers didn’t stand a chance.
I was joined today by Steven Stolman, who is having one heck of a year. Having just celebrated his second anniversary as president of Scalamandre and recently married to “gentle Midwesterner” software executive Rich Wilkie, Steven has spearheaded many exciting new ventures for the storied textile house during his tenure with the company. He launched a luxury bedding line; a line of branded fine china, crystal and flatware with Lenox; and he’s about to introduce the Scalamandre lighting collection in October at High Point. This is all due, he told me, to businessman Louis Renzo, who “rescued” the house “out of receivership” and invested “in excess of $10 million” to revitalize the iconic brand.
Today he gave me a first look at his latest project: a stunning illustrated book, Haute Decor (Gibbs Smith), due out next week, which, he tells me, was nine months in the making and is a “love letter” to the house of Scalamandre. “I wanted it to be a scrapbook,” he explains of the “ultimate coffee table book” whose cover is cleverly wrapped in the stunning red zebra print created in 1945 for the legendary New York watering hole Gino’s, a favorite of the rat pack that has long been the house’s signature. Inspired by his favorite book, The Way We Lived Then by Dominick Dunne, Steven beautifully captures Scalamandre’s rich history within the rarified world of interior design and popular culture (including its designs, which are in the Metropolitan Opera House, Ford’s Theatre and on the set of Katie Couric‘s talk show).
I couldn’t get enough of the amazing photographs of Scalamandre in the White House beginning with the Truman administration through the present day. When John F. Kennedy was elected, it was Scalamandre that was used extensively for the restoration project, and the book features fascinating candids of the Kennedys in the gorgeous surroundings. Jackie Kennedy was so enamored by Scalamandre that she also used the fabrics in her New York City apartment, and the book boasts a rare personal photograph of her bedroom designed by Richard Keith Langham , which featured her favorite floral print. But the piece de resistance has to be the show-stopping Annie Leibovitz photograph of Michelle Obama wearing Michael Kors in the red room that appeared in Vogue earlier this year. “I am so proud to have that image in the book,” Steven tells me. “The White House was wonderfully cooperative in making that happen.”
First-time author Steven is about to embark on a head-spinning book tour that includes stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas. Here in New York, there will be a swanky soiree at the D&D Building on Oct. 2. (You can pre-order the book on Amazon now) He’s also slated to speak at the Clinton Library in Little Rock (the book features many photographs of Scalamandre’s designs that were used during the last major renovations of the White House when Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were its occupants) and at Decorex in London, a tented affair in the gardens of Kensington Palace. “I’m pinching myself,” Steven said. “I feel like having written a book, I’m part of a special coterie. Part of a group of people who have truly accomplished something. I recently got to present my parents (Gloria and Joe Stolman) a copy of the book and it meant so much to me. It’s dedicated to them, my sister and my other half. I thanked them for putting up with me.”
The weighty tome (I’m guessing it tips the scale at about three pounds) is brimming with sumptuous images that are sure to delight design pros and “civilians.” Steven has divided the book into six sections that take the reader through it all from the story of its founding by Italian immigrants Franco and Flora Scalamandre in 1929 to its present-day influence as seen through the work of interior design luminaries like Jamie Drake and Bunny Williams. “I had a clear vision,” Steven told me. “I wanted it to be filled with amazing images, witty prose and courtliness.” Mission accomplished. Now that Steven is bitten by the writing bug, he’s begun work on his next book, Confessions of a Serial Entertainer. We can’t wait.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. ATV Music’s CEO Martin Bandier
3. David Zinczenko and ”Mayor” Joe Armstrong, just back from his 10th (!) year working with “the kids” at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camp at its original location in Westport, Conn. I hadn’t seen David since our “Lunch” with AMI’s CEO David Pecker last month. Since then, Men’s Fitness reached the 4 million uniques mark in August. And lest you think David is spending all his time working with Pecker at AMI, Zinc is making his presence known on the small screen in a big way these days since joining ABC News as a correspondent. He’s filed pieces for Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America and now World News Tonight (he’ll be on tomorrow night’s broadcast). This guy never sleeps.
4. TV Guide Magazine acting CEO Jack Kliger and Jonathan Alpeyrie
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Michael Kramer
7. Steven Stolman and yours truly
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and a well-dressed gent we didn’t get to meet.
10. LVMH’s Pauline Brown and fashion flack extraordinaire Hamilton South
11. Showbiz central: Casting queen Bonnie Timmermann and producer Fred Zollo
12. Diet Diva Nikki Haskell, legal analyst Rikki Klieman and Eva Mohr
15. Millenium Partners’ Michael Del Giudice
17. Willkie, Farr & Gallagher’s Richard Descherer
18. Producer Michael Mailer (yes, Norman Mailer’s son)
20. Sharon Bush (Loved the Holly Golightly-inspired black dress) and Bettina Zilkha
21. David Verklin
23. Long time no see! Tony Hoyt and former InStyle editrix Charla Lawhon
25. Case Interactive Media’s Jim Casella
26. Jim Friedlich
27. Glenn Horowitz
28. Tad Hathaway
29. The Newlywed Game: The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford and Lewis Stein
81. Nan Talese
82. Tech guru Shelly Palmer
Faces in the crowd: BizBash‘s David Adler in the Garden Room… “The bar-ettes” Kira Semler and Vi Huse enjoying champagne at the bar while chatting with Liz Wood, in town this week from Washington, D.C, who obviously brought this last gasp of summer weather with her! See you next week.
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