THROWBACK THURSDAY: Jacqueline de Ribes & The Mark Hotel
A version of this story appeared on The Huffington Post under the title: Jacqueline de Ribes Doesn't Miss the Mark
While on the Upper East Side doing a special New York Fashion Week project, I just had to stop at The Met. Even with all the new collections from the menswear shows, to the womenswear presentations, which begin this week, my mind was still on grand vintage fashion.
When Vanity Fair profiled the French countess a few years ago, Jacqueline de Ribes is quoted as saying that people said she looked like Nefertiti. No doubt, her elongated neck and bold eyes could have pushed the argument further (opposite a tan) in that direction. But this observation couldn't have been more than a whimsical happenstance because in order to get to her exhibit in the Anna Wintrour Costume Institute, one has to travel through Egypt and its old ruins. Such is the excitement with pomp and circumstance all built around Jacqueline.
While on the Upper East Side, I checked into The Mark and was immediately transported to old Paris. It was as if I was having an Owen Wilson moment a la Midnight in Paris. The black and white aesthetic with gold and silver accent seemed uber-rich. I was convinced, it had been re-imagined from an early atelier from Mademoiselle Chanel -- when Boy Capel became her business partner.
The Mark has so many opulent elements that it is consistent, to me, with the spirit to which Jacqueline would get dressed. Every moment was a moment to costume. Her favorite seemed to be parties, which she always commanded with her mere presence. There, in Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, she made women want to dress like her. And I was instantly inspired.
The bathroom at The Mark is striped with black and white but the French cabinets are lined in silver. Famed interior czar Jacques Grange has his signature all over the hotel -- so-to-speak, with his bold trademark of French sensibility. For the next few days, the room and all of its French glory were to be mine. I remember thinking that Grange really was the perfect person to call on for such an ambitious project. And anything on the Upper East Side, when started, is an ambitious project. Grange had already made a name for himself having worked with some of Jacqueline's fashion friends including Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani and Karl Lagerfeld.
It became clear to me that at The Mark, it's about the experience which is similar to how Jacqueline felt about her closet. When she first married her husband, she only owned two dresses. She's the epitome, like Gabrielle Chanel, of fashion's Cinderella.
Things aren't complicated at The Mark. There's a pedicab flanked in the hotel's signature black and white that shuttles guests to Bergdorf Goodman. In fact, it would only make sense, I suppose, that Bergdorf Goodman be associated with the hotel intimately, which is why there's a 24-hour concierge service available to guests that allow them to shop from the collections at Bergdorf with free delivery. They've made shopping luxury -- a luxury experience. And in New York, such isn't always the case.
Walking through Jacqueline's exhibit, one might think that her life was always wrought with luxury and stories of fantasy and leisure, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. What does a girl who survives a war, separation from her parents, and the tragic deaths of loved ones, do when she grows up -- become a fashion icon of course.
Prior to the exhibit, I thought Jacqueline's story to be all-French, and with good reason I suppose. But at her sartorial core, her New York pedigree, which had a lot to do with Diana Vreeland, helped shape who she would become aesthetically. New York City and the U.S. as a whole, were her most avid supporters in the 80s when she produced her first fashion line, with more Jacqueline de Ribes collections opening in U.S. stores than anywhere else.
She was the first brand-driven label. She knew that her power was in her lineage and standing as a proper French dignitary. And people would buy in to that story the same way I did when watching "Gossip Girl." She created accessible and non-intimidating garments. Jacqueline de Ribes stores all over the world had built and modeled their brick and mortar after her own living quarters in Paris. People who shopped the collection were getting a taste, intimately, of the pinnacle of French high society and glamour.
A hôtel de l'extravagance, indeed, The Mark has the kind of old school finishing and detailing that could have easily positioned it in another period when Jacqueline de Ribes might have just realized that she would be one of the most important figures in modern fashion -- and if she did realize, and happened to be on the Upper East Side, she wouldn't dare miss The Mark.