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Melissa Berkelhammer

Melissa Berkelhammer

Posted: March 22, 2011 01:41 PM

Behind the Scenes With Geoffrey Bradfield


After Fashion Week comes to a close, it often takes a couple of weeks of reflection for a consensus to develop on the most memorable shows and parties of the season. One of those was undoubtedly the Douglas Hannant de Robert Piguet Launch at the Payne Whitney Mansion. Hundreds of friends and well-wishers the likes of Alexandra Lebenthal, Alexandra Lind Rose, Maggie Rizer, Jennifer Creel, Valesca Guerrand Hermes arrived at the manse, stayed, and lingered past the 8:30 end time, a feat given the packed schedule of fashion week.

Two major factors can account for the heavy-hitter crowd: Douglas Hannant, who, along with his partner Frederick Anderson, have amassed a loyal clientele almost unheard of in this borrow a dress for the red carpet era that we live in; and the event's secret weapon, world-renowned interior designer and consummate host Geoffrey Bradfield. A fixture on Architectural Digest's "AD 100" list, Bradfield's most current high profile projects include: an overhaul of the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney mansion on the Gold Coast of Long Island; the restoration of the late King Hussein's estate in Maryland; and the complete redesign of the Equinox Resort in Vermont, which has now been elevated to the Starwood luxury collection. I sat down with the South African native - who has lived in New York since the late 1970s - to discuss his inspirations for the event launch, his upcoming projects, and his fail-safe secrets to entertaining.

MB: How long did you work on this latest event?
GB: The date had to be set several months in advance due to New York's heavy social schedules. We chose the night before the beginning of fashion week. That being said, there were at least six weeks of preparation, starting with the printing of the invitations, which were mailed out one month in advance. The post office now offers vanity stamps, which I like designing and enjoy using on special occasions. In this instance, the design was an abstraction of the Hannant fragrance bottle.

MB: Did you choose the Payne Whitney Mansion because it was part of the French Cultural Center? Was this your way of paying tribute to the turn of the century French designer Robert Piguet? What do you like most about the space?
GB: The fact that the Payne Whitney Mansion is part of the French Cultural Center did have something to do with my choice of location. But perhaps the architecture was more the deciding factor. The house was designed by Stanford White. In fact, it was his last commission before his murder. The entrance is pure palladian in grey and white marble. In the center of which, is a cupid sculpture, attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti [now authenticated, the original is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an exact replica replaces it]. The entrance is pure romance with its circle of columns - a veritable temple of love, and a spectacular staircase leading up to the ballroom above. I couldn't resist the possibilities.

MB: Does your approach to event designing - where you are dealing with a space not your own - differ from the way you tackle an interior design project, where you are essentially overhauling an entire place from top to bottom?
GB: I hate being bored. I always find inspiration when confronted with a new space. I must preface this by saying I am not an event designer. I am an interior designer who has very definite ideas. I invariably know immediately what I want and how to set the scene. I hire professional assistants to execute my vision.

MB: What was the look that you were going for with this event? Did you have any specific inspirations? Robert Piguet represented old-school France. Aside from choosing Payne Whitney as the location, how else did you pay tribute to this bygone era?
GB: It was not difficult to tie in the history of Robert Piguet and the sophistication of the 1920s. I had the Michelangelo sculpture surrounded by clouds of white orchids (several hundred, in fact). Two exquisite models, elevated on daisies, wearing black Hannant ball gowns, flanked the rotunda, holding the fragrance bottles. Lighting was key in creating drama - a soft pink glow enhanced the atmosphere. Mellow background music by Supperclub filtered throughout the early stages before being drowned out by the onslaught of guests.

MB: You have collaborated with Douglas Hannant before when you designed his store at The Plaza. What do you enjoy the most about working with him? Would you say that your tastes compliment each others?
GB: Hosting the launch was a gesture of friendship. There is no doubt that he and I share an aesthetic. His clothes are modern classics. My interiors are neo-classic and recognize our moment in time. Designing his store at The Plaza was a natural compliment to our mutual creativity.

MB: I must ask you about one of your most recent projects - the redesign of the Equinox Resort in Vermont. My family and I stayed there several times when I was growing up, and we were devoted "Vermonters" for many years. How did you preserve its country Vermont heritage, but at the same time upgrade it to "state of the art" status? For that matter, how do you tread that balance when you are restoring any historical residence, from the Vanderbilt Whitney estate in Old Westbury to your very own townhouse in the city?
GB: When I received the commission to renovate and redesign the Equinox Resort in Vermont, the owners were very emphatic that they wanted my contemporary point of view... that would also capture the dignity of the resort's history. I strove to exemplify the sort of perfectly calibrated balance between history and modern panache that my clients were seeking. It appears I hit a home run as they have recently asked me to design the second phase planned for the interiors.

MB: Congratulations! Can you discuss any of your other upcoming projects with us?
GB: My company's work is global. Outside of America, our current roster of projects include residences in Tokyo, Shanghai, London, Mexico, and Jerusalem to name a few.

MB: Finally, everyone at the party was talking about (and some drooling over) the tuxedo-clad male spritzers who lined the staircase. How many of them did you hire?
GB: Because I am 90% visual, the looks of hired staff are a key factor in any of my entertaining. I had 22 white-jacketed professional models as waiters and eight actors in white tie and tails lining the staircase leading to the ballroom. These handsome white-gloved young men spritzed the female guests with the Hannant fragrance as they climbed the stairs. As most of these fellows are straight, they definitely got a kick out of being hit on by the girls.

MB: Did you see any flirting going on?
GB: Although I am sure handkerchiefs were being dropped suggestively at their feet, I suspect their hands were full, taking care of scent bottles and maintaining their Adonis-like personae.