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Melissa Berkelhammer

Melissa Berkelhammer

Posted: October 15, 2010 02:07 PM

When one of the hottest jewelry designers joins forces with America's most iconic magazine to celebrate one of the most controversial novels of all time, what do you get? "Intellect plus revelry!," according to Current TV's Jason Silva. "This is one of the coolest parties I've ever been to," he was overheard saying. On Wednesday evening, The House of Waris and Playboy co-hosted a celebrity and social-studded bash in celebration of the latest translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovery, which is brilliantly translated by Lydia Davis in September's issue of the magazine. In honor of the occasion, Playboy created a literary salon in Waris's pop-up tea room (located underneath the Highline); enlisted actress, muse, and Boardwalk Empire star Paz de la Huerta to read excerpts of the latest translation; and assembled an A-list host committee that included Derek Blasberg, Byrdie Bell, Brooke Geahan, Jay McInerney, Hari Kunzru, Jamie Johnson, Tarajia Morrell, Helen Lee Schifter, and Playboy's executive literary editor Amy Grace Lloyd.

DJ's Nate Lowman and Rachel Chandler drew the downtown contingent that included Todd Eberle, Yigal Azrouel, 3ASFOUR's Adi and Gabi, and the architect of the pop-up venue, Christian Wassman. Meanwhile, additional notables the likes of filmmakers Paul Haggis and Jamie Johnson, and celebrated scribes Jonathan Ames, Sloane Crosley, and Chris Wilson were spotted drinking bespoke Belvedere cocktails, including one very popular concoction called the "Bunnitini." Rounding out the guest list were socials, social scribes, and PR types like Peter Davis, Bazaar's Elisa Lipsky-Karasz, Lauren Remington Platt, Edward Chapman, Nina Freudenberger, and Bonnie Morrison. Even Gerard Butler joined the festivities later at a hush-hush after party at the Boom Boom Room, which -- as per usual -- lasted well into the night. Need any more convincing that this was the place to be Wednesday evening?

Once guests warmed up with a few cocktails and wrapped themselves in baby soft Playboy-logo blankets (which we were allowed to take home -- it's my official new "blankie"), it was deemed time to start the introductions and the reading. First up was Playboy's irrepressible editor Jimmy Jellinek, who put a little scare in the audience when he declared that "Playboy magazine will be around much longer than you will be on this earth." Given that Playboy's longevity is largely attributable to its pushing of social, sexual, and literary boundaries, Jellinek's prediction may not be so far fetched. After all, it is one of the few magazines left that dedicates itself to long form fiction, and continues to build on its literary heritage, biting social commentary, and in depth celebrity interviews, which are practically an anomaly in the In Touch/Life & Style era. For those who don't read Playboy for the articles (it's ok, we won't tell), the list of authors whose works the magazine has published is nothing short of mind-blowing: Vladimir Nabokov, Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, along with 13 nobel laureates.

The magazine also has, in the words of author Hari Kunzru, a "noble history of publishing scandalous writing." And indeed, Flaubert's novel prompted 19th century prosecutors to put the writer on trial for obscenity. No matter that Flaubert won the case, and the publicity surrounding the trial merely increased book sales. It seems like some things never change, and Hari even quipped that if Emma "lived today, she would probably read US Weekly and run up serious credit card debt."

After Hari's speech, Waris Ahluwalia introduced Paz de la Huerta, who made a most dramatic entrance in a show-stopping Marchesa gown. "Have you all read the book yet?," she asked the audience. "Umm...yes," many mumbled sheepishly. "LIARS!," Paz teasingly retorted without missing a beat. But according to Demi Moore circa 1995, most people had never read The Scarlet Letter, so at least we can take comfort in the fact that people haven't gotten any dumber. It's admittedly hard to quiet such a buzz-worthy and chatty crowd, but with a few impromptu "shut ups" interspersed into her reading, Miss de la Huerta was able to hush the crowd and captivate the audience.

As the glamorous revelers settled in during the reading, all wrapped up in their Playboy blankets, it became clear to me that the Playboy salon was meant to reflect all of the elements of the magazine itself: its literary heritage, its questioning and testing the boundaries of social and sexual mores, and, of course, its celebration of beautiful women, who were in abundance that evening. According to Jellinek, the Madame Bovary reading marked the kickoff for many more Playboy literary salon celebrations to come. I'm looking forward to seeing what they will do next.