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Social Life in a Blender

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Faced with this reality, onetime stalwarts of the city’s charity circuit are jumping ship, “A lot of people don’t like their lives written about and talked about,” says Blaine Trump. “People did pull back. There are just as many extravagant evenings, but they’re done privately. They’re not willing to open their doors to show how they live. It’s a different world. You have to think about security for your family. So you read about movie premieres instead, whatever’s being sold.”

Pat Buckley calls what’s occurred “a philanthropic abdication.” She is not referring to her own departure as chair of the Costume Institute Ball at the Met, where she had presided for seventeen years; she “decided the time had come to spend more time with my husband,” she says. Rather, it’s what’s happening all over the charity circuit. Briefly, social observers banked on the emergence of a next generation of social leadership. But youngish A-list women like Annette de la Renta and Blaine Trump, who “were given the baton,” as a society insider puts it, “gave it back. They didn’t care. Annette didn’t have the personality. Blaine walked away. She didn’t want the pressure.”

According to the insider, Trump and Buckley, long perceived as mentor and protégée, “had a falling out,” which caused the museum to go “in search of new faces.” They both insistently deny that. Trump says she decided to dedicate herself to one cause -- the AIDS organization God’s Love We Deliver, where she’s helped amass a $7 million endowment. The Costume Institute party, which she co-chaired for two years, “was a lot of fun,” she continues, “but I had to go where I was needed.”

So in the past three years, the Party of the Year has been chaired by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis, W chairman Patrick McCarthy, and two rookies, Clarissa Bronfman, who didn’t return for a sophomore year, and Julia Koch, this year’s social sacrificial lamb.

“It used to be based on the museum hierarchy,” the insider says. “When Pat ran it, it was a very insular event. To get that invitation was a coup. Then they realized they needed more money and reached out to their natural support base, the fashion community. Now it changes every year.”

More and more, the high-society A-list, the ones who chaired the functions and filled the coffers of New York’s great public institutions, are dropping out of the social ballyhoo. “The names,” says decorator Mario Buatta, “you don’t see. They’re at home, living like normal people. Once you achieve enough, you say ‘Hell, who needs this?’ Who wants to go out to dinner every night and sit next to two women you’re never going to speak to again? How many of these things can you go to?” So they are begging off in droves from public events.

“No one wants to go,” agrees a onetime regular. “The smaller the dinner, the more exclusive it is. Who can I get to my house for dinner? That’s the new frontier.”

Jonathan Marder, executive director of special marketing for Condé Nast, has developed a system for rating invitations. “The best party is hosted by someone very famous or very beautiful whom you know well, at their home,” he says. Below that come parties hosted by “committees you know, committees you don’t, and corporate entities,” he continues. “You can also judge by place: A private home is best.” Less appealing are apartment-building lobbies, studios, and other not-quite-public places, restaurants, hotels, and retail stores. At the bottom of the Z-list? “A party with no hosts in a disco.”


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