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The Charity Ball Game


The Curator Harold Koda preparing a collection of iconic tweed suits for the exhibition. Pleasing Lagerfeld is his biggest concern: “When Karl came in, he looked at one dress and said, ‘Where is the belt?’ It wasn’t a dress that even required a belt! No one knows more about Chanel than Karl.”  

Monn looked in the mirror, left the diamond business (more Zale’s than Cartier, truth be told), sold his ten-acre estate in Sharon, Connecticut, left his classic six on Fifth Avenue, and got into the party business.

“There are some people who work. I don’t work. At all. I’ve always been all about creating the fantasy, and that’s my gift. Seeing the magic happen.”

Monn put together an elaborate proposal for Wintour and Wolkoff. His original idea was all about peonies or roses. He prepared a special cake for Wintour: angel food filled with a rose jam he’d made himself. “Euphoric,” he says. “She ate the cake!”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” says Wolkoff, laughing.

Regardless, she liked the proposal but not the roses.

Chanel has a particularly close and loyal relationship, after all, with camellias and gardenias. “But no one has ever done this with a gardenia before,” says Monn. He figured he’d need 7,000 perfect specimens: 3,000 for the entrance hall, and 100 centerpieces of at least 40 each.

After pleading with gardeners all over the country to part with branches from their gardenia trees—“which will never happen, because they’re, like, the golden chicken”—Monn found one farm in California and another in Florida. But nothing dies faster than a gardenia.

So in February, Monn began what he calls the Gardenia Death Watch. Because a gardenia begins to brown from the moment it’s picked, Monn had to test the life span of each flower by enacting a full test run of a gardenia’s journey to New York via FedEx.

What he learned was this: If the flowers are picked Saturday afternoon and sent at once, by chartered cargo jet, they’ll make it till 11:30 Monday night, wilting only as the Town Cars begin to line Fifth Avenue.

He can’t even discuss the possibility of a rainstorm, a foggy evening, a delayed flight. “For Anna Wintour, there is no plan B. There is always only a plan A.

“It’s going to smell amazing,” he says.

7,000 fresh gardenias arrive Sunday via chartered, refrigerated jets.

The chairs were another challenge. Monn wanted the slatted green type that cluster by the fountains in the Luxembourg Gardens. “We tried everywhere. And then there I was in a taxi outside of Bryant Park and I said, ‘Oh my God. My chairs.’ ”

Monn arranged to borrow 850 of them for the evening, and quickly set about measuring each so that their unforgiving iron seats could be fitted with moss-green cushions. The only caveat is that they will be available for pickup at 4 A.M. on Monday, May 2, and must be returned by 4 A.M. the next day.

As for the tables themselves: “What we’ve done is an overlay of Belgian linen,” says Monn. “It’s really, really, really beautiful. Hemstitched. Exquisite. The nicest fabric in the world.” The idea that such a fabric would be creased is just unbearable. “We’ve built a pressing table, and the linens will be starched and pressed right in the Temple of Dendur, and they will be carried by two people and placed right on the table.” When Wolkoff travels to Monn’s studio two weeks before the event, she loves what she sees: An army of men are stapling branches of thick English boxwood onto benches, and storing them efficiently in three refrigerated trucks parked in the drive.

The wire topiaries are next, and Monn proudly holds one atop a platform to show off his work.

“I love it,” says Wolkoff, but a flash of panic crosses her face.

The sight line!

Within minutes she’s dialing Wintour’s office. “Is she there?”

After a 30-second conversation, Wolkoff is photographing the orb with her camera phone.

“David, can you, like, sit there? Behind it? Like you’re sitting at a table?”

Monn squats. It looks like he’s been caught going to the bathroom behind a shed.

“You can’t show this to Anna Wintour!”

The food at a party like this is like the lining of a pocket—no one pays any attention to it, which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be just so. “I wanted the menu to come from the Ritz,” Wintour explains, “because Mademoiselle Chanel lived there for so long.” Wintour requested that the Ritz work up some sample menus, and then, in February, put Sean Driscoll, an owner of Glorious Food Catering, on a flight to Paris. Back in New York, he prepared a version of what he’d eaten at the Ritz. “Chanel was a meat-and-potatoes gal,” Driscoll says. But he wanted the menu to be fairly light in honor of spring. When Wintour came to his office for a tasting, she wasn’t happy. “It was delicious,” Driscoll says, “but ‘French country’ rather than ‘French elegant.’ ”

In Wintour’s opinion, the colors weren’t quite right. “Instead of haricots verts, we’re going for a mélange,” Driscoll says. “You have to put your ego aside, because everyone says exactly what’s on her mind and Vogue leads everything. Then, the people from Chanel and the Met. Three alpha people.”

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