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A Signature Dinner Party

Nobu dotted scallops with chili paste; Daniel Boulud stuffed quail with figs. At a dinner celebrating signature style, four chefs prepared signature dishes for two dozen guests and their two hosts, F&W's Dana Cowin and theme-party expert Rena Sindi.

No one loves a theme party more than New York City hostess Rena Sindi. For each chapter of her new book, Be My Guest: Theme Party Savoir Faire, to be published next month by Assouline, she staged an amazing event with one of her famous friends. Among the best was a Chinese Pink and Red Dinner and Dancing Party at Manhattan's Doubles Club. I turned up in a vintage embroidered red-silk Chinese robe, with a pair of chopsticks--perfect for poking cheeky friends. Even though I'd opted to leave my Suzy Wong wig at home, I had tons of fun.

More recently, Rena hooked up with F&W editor-in-chief Dana Cowin to throw a dinner party with another fabulous theme: signatures. Dana asked four of New York's top chefs to prepare one course each--a signature dish, of course. Nobu Matsuhisa, the master of Asian fusion, would serve sea scallops with dabs of hot chili paste. Daniel Boulud, who offered to have the party at Bellecour, the newly renovated private room of his restaurant Daniel, promised quail stuffed with figs and prosciutto. Dana tapped Terrance Brennan, of Picholine and Artisanal, for the cheese course--Castelrosso with a mostarda d'uva. Claudia Fleming, the genius pastry chef of Gramercy Tavern, would follow with her delicious warm chocolate soufflé tarts, to be paired with her famous mini chocolate malteds. Joe Spellman of Paterno Imports took charge of the wines--pairing the Castelrosso, for instance, with magnums of the 1993 Pio Cesare Il Bricco Barbaresco, another signature export from Italy's Piedmont. Indeed, almost all the wines he provided were in magnums, which helped put the evening completely over the top.

In keeping with the signature theme, Dana and Rena sent each guest a box containing an invitation, a quill pen and a card, which we were told to sign and return along with a handwriting sample (we'd learn why later). That was easy. We were also asked to wear our signature outfits and advised that renowned photographer Jessica Craig-Martin would be shooting us for the book.

What to wear to a party is always a heinous question, but identifying my own signature look required a level of introspection--fashionspection, if you will--that defied me. So I rang up my date for the evening, Isaac Mizrahi, the former clothing designer who is now the host of a TV show on Oxygen network, and begged him to give me a quick analysis. "You've got to wear Blass," he stated confidently, naming the designer and friend whose fashions I adore. Problem solved, I asked Isaac what he was going to wear. "Simple--khakis, sneakers and my ‘I' sweater," he said. Not exactly evening wear, but definitely Isaac.

When we arrived at the party, the room was ablaze with candles, with the slightly mysterious look of a seventeenth-century library. After signing the leather-bound guest book, we dove into the crowd of New York fashionistas. Legendary hostess, author and fashion icon Nan Kempner was there in her signature Yves Saint Laurent black smoking jacket and diamonds. Princess Alexandra von Furstenberg, the daughter-in-law of designer Diane von Furstenberg, wore a DVF halter chiffon top and white trousers. Vintage-clothes expert Tiffany Dubin came in a Courrèges number that had belonged to Mona von Bismarck. Handbag and accessories designer Kate Spade showed up in--what else?--Kate Spade. Dana's outfit was a perfect commentary on the evening's theme: a rice-paper dress by Morgane Le Fay.

I was singularly underwhelmed by most of the male guests, who didn't spend much closet time trying to figure out their signature style. Why are men such little brown wrens? Three exceptions were Kenneth Jay Lane, the king of faux jewelry, who appeared in a bespoke charcoal pin-striped suit; W magazine's Rob Haskell, who looked very Beatle-esque in mop-top hair and a Paul Smith flower-print shirt with glittering peridot cuff links, a lime green TSE sweater and a black pin-striped Costume National suit; and journalist Andrew Solomon, in Hedi Slimane.

After an hour or so of mingling, we were summoned to the dinner table, which had been beautifully decked out like a long library table. Olivier Giugni of L'Olivier Floral Atelier, who acted as party consultant, had suggested and fabricated a 24-foot microsuede fitted tablecloth. He also created low arrangements of lady's slipper orchids in vases wrapped in green leaves; they were designed so guests could see each other over the tops. Place settings alternated between leather desk blotters from Crane & Co. and rice-paper mats. Votives and candlestick lamps with wax shades by Armani Casa threw off a sexy glow.

My curiosity about the cards we'd been asked to sign and return was satisfied the moment I arrived at my seat. Each person's signature had been replicated on a napkin, which served as a place card. Plus, our handwriting samples had been sent to a graphologist for analysis, and printouts of the results awaited us. Simon Doonan (the New York Observer columnist and Barneys fashion guru) pulled a fast one and had his assistant sign for him, so the naughty boy missed out on the fun. My analysis was right on the mark about my personality--stubborn, organized, rambunctious; I'm still waiting to see if any of its predictions about my career and private life pan out.

But I already knew that with chefs like Nobu, Daniel, Terrance and Claudia in charge, dinner would be remarkable. And it was. You'll see me and the rest of the group enjoying it in all our hedonism in Be My Guest. When I get my hands on a copy, I know exactly what I'll do: I'll ask Rena to autograph it in her best handwriting.

Published September 2002
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