Sniffen Court, a flagstone-paved alley consisting of ten brick stables built in the 1850s, is located in the Murray Hill Historic District on 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. Originally commissioned by local builder John Sniffen, the quaint buildings in the early Romanesque Revival style, were converted to private townhouses in the 1920s, with a studio on the south end and The Amateur Comedy Club on the north end. The private courtyard is gated and locked providing a peaceful and charming oasis in mid-town Manhattan.
In What Might Have Been, Book 2 in the Dana McGarry Series, Dana lives in a coach house in Murray Hill.
Join Dana McGarry at the Met’s afterparty at Café des Artistes where she meets Diana Vreeland. Below is an excerpt from A Very Good Life
Café des Artistes
Café des Artistes, opening in 1917, had been a favorite of many artists of all genres, from Marcel Duchamp to Isadora Duncan. In 1975, George Lang, a successful and highly respected restaurateur, re-created the café in the tradition of a warm, middle-European coffeehouse. The thoughtful renovation was not drastic, and the restaurant still invoked an enchanting, old-world elegance. An obvious improvement was the restored and properly lit murals, painted in 1932 by Howard Chandler Christy: thirty six flirtatious nudes inspired by the all-American Gibson Girl of the 1900s. The café remained a popular New York gathering spot for Upper West Side residents and a new crowd of celebrities, including Paul Newman, Rudolph Nureyev, Itzhak Perlman and Leonard Bernstein until the closing in August, 2009.
Read Dana McGarry’s story in Lynn Steward’s debut novel, A Very Good Life, available on AMAZON. A Very Good Life, twice, ranked #1 on Amazon’s list of top 100 free eBooks.
Dana entered the restaurant and was getting a glass of wine when Max Helm approached her with his wife, recognizing her from the day they’d met at Lenôtre.
“And where is Andrew?” Max asked. “He’s coming, isn’t he?”
“His father had a heart attack today,” Dana answered. “I’m afraid he won’t be joining us.”
“That’s terrible news,” Max said. “I’ll have to give him a call tomorrow. I hope everything turns out okay.”
As Max and his wife walked Dana around the small bistro, discussing the history of the enchanting Howard Chandler Christy murals—thirty six flirtatious nudes inspired by the all-American Gibson Girl of the 1900s—he introduced her to many of the guests. Dana made a mental note to tell Andrew the following day about the fascinating people she was meeting.
Dimly lit and cozy, Dana thought that Café des Artistes was the perfect place to be on this wintery December evening. After her various epiphanies during the lecture, she found that she was not star-struck to be around such illustrious company, but rather grateful that she was learning more and more about how to live life on her own terms. She was thrilled, of course, to be in the company of Rosamond Bernier—that hadn’t changed—but her definition of greatness had been modified. She realized that her personal satisfaction for creative ideas and a job well done was more important than approval from colleagues and senior executives. She loved the city, with its vibrant pace and cultural richness, but she would also enjoy watching a star-filled sky from a country home. Greatness didn’t have to result from tragic circumstances or an obsession with one’s career.
Noting that Bernier was talking to only two people, Dana approached while carrying a small arrangement of tuberoses and a thank you card to express her appreciation at being invited to the after-party. Before she could get close enough, however, a woman dashed over to Rosamond with raised, outstretched arms, breathlessly declaring, “The lecture was divine! Dee-vine!”
The woman was Diana Vreeland, the high priestess of fashion and legendary fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and editor-in-chief of Vogue.
Dana paused, eyes wide. Well, perhaps she was a bit star-struck after all. During her forty-year career, Vreeland had revolutionized fashion and publishing with her innovation, vision, and style. She discovered Lauren Bacall and became fashion advisor and mentor to Jacqueline Kennedy. Her list of famous friends, from Cole Porter to Warren Beatty, was endless. In 1971, at the age of seventy, her talents were center stage in the newly-created position of special consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, revitalizing the institute with lavish, three-dimensional exhibits that drew blockbuster crowds.
From behind, Max’s hand gripped Dana’s elbow and guided her closer to Rosamond Bernier. “Get in there and say hi,” Max whispered. “Don’t be shy.”
“Dana, how wonderful that you could make it!” Bernier said. “I hope you enjoyed the lecture.”
Dana was flattered that Bernier remembered her name, and she offered her the flowers. “I enjoyed it more than you’ll ever know. Thank you very much for inviting me.”
“You’re welcome,” Bernier said, turning to Diana Vreeland. “Diana, I think you should consider having Dana join your volunteers at the Costume Institute to work on next year’s American Women of Style exhibit. I think she would be perfect.”
“I agree,” Max volunteered. “Andrew Ricci thinks she can walk on water.”
“And what do you do?” asked Vreeland, examining Dana with piercing x-ray eyes.
“I’m public relations and special events coordinator for B. Altman,” Dana replied.
Diana Vreeland’s expression lit up immediately. “What a coincidence! I just heard that Tony is having his show at B. Altman next year? Is it true?”
“Yes,” Dana said. “B. Altman is underwriting Lord Snowdon’s photographic retrospective for the benefit of the Association Residence for the Aged.”
Tony was none other than Antony Armstrong-Jones, first earl of Snowdon.
“What a coup!” Vreeland said. “He’s such a fabulous man.”
“We learned of Lord Snowdon’s interest in aging in the TV documentary ’Don’t Count the Candles,’” Dana said.
Diana Vreeland laughed and said, “That, my dear, is the first rule of living happily ever after. Don’t count the candles! And I’d love to have you join me at the Costume Institute.”
Dana smiled and thanked Vreeland. She was beaming, but she also realized that her personal theme of the night had surfaced yet again in the saying “don’t count the candles.” That, too, was an expression of the big picture—not to look at a single year or event, but at the totality of one’s life. As Kim might have said, why count individual stars when there was an entire night sky that comprised the Milky Way? Wanting to advance her career was all well and good, as was becoming a partner in a prestigious law firm. Both pursuits, however, were part of a larger tapestry.
Angel of the Waters is an eight-foot bronze sculpture designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868, the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in New York City. Unveiled in 1873, it was the only sculpture commissioned during the original design of Central Park. The statue depicts a female winged angel touching down upon the top of Bethesda Fountain. Stebbins designed the statue to celebrate the Croton Aqueduct, opened in 1842, that provided fresh water to the city that had been plagued by infectious diseases from polluted waters. Thus, the angel carries a lily in one hand, representing purity, and with the other hand she blesses the water. At the dedication, the brochure quoted a verse from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 5:2-4: “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called….Bethesda….whoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” In Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1858 Greensward Plan, the terrace was called The Water Terrace, but after the unveiling of the angel, the name was changed to Bethesda Terrace. Location: Mid-Central Park at 72nd Street
Rosamond Bernier was a world-renowned art lecturer who was a close friend to some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. When Henri Matisse, for example, was bedridden, he invited Ms. Bernier to his home to show her his new creations from miniature cut-outs. Picasso had urged her to travel to Barcelona and report on a collection of his early work. Her interviews regularly appeared on television, and in 1955 she had co-founded the art magazine L’OEIL, which featured the works of the masters of the School of Paris. Leonard Bernstein, a close friend, had proclaimed that she had a gift for instant communication, and she had lectured at the Louvre in Paris. She’d begun a career as a lecturer in 1971 and gave yearly sold-out lectures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ms. Bernier and Diana Vreeland, friends since the late 1940s through their connection working with Vogue¸ bonded “over little shots of vodka” in the 1970s when the world was behaving badly for them. In 1975 it was a wonderful world, when Ms. Bernier married the love of her life, New York Times art critic, John Russell. Ms. Bernier was a role model to women who had suffered personal and professional misfortunes; the feminist admired her comeback in middle age, taking charge of her life, and not becoming a victim. At her last lecture at the Met on March 13, 2008, Ms. Bernier said, “In a naughty world, the Metropolitan Museum has been an oasis of civility and civilization.”
Simply seeing Jackie Onassis at work was “a powerful image for the women’s movement and a sign of change.” In the summer of 1975, at the age of 46, Mrs. Onassis embarked on a 19 year editorial career and quickly earned the respect of her working women friends, in particular, Diana Vreeland and Rosamond Bernier. Ms. Vreeland would call Jackie every morning from home to discuss the latest extravaganza she was staging at the Costume Institute; they were inseparable in 1976 when Mrs. Onassis was editing a tie-book for The Glory of Russian Costume exhibit. When Mrs. Onassis left Viking, she encouraged Ms. Vreeland to collaborate with her at Doubleday on Allure, a celebration of photographs of beautiful women, and on the floor of Ms. Vreeland’s apartment they designed the pages. At Doubleday, Mrs. Onassis was promoted to senior editor and was very productive producing 10 to 12 books a year. Mrs. Onassis was a close and longtime friend of Rosamond Bernier and her husband, New York Times art critic John Russell, and they enjoyed many private dinner parties at home and collaborative business lunches at Les Pleiades, the long-gone art-world restaurant on East 76th Street. Mrs. Onassis died on May 19, 1994 at the age of 65.
When Ira Neimark took the reins as president of B Altman, his main charge was to “bring this grand old, conservative store into the mainstream of retailing” and in order to do that, he needed a team of experienced fashion merchants and a person to direct them. In 1971, in the newly created and powerful position of Fashion Director, Dawn Mello played a major role in turning B Altman around. Her influence reached from the look of the windows to floor displays, advertising, and buying and her good eye and instinct for talent identified new designers and trends. In 1975, Ms. Mello followed Ira Neimark across Fifth Avenue to Bergdorf Goodman where in her 14 year career she served as president from 1983 to 1989. Following Bergdorf Goodman, Ms. Mello joined the newly formed Gucci Group as Executive Vice President and Creative Director Worldwide. In 1994, she rejoined Bergdorf Goodman as President but this time in addition to fashion merchandising departments, all creative aspects of marketing were reporting to her. When Ms. Mello left Bergdorf Goodman in 1999, she started her own consulting company, Dawn Mello and Associates, and in 2007 she was a founding partner of The Atelier Fund, a fund that invests in early–stage fashion businesses. Throughout her career, Ms. Mellow has received numerous industry awards.
Estee Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in Corona, Queens. Growing up, she was more interested in her uncle’s work as a chemist than her family’s hardware store. She named one of her uncle’s chemical blends Super Rich All-Purpose Cream and sold it to friends. Her uncle, Dr. John Schotz, also made other products, such as Dr. Schotz’s Viennese Cream, which she sold to beauty salons, beach clubs and resorts. Founding the Estee Lauder Company in 1946, she later introduced the enormously popular bath oil and fragrance known as Youth Dew, and the first allergy tested, dermatologist-created cosmetic brand, Clinique. A perfectionist, Lauder kept a watchful eye on every aspect of her luxury brand, choosing pale turquoise for the packaging because it looked good in any color bathroom. Her instincts for promotion and marketing were just as keen, introducing the successful concept of “gift with purchase.” One of her most famous quotations was, “If I believe in something, I sell it, and sell it hard.”
“The minute I knew I was going to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone on my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” said Princess Diane von Furstenberg. In 1970 with a $30,000 investment she launched her women’s design business and soon moved from Paris to New York and into the arms of New York society. Diana Vreeland declared the figure-flattering, knitted jersey wrap “Diane” dress “absolutely smashing.” Apparently women across the globe agreed. In 1973, the wrap dress was entered into the collection at the Metropolitan Museum and within five years, five million dresses were sold. In 1976, Ms. von Furstenberg bumped Gerald Ford from the November cover of Newsweek and was touted “the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel.” She re-launched her company in 1997 and re-introduced the wrap dress to a new generation of women. In 2009, Michelle Obama wore the signature chain link print wrap dress on The Official White House Christmas Card. A cultural phenomenon, the dress hangs in the Smithsonian Institute. Still looking for new challenges, Ms. von Furstenberg, 66, designed her first children’s collection for GapKids in 2012.
Missoni “elevated knitted clothes to a form of art” wrote Bernadine Morris of the New York Times in March 1979. By then, the company that was founded by Rosita and her husband, Ottavio (Tai) in 1953 was at the forefront of Italian fashion design, renowned internationally for the use of color, pattern, and the finest materials. Attention was first given to the brand in 1965 in articles written by the famous Italian fashion journalist, Anna Piaggi. But, it was Diana Vreeland’s enthusiasm for Missoni that launched them in the US and around the world. A Missioni boutique opened in Bloomingdales, and soon Missoni was receiving international design awards. Today, Missoni’s innovative and stylish designs are worn by Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Ashley Judd and Madonna and shoppers at discount chain Target. Missoni’s limited-designer collection for Target sold out in less than a day, a promotion that was supposed to last for six weeks. Rosita Missoni at 80 years old, looking for new challenges, is developing a Missoni hotel brand, while her daughters and granddaughter are expanding the fashion company into Asian markets, and revitalizing the lines for today’s younger market.
As an editor with Diplomat magazine, Deborah Turbeville was not getting the effects she wanted and was given permission to shoot her own pictures. “I went into a store, bought a camera, and the man loaded it for me,” Ms. Turbeville told The New York Times in 1977. With no formal training, it was her novice approach that became her greatest asset and she began to revolutionize fashion photography with her avant-garde style. Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue, summed up Ms. Turbeville’s work when he said, “Every detail is perfect and yet wrong at the same time.” She brought an “eeriness, shock and alienation” to the formerly refined and pretty business of selling clothes. The best examples are the 1975 controversial “Bathhouse” American Vogue photographs, and the “Woman in the Woods” series in 1977 for Italian Vogue. In 1979, Jackie Onassis, an editor at Doubleday, commissioned Ms. Turbeville to photography the unseen Versailles. Mrs. Onassis wanted the photographer to “conjure up what went on there, to evoke the feeling that there were ghosts and memories.” After two years of research and photographing, Ms. Turbeville captured the “haunting imagery” that Mrs. Onassis wanted, although the palace had been beautifully restored. Unseen Versailles has been described as “a pioneering breakthrough in photography” and, in 1981, it won the American Book Award. In 2011, at the age of 73, Ms. Turbeville published her first retrospective, The Fashion Pictures.