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.”
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.”
On the devastating shock of being fired as Vogue’s editor-in-chief in 1971, Diana Vreeland mused “I was only 70. What was I supposed to do, retire?” Instead, she embarked on a final act career as Special Consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fitting her last great hurrah, Vreeland leaned in with conviction. She drew on her 40 years of experience as a fashion editor, knowledge of fashion history dating back to her childhood, and personal friendships with the most gifted designers of the mid-twentieth century. Now, instead of being confined to a magazine format, her talents were unleashed on a dramatic stage appropriate for her imagination and vision. Vreeland’s glamour, passion, and genius for style revitalized the established institution and the blockbuster exhibits drew unprecedented surges in attendance. Today, at any given moment, there are at least a dozen museums around the world offering major fashion displays and the Costume Institute’s gala preview balls are still the Party of the Year. Vreeland loved to quote someone who said: “I shall die very young. Whether I am 70 or 80 or 90, I shall die very young.” Diana Vreeland died August 22, 1989 at the age of 86
The Dana McGarry Series by Lynn Steward
In 1753, Robert Murray, who owned an importing business and Murray’s Wharf on lower Wall Street, and his wife, Mary Lindley Murray, purchased a tract of land for a country estate from what is now Madison Avenue east to Lexington Avenue and from 33rd to 39th Streets. After their deaths, the land was purchased by Robert’s younger brother, John, who divided the lots equally among his children. In 1847, the eleven descendants of John Murray registered with the City Surveyor what became known as the Murray Hill Restriction, banning the use of land for commercial real estate development, with the exception of churches and the private stables and carriage houses located between Lexington and Third Avenues.
This restriction assured a private and exclusive neighborhood and appealed to some of the city’s wealthiest families, including Mrs. Astor whose mansion was on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street. The Murray Hill Restriction, however, did not apply to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, offering Benjamin Altman in the opportunity to build his dream of the finest and largest New York department store. In deference to the exclusive enclave, Mr. Altman had the building designed to replicate a Florentine palace and when it opened in 1906, his business name did not appear on the outside of the building, and it remained that way until the 1950s.