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Champagne Brunch
To Honor The Mount's
"Salute to French Design"
Cultural Services of the
French Embassy
972 Fifth Avenue
June 24, 2009

Written by Wendy R. Williams

Photographed by
Nick Hunt for Patrick McMullan

Opposite Photo:
Author Louis Auchincloss

"The invitation read: "Kareen Rispal, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States, and Bunny Williams, Charlotte Moss, Geoffrey Bradfield, Libby Cameron and Thomas Jayne request the pleasure of your company for brunch and to welcome the designers for The Mount’s 2010 exhibition “Salute to French Design."

American author Edith Wharton loved France; she retreated to France after her failed marriage and subsequent divorce (Wharton had lived in Europe as a child). In Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence, the heroine, Countess Olenska (who had returned to New York after the failure of her marriage to a European Count), retreats to France when she was no longer able to survive within the confines of proper New York Society. Wharton's roots may have been American, but her heart was French. Wharton died in France in 1937.

Before Wharton left the United States to permanently reside in France, she built a beautiful home in Lenox, Massachusetts called The Mount. The Mount (built in 1902) incorporated Wharton's exacting taste in both architecture and design and was her primary residence until 1911 when she left for France.

The Mount eventually deteriorated and was in great disrepair when in 1980,
"Edith Wharton Restoration" was created to save The Mount. The Mount was restored to its former glory at great expense and with great debt. In 2008 when the financial situation of The Mount was in doubt (as was much of the world's), the foundation was rescued by a $750,000 Gift from The Alice M. Kaplan Memorial which made restructuring of the Foundation's debt possible.

In honor of Ms. Wharton's love of France, a group of prominent French designers will decorate the rooms of the mount (each decorator working on an individual room) for an exhibit that will open in June 2010. The designers who will participate in the show are: Antonio Virga; Elliott Barnes; François le Grix; Leiko Oshima; Maxime d’Angeac; Michael McKinnon; Michel Bismut; Olivier Lempereur; and Patrick Blanc. This exhibit should draw huge crowds to The Mount and help sustain this grand institution with its many literary and cultural programs (see

Katharina Plath and Jerome Neutres

At the June 24th brunch, the group was treated to remarks by Katherina Plath (head of US and international public relations for The Mount), famed decorator Bunny Williams, Jerome Neutres (Cultural Attache for the Embassy of France in the United States) and Gordon Travers (Chairman of The Mount). All spoke about their love for the beauty of The Mount and the importance of saving this national treasure; the Mount is a National Historic Landmark. The French designers were introduced by Katherine Plath who gave the group an auditory tour of The Mount, describing the individual rooms and telling the group about the decorator who will create a design for that space, from Antonio Virga for the entrance to Christian Laboutin in the shoe closet.

Famed New York author Louis Auchincloss then spoke. He had actually known Mrs. Wharton when he was a young man and had many anecdotes to tell including the fact that Wharton's mother had published a group of her poems when the author was only twelve years old and that he, Auchincloss, had been instrumental in seeing that one of the remaining copies of the book was donated to The Morgan. He told this tale to belie the reports that Wharton's mother did not appreciate her talents. Auchincloss wittily described Wharton as a woman who was very well aware of her own importance and quite bad with children. Wharton, according to Auchincloss, was a woman who did not suffer fools gladly but was adored by all of her employees. Auchincloss attributed these widely diverse reports about Wharton's character to the author's innate shyness.

The group then dispersed to the entry hall to finish enjoying the champagne brunch which was sponsored by Paul Goerg Champagne and The Mount; Baccarat; Bernardaud; and Paul Goerg Champagne.

Here are some photographs from the brunch (be sure to scroll down for more information about The Mount and the "Salute to French Design"):

Claudette Blackwood (Bernardaud) and Virginia Tupker (Vogue) Thomas Jayne and Bunny Williams

Gordon Travers, Nicole Zaech, Maxime d'Angeac

The Designers left to right: Olivier Lempereur, Antonio Virga, Nicole Zaech,
Maxime d'Angeac, Leiko Oshima, Patrick Blanc, Elliott Barnes, Michael McKinnon

Andrian Dannatt, Katharina Plath, Bunny Williams

Francois le Grix and his daughter

Nina Griscom and Charlotte Moss

Katherine Kostreva, Claudette Blackwood, George Kakaty,
and Anne Marie Kishbauch

Wendy Moonan and Jonathan Marder of Jonathan Marder + Company PR

Here are some quotes from the invitation about the upcoming installation at The Mount and the history of The Mount:

Salute to French Design

In recognition of Edith Wharton’s deep admiration for the French aesthetic, The Mount will celebrate the enduring elegance of French design during the 2010 season. Wharton urged Americans to look to France for guidance in cultivating the art of civilized living. For the “Salute to French Design,” France’s leading designers will decorate the interior and exterior spaces of The Mount. Our French designers
participate under the patronage of Andrée Putman. Mme Putman’s grandmother, Madeleine St. Rene Taillandier, was a close friend of Edith Wharton and translated The Age of Innocence into French. The exhibit will open to the public in June of 2010. “Salute to French Design” will be one component of The Mount’s overall expansion of its mission to recognize Wharton’s achievements through the creation of "The Wharton Center for the Written Word," celebrating the literary arts in their fullest expression. Programming during the 2010 season will have a
decidedly French theme. Quoted from the invitation

The Mount

The Mount is the National Historic Landmark house and gardens created in 1902 by Edith Wharton in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. Author of such enduring classics as The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome, Wharton was also an authority on interior design and architecture. Her first book, The Decoration of Houses (co-written with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. in 1897) is considered a seminal work of modern interior design and is still in print. The Mount has recently achieved a major debt reduction and restructuring, and received in May a $750,000 unrestricted grant from the Alice M. Kaplan
Memorial Reserve. These milestone accomplishments position The Mount
well to achieve long term financial stability. Quoted from the invitation


Cultural Services of the French Embassy Cultural Services of the French Embassy

Cultural Services of the French Embassy

For more information about The Mount:

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