- Merle Ginsberg and Gwyneth Paltrow at W/WWD’s Black & White party, 2002, photographed by J.Vespa/WireImage
- Michael Jackson and Madonna at Swifty Lazar’s Post-Oscar Party at Spago, 1991, photographed by Ron Galella/WireImage
- Lyle Lovett, Ashley Judd and Maria Shriver at the 1997 APLA Benefit hosted by Gucci’s Tom Ford, photographed by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
- Diane Kruger, Claudia Schiffer and Milla Jovovich in the front row of Chanel’s Resort 2008 show at hangar No. 8 at the Santa Monica Airport, 2007, photographed by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/GettyImages
- The reopening of the Beverly Hills Hermès boutique, 2013, photographed by Alex Berliner
When I first moved to L.A. in the early Nineties, my idea of a glamorous evening was a dark, dingy club decked out in black; that’s right, baby — my first experience with Big City parties was in the punk heyday of New York’s mid- to late-Eighties, where I covered music for The Village Voice and Rolling Stone. So the Hollywood parties I attended in my early days as a West Coast journalist were severe culture shock: everybody looked pretty — and even stranger — happy. Not one of these people had ever heard of Ian Curtis or Malcolm McLaren. And they never wore black. Of course, I could not have been more alienated. Hollywood parties seemed as reality-based to me as the circus. But this girl had to make a living. Soon, I learned to love the circus — as only one who appreciates theater and spectacle, and is already alienated — really can.
— Merle Ginsberg, The Hollywood Reporter Senior Style Writer
Swifty Lazar may have been a tiny man with oversized glasses, but he was a giant of a literary agent. As the original Malcolm Gladwell-style connector, Swifty managed to bring together the intellectual community of New York with the flamboyant world of Hollywood. And his post-Oscar parties at the old Spago were more notorious than his clients. I went for US Magazine, and immediately spied Michael Jackson holding court with Madonna, and Don Johnson with Melanie Griffith, all among the 80 year olds. Everyone was eating smoked salmon and cream cheese pizza — a food group I’d never experienced before. Even back then, in the pre-manorexia days, I’d never been in a room filled with people that thin — or that badly dressed at a black tie. There wasn’t any black! This was Hollywood bad taste at its finest.
2. W/WWD’s Black & White Party, 3/02
This was W and WWD’s second pre-Oscar party that I helped conceive. Hipster promoter Bryan Rabin staged it in a huge post-modern house in Larchmont, hiring Rufus Wainwright to entertain in the pool area. Something about everyone wearing black or white made the affair very stately. But it was the guest list that had everybody talking — including The New York Times Styles section: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Tilly, Nic Cage, Rosanna Arquette (whose sister had just divorced Cage), Alberta Ferretti, Roberto Cavalli, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Lisa Eisner. I thought I was doing a great job hosting till I dipped outside and learned the fire marshal had kept a big crowd of people waiting — including a third of the celebrities. I ran into the house, grabbed 20 people and made them leave immediately, so the VIPs could be let in. To my surprise, it worked.
3. Gucci/Tom Ford’s APLA Benefit, 6/97
Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier were also participants in the giant fashion shows APLA started somewhere between 1994 and 1996. I attended the Tom Ford extravaganza at Bergamot Station with W Magazine’s magnetic editorial director Patrick McCarthy, and just being in his company was electrifying. I threw down the bucks to dress for this one, too — a printed chiffon Dries Van Noten evening dress that even Patrick was impressed by (not easy). He sat at a table with Jack Nicholson and Ellen Barkin — and I didn’t. But within the crowd of gorgeous models, matrons and movie stars — with an amazing Tom Ford Gucci fashion show — I did manage to schmooze with enough majors, like Michael Keaton, to have my boss say to me, “Merle, you’re always up some movie star’s ass.” My reply: “Isn’t that my job?” Anyway, that night, that seemed like everybody’s goal — and they all seemed to succeed, metaphorically. Tom Ford proudly went around telling people he wore no undies under his leather pants. That got a reaction.
CAA traditionally took their post-Globes parties “off-campus” and out of the Hilton, which made them much more private and appealing. I took a newish date to this one at Chaya Brasserie on Robertson, and when he saw Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Daniel Day-Lewis milling about — and actually saying hello to me, as I’d done W stories on them — let’s just say, he liked me a whole lot more. It’s so rare to go to a small industry A-list party and be able to engage with people — if you’re a journalist, and not a CAA agent. I actually felt like I was friends with all these people. And for a few hours, I was.
5. Vanity Fair’s Post-Oscar Party, 3/03
Way back, when the VF Oscar party was at Morton’s instead of Sunset Tower, it was a smaller, more intimate affair — but what was really cool about it was that there were wall-to-wall stars (Kate Hudson, J.Lo and Ben Affleck, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts), most of the women wearing couture, but nobody was yet jaded about this neo-Hollywood tradition, so excitement was still in the air. Pam Anderson showed up with Liz Hurley in Versace couture — but Pam was wearing cut-off denim shorts and a crop top. No one even pretended ennui — every attendee, most of all me, wandered wide-eyed through the party. At the end of the night, SJP sat down with me (I had interviewed her for W) on a banquette and we chatted like girlfriends — I still have the photo to prove it.
6. Tina Brown’s Talk Party, 3/99
Say whatever you want about Tina Brown, her intellect and mostly-failed magazine ventures: the woman knows how to throw a party. When Talk launched, she and West Coast right-hand Caroline Graham threw many star-studded do’s: this one was at Asia de Cuba in the Mondrian Hotel and had Steve Martin, Jamie Tarses, Alec Baldwin, SNL cast members — and lefty Hollywood types with brainy leanings. The conversation was much more inspired than most Hollywood parties — people talked about books they actually seemed to be reading — and then, of course, turning them into movies. What could be better than an L.A. party that feels like it’s in New York — without lines and obnoxious rude people?
Giorgio Armani’s West Coast diva Wanda McDaniel is famous for her Christmas parties at the home she shares with her husband, producer Al Ruddy. When I attended in 2003, her mega-collection of ornaments and lights collected over decades was in full display, and BFFs Arnold and Maria were on hand (those were the days), plus Kevin Spacey and Barbara Davis. It was like a movie premiere guest list in a charming, familial home — Hollywood at its intimate best. I brought a man I was on a fourth date with — something about this party turned it into a two-year relationship.
8. Chanel Resort 2008 Show, 5/07
It’s rare for a European designer to show in L.A., particularly a brand-new resort show — people flew in from all over the world to see it. The models stepped off a private plane at the Santa Monica hangar and onto the literal runway, with travel as the show’s very appropriate theme. Lindsay Lohan and Karl Lagerfeld were still besties, and the cross-section of L.A. coolness – Amanda Demme with the Parisian chic, movie stars and local fashion folk decked out in every piece of Chanel they’ve ever owned — was truly amusing. Of course, the clothes were breathtaking, and we all got flight bags with “CHANEL” written on them.
9. Marni for H&M Party, 2/12
This was held at a Lloyd Wright house on Franklin Avenue — and hosted by Sofia Coppola, so the crowd was edgy and arty for real. This was one of H&M’s first major design collabs — and kroners were being spent like pickled herring. A lot of the party took place in an elaborate garden courtyard, with clothes on display in nearby rooms. Celebs like Jessica Chastain were trying them on in front of everyone. At one point, a band started playing and we all stepped outside to see who it was — Bryan Ferry! Yes, Bryan Ferry playing to a crowd of about 200; even Mel Gibson swaying in the crowd. Any “been there, done that” attitude was quickly dispelled. It was a magical night – and international fashion PR Karla Otto furthered her image as one of the great organizers of artsy ambience.
10. Hermès Beverly Hills Reopening, 9/13
Held at a giant Culver City warehouse space, there were a lot of rooms — and a lot of themes: Esther Williams-style synchronized swimmers in a choreographed dance, a Forties Hollywood stage where partygoers took photos with a classic car, a library filled with books and a retro band playing like they were in a speakeasy. And how many fashion parties serve lobster tail? The champagne was divine, and so were the visuals. There were also little Parisian kiosks serving lemon aioli panini with shrimp. Even the Birkin bags had a good night.
For more features from our L.A. Issue, click here.
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