Friday, May 30, 2008

Meet Dodie Rosekrans: Fashion’s Patron Saint

Dodie Rosekrans in Alexander McQueen, photographed in 2006 at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, a private museum owned by François Pinault, where he houses his extensive contemporary art collection.

Dodie Rosekrans is an anomaly in a fame obsessed age where even society woman have taken on the role of the celebrity, frequently marketing their names and appearing in the pages of Vogue and on Mrs. Rosekrans by comparison represents an entirely different breed, one which came of age at a time when a lady’s name should only be mentioned twice in a newspaper during her lifetime; on the day of her betrothal and in the obituary section respectively. Today it is not uncommon to find women like Tory Burch, the New York socialite, who has made a successful business out of her self-titled designer label, selling everything from embroidered caftans to scented candles. While the London based jet-setter Rena Kirdar Sindi (daughter of Investcorp founder Nemir Kirdar and long time couture client Nada Kirdar) has made a name for herself as a serious party planner, being hired by the likes of Chanel and Bulgari. Her book, Be My Guest, a how-too guide to party savoir-faire, has become a coffee-table bestseller.

Rosekrans on the other hand is somewhat perplexed at why anyone would find her remotely interesting enough to interview. But upon entering her orientalist jewel box of an apartment in Paris' 7th arrondissement, conceived by the interior designers Tony Duquette and Hutton Wilkinson, one quickly realizes they are in the presence of someone who’s seen the world twice over and lived every moment intensely. For over five decades she has been a prominent art collector, patron, fundraiser and society figure in San Francisco, Paris and Venice. "Dodie's an exceptional personality," said Countess Isabelle d'Ornano of Paris, the co-founder of Sisley cosmetics and a friend for 40 years. "She's not banal at all, she is one of the few original people I've met in my life." Although she has shied away from most media attention, she continues to fascinate observers with her exuberant sense of style, which is anything but understated.

Rosekrans was born Georgette Naify, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, in San Francisco. Her father, Michael Naify, created a theater chain that became United Artists. “Dodie” is an Americanized version of the Lebanese nickname her parents had given her, and it has stuck with her throughout her life.

She married John Rosekrans, an executive who owned a large toy and sporting goods business, before he sold it for a huge fortune to Mattel. As well as being a major art collector and philanthropist he is credited with encouraging his wife to purchase her first pieces of couture and would often attend the collections with her. There was a poignant moment in 1998 during couture week in Paris when the fashion critic for the New York Times, Cathy Horyn, approached Dodie’s late husband John as they were waiting to enter the Dior show. She asked him about his thoughts on the couture scene and if it would last, to which he responded, ''Listen, this is a very different world,'' adding that he attended couture week as much for the sense of refinement as for its frenetic social scene. He could still recall the first couture dress he picked out for his wife right after they got married, a cerise Balenciaga gown. ''There are a lot of people who enjoy spending money on clothes,'' he said. ''I think it's a wonderful thing to do.''

As a teenager her parents took her on a grand tour of Europe and she reveled in the adventure, traveling through Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon by car, "one for the family and one for the luggage," she recalled, before taking a five-day voyage across the Mediterranean to Europe. This early experience may explain why Rosekrans spends most of the year in a constant state of travel. Her itinerary is usually loaded with familiar and exotic destinations: Paris in spring, Libya with friends in June, Venice after that and then maybe China.
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