Washington society prepares for return of luxury
Think of it as Reagan Redux: Russian sable blankets and Lear-lock at local airports. The resurrection of the $600 tasting menus and the 14-karat gold tins of Almas caviar. Faberge eggs for breakfast.
Washington is bracing for what may be the biggest seismic shift in taste and culture since 1981, when Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter decamped, and Nancy Reagan arrived with her $25,000 inaugural wardrobe ($60,000 in today’s money), not to mention her $200,000 White House china set.
From real estate agents to restaurateurs, caterers to cave dwellers, lobbyists to ladies who lunch, everyone in official Washington is asking the same question: Just how different will a Trump administration be?
“It’s like a military junta with a lot of billionaires sprinkled on top,” said Kevin Chaffee, a longtime local social observer and editor at Washington Life. “It’s going to be glitz. He loves glitz.”
But the president-elect also loves cherry-vanilla ice cream, See’s candies, taco bowls and fried chicken, eaten with a knife and fork.
Washington journalist and hostess Sally Quinn once described the impact the more cerebral Obama administration had on Washington: “Socially, it’s like the city is on Ambien.”
Will it now be a city on steroids?
“Washington is certain to become an even livelier place under this new president,” said John Arundel, associate publisher of Washington Life. “While he doesn’t drink, he’s quite fond of a good party or a solid black-tie [event] with people he feels are at his level. … Other than state dinners, President and Mrs. Obama never really ventured into social Washington.“
Ann Hand, a notable Washington jewelry designer and fixture on the social circuit who has been making inaugural pins for the last 20 years, predicts that it is “going to be interesting to watch this incredibly different family.” Her $75 Made in America Trump pin is on back order. “The factory is rushing to do as many as they can.”
With anxious embassies vying to snag all the new Cabinet members and restaurants looking for ways to tap into a steady stream of American Express Black cards, Washington feels like a capital on the verge of a sudden sea change.
On a street in leafy Northwest Washington known as Billionaire’s Row, superinvestor and Commerce Secretary pick Wilbur Ross and his wife Hilary have purchased a 10,000-square-foot, sevenbedroom house with a 12-seat movie theater and staff quarters, digs formerly owned by philanthropist Adrienne Arsht that was listed for $12 million.
“I mean, ‘Hello? He’s not even confirmed yet!’ This town is on fire!” said longtime Washington “It Girl” Tandy Dickerson. “And the real estate agents must be wetting their pants.”
It’s not as if Washington hasn’t seen new money before, with all the tech giants and start-up millionaires of late. But Mr. Trump (and his billionaire buddies) are yuuuge, with bank accounts and net worths far beyond anything the town has seen in recent years.
“It will be a la Kennedy and Reagan — in that order,“Ms. Dickerson said.
Nancy under fire
Of course, many of the city’s old guard still think the Reagan era was just divine. But Nancy Reagan (in stark contrast to the more down-home Mrs. Carter) suffered endless criticism for her extravagant ways during her husband’s two terms in office in the 1980s. The press eagerly chronicled the excesses: Full-blown roses shipped in daily from South America. Passion fruit sorbet. James Galanos and Oscar de la Renta gowns (which turned out to be “borrowed”).
The hottest-selling postcard in the Washington then was Mrs. Reagan seated on a throne, wearing an ermine cape and a diamond- and gold-encrusted crown. The caption: “Queen Nancy.”
Longtime Washington social observers note that George W. Bush and wife Laura were not exactly a barrel of fun. He went to bed at 9 o’clock. She read.
The Trumps will also get a place in the Washington Social Register, also known as The Green Book. Aspiring socialites were known in the past to kill to be included. Helen Ray Hagner, who founded the Register in 1930, kept index cards with initials on each person’s name. (Note to Trump: You could be dropped for being an “FP” — fanny-pincher.)
Since Melania Trump, the Slovenian-born first lady-to-be and former model, will not be moving to the White House until the Trumps’ son Barron finishes out his $40,000-a-year private school term in Manhattan, Washington insiders will have to wait for her protocol debut. Barron, 10, is fond of firing his nannies and wearing suits and ties, and gets rubbed down head to toe every night from his mother’s moisturizer, Caviar Complexe C6. (Note to White House maintenance: He’s also famous for drawing on walls.)
Will first daughter Ivanka Trump, currently house-hunting with husband Jared Kushner in Georgetown, get her blond locks tressed by a lowly worm local, or will she still go to New York’s notorious French-born Julien Farel? The salon owner, whose clients shell out $1,250 for a cut and blow-dry, was naturally vague. “Ivanka’s a great girl. She’s pretty and smart and bright.”
The latest reports say Ivanka will temporarily carry out the first lady duties and have an office in the White House.
“There will be a lot of changes coming,” predicts Franco Nuschese, whose Georgetown hot spot Cafe Milano has been ground zero for the rich and famous for 25 years. “I think people will be going out more.”
Even the Republicans who voted against Mr. Trump are, well, coming around, and for good reason: Power is fleeting. And because no matter who the new president is, after all, he’s just a temporary resident — an arriviste.
Will he design new gold braided uniforms for the White House ushers, as Richard Nixon did for the White House security staff nearly a half-century ago? As one of Mr. Trump’s sons observed, the White House is a step down from Trump Tower for the billionaire developer. Mr. Chaffee, who has covered Washington society for nearly 40 years through multiple administrations, urges the locals to give the new guy some space.
“People need to stop being crybabies,” he said, “and give the guy a chance.”
YESTERYEAR: Nancy Reagan arrived in 1981 with a $25,000 inaugural wardrobe and $200,000 worth of china.