It’s not easy to appropriate the appeal of an actual gala online, but the French Heritage Society’s Virtual Black & White Ball on November 19th had glamour, culture and bonhomie. It was chaired by CeCe Black, Jean Shafiroff, Geoffrey Bradfield, Elisa Fredrickson and Ann Van Ness. Black glittered in diamonds; Chairman of the Board Elizabeth Stribling, in art deco rubies. Shafiroff did not disappoint, in a red Oscar de la Renta ballgown with black suede Gucci pillbox hat and opera gloves. Video presentations documented the lush lifestyles of the rich and under the radar.
With more than 100 attendees supporting at their regular level, it had a grand but cozy vibe. That’s because the Society is a tight-knit group of like-minded Francophiles, many of whom, like Stribling, keep apartments in Paris. They love and commit to preserving French architecture, decor and antiquities.
The evening began with a VIP pre-party, where Society principals called out to each other and caught up. It ended with three Zoom after parties, hosted by Robert Couturier, CeCe Black, and Elizabeth Stribling, intimate forums where revelers raised glasses (presumably of French wine), asked each other’s whereabouts and showed off their dogs. Parce que les français aiment leurs chiens.
The Society “expresses the best of French savior faire and savior vivre,” Ambassador of France to the United States Philippe Etienne told them. New Consul General Jérémie Robert, Ambassador of France to the U.S., and Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy Gaëtan Bruel were also online. “We will never forget that last year when we had to face the dreadful fire at Notre-Dame, the French Heritage Society immediately sprang into action,” Etienne continued. “We, the people of France, have been profoundly moved by your solidarity and generosity towards our country.”
Honoree Architect and Interior Designer Robert Couturier, considered the most important French decorator in America, sat, surrounded by his five dogs, in his sprawling South Kent, Connecticut estate, filled with such treasures as a painted incense burner that was made for Marie Antoinette’s Trianon palace, with her initials spelled out in flowers.
Couturier started drawing homes as a child, “I always was interested in style and history,” he told Stribling, in a taped segment. But when he told the grandmother who raised him of his career goal, he remembered, “She said with horror in her voice, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to go to a friend’s house through the service door!'” He assured her: “Times have changed.”
A difference between French and American antiqued-filled stately homes? “The French have this faithfulness to history … that is transmitted from generation to generation,” Couturier said. “It’s not a matter of their taste as it is the taste of people who preceded them. I think people who haven’t had the luck of inheriting and who are creating their own fortunes in France tend to want their houses to look as if they had inherited.” Americans study to acquire antiques, then downsize as they get older. “The French,” he said, “don’t think they should learn about French 18th Century because they live with it.”
Still, maintaining a French chateau in modern times is draining. Helping preserve these iconic homes is part of the Society’s mission. Genevieve and Jean Christophe Mifsud hosted a video visit to their Château de Goudourville, which the Society has helped preserve.
“To date we have raised over $13.2 million and supported over 600 gardens, monuments, chateaus and private residences,” Executive Director Jennifer Herlein said, in another prepared piece. “We also established emergency funds and have supported Notre-Dame de Paris following the fire last year, raising close to $2.6 million, and New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, raising almost $230,000 for that.”
They also train the next generation to carry the baton, sending 30 internships across the Atlantic annually.
A nod to French Heritage’s Board of Directors, helmed by Chairman Elizabeth Stribling and President Denis de Kergolay; Michèle le Menestrel Ullrich, Founding President; David M. Gray, Treasurer; Jennifer Herlein, Executive Director; and CeCe Black, Yann Coatanlem, Timothy Corrigan, Christian Draz, Ronald Lee Fleming, Elisa Frederickson, Richard E. Gutman, Gurnee F. Hart, Kazie Metzger, Harvey Dena Kaye, Isabelle de Laroullière, Sarah de Lencquesaing, Silvina Leone, Judy McLaren, Juan Pablo Molyneux, Jean Doyen de Montaillou, Michel Moscovici, Maureen M. Nash, George P. Sape, Jean Shafiroff, Cassandra Surer, Ann Van Ness and Barbara Wolf.
Patrons of the evening included Susanne Abplanalp and David M. Gray, Agnes R. Beane, Jean and Buddy Bolton, Sharon Bush, Yann Coatanlem, Timothy Corrigan, Christian Draz, Ronald Lee Fleming, Elisa Fredrickson, Susan Gutfreund, Rosann and Richard Gutman, Gurnee and Marjorie Hart, Bruce Horten, Adrianne Joseph, Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels, Helen K. King, Michael A. Kovner and Jean Doyen de Montaillou, Odile de Schiétère-Longchampt and Michel Longchampt, Judy McLaren, Kazie and John Harvey, Jay R. Paul, George and Jeri Sape, Guy N. Robinson, Cassandra Surer, Barbara and Donald Tober, Ann Van Ness and Barbara Wolf.
“At the very bottom of everything,” said Stribling, “is our Franco American friendship: Franco American amitie.”
For more information: frenchheritagesociety.org.