For 14 years, the New York Design Center has served as a local sponsor for DIFFA’s annual Dining by Design extravaganza. This year NYDC is using more than one designer to bring their table concept to life, and I’m delighted to have been invited to be one of the participants. The theme is “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” and we’ve each been asked to design two table settings that portray two of our dream dinner guests from the past.
The first guest I’ve chosen is Gypsy Rose Lee (1911–1970), the fabulous burlesque entertainer and diseuse. She was famous for her witty striptease act in which she delivered a satirical monologue while nonchalantly disrobing.
Gypsy Rose Lee, the peerless burlesque entertainer, in the 1930s
Lee was also a talented writer, and her best-selling 1957 memoir, Gypsy, which began as a childhood reminiscence in The New Yorker, inspired the Jule Styne–Stephen Sondheim musical. It’s still a riveting read.
Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1957 memoir recounts her beginnings in vaudeville, introduces “Mama Rose”—the ultimate stage mother—to the world, and was the basis of the Jule Styne–Stephen Sondheim musical, Gypsy.
Some of the elements I’ll use for the Gypsy Rose Lee table setting will include a gilded black-and-white striped chair, draped with a fur boa and hot-pink fishnet fabric, Hermès dinner plates in their elegant Fil d’Argent pattern, and Saint-Louis crystal from the intricately patterned “Thistle Gold” collection, which dates back to 1913 and is mouth-blown and hand-engraved.
Gypsy Rose Lee’s place setting will feature “Thistle Gold” crystal by Saint-Louis.
The other guest I’ve chosen is fashion phenomenon Alexander McQueen (1969– 2010), always known to his family and friends by his first name, Lee. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, he combined a superb command of craft with a wickedly irreverent sense of humor. As last year’s extraordinary McQueen retrospective, Savage Beauty, at the Metropolitan Museum showed us, the range, skill, beauty, and imagination of his designs raised them to the realm of art. Lee would have been an inspired costume designer for Gypsy Rose.
Fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen in his studio
Thanks to the deep pockets of his backers, the Gucci Group, McQueen was able to let his creative imagination soar and conceive such wonders as this white feathered cocktail dress from fall 2009. Gypsy Rose could have worn it with aplomb, though she might have had difficulty shedding it casually on stage.
For Lee McQueen’s place setting, I’ve selected a distressed-leather highback chair from Laserow Antiques, opulently patterned porcelain and crystal by Versace, and a heavily decorated skull provided by 1stdibs@NYDC.
Lee McQueen was strongly inspired by the exaggerated lines and bold drama of design in the European Baroque period, so one of these ca. 1700 Italian black oak side chairs from Laserow Antiques seems like the perfect seat for him.
Lee McQueen’s place will be set with opulent dinnerware by Versace.