Celebrating an Exceptional, Unreasonable Man

by Michael Gross Photographed by Aurora Rose/PMC and Annie Watt
Monday, May 14, 2018

Someone who’d met the late American couture legend Charles James sidled over to ubraid Michele Gerber Klein, author of Charles James: Portrait of an Unreasonable Man (Rizzoli ex libris), at a party for her new biography the other night. It took place in the East 63rd Street Paul Rudolph townhouse long owned by Roy Halston Frowick, the better-known, but arguably less talented ready-to-wear designer. James died in 1978, believing that Halston used him to gain reflected glory, stole his designs and failed him to pay him for services rendered at the end of James’ career and the beginning of Halston’s. The party guest, who thought the venue peculiar given those circumstances, grumbled to Klein, “Charles must be spinning in his grave.”

“No,” the author countered as she broke into a wide, knowing grin, “he’s dancing on Halston’s.”  At which they toasted with flutes of champagne on the raised dining platform above Halston’s famous glass-walled living room.

Many of the guests, who had been in the house in its Halston heyday, joked about its vertiginous staircases and balconies without rails, wondering how the drug-soaked revels there in the disco era ended without casualties.  Among them were AVENUE’s R. Couri Hay, and the cross-disciplinary artist Anton Perich (whose photos of Studio 54 appeared on AVENUE’s July 2017 cover), who conducted over twenty hours of videotaped interviews with James before his death in 1978. Those interviews inspired Hay’s late partner, New York scene-maker Roger Webster, to suggest that Klein write her book.

The wealthy Europeans Gianni Agnelli and Gunther Sachs later acquired the house and it first came on the market in fall 2012 at $38 million after Sachs’ death by suicide. It has been on and off the market ever since, and is now a relative bargain at $24 million, said another guest, broker Howard Morrell, who spent part of the night fending off queries about whether Halston had secreted any cocaine in the walls or beneath the floors, and whether it would now be any good.  Entertainment mogul David Geffen, another guest revealed, once tried to buy it for $25 million, but what then seemed to be a lowball offer was refused.  It’s unknown if Geffen ever partied there, but given his wide net of acquaintanceship, odds are, he did. 

James, presumably, would have gotten a pirouette out of all that, too.   


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