Alcohol dulls pain, but not persistent ennui. And so it was no surprise to find The Bitch idling in Gatsbyesque moodiness, champagne in hand, at the edge of the Antoni family mansion's dock during this past Saturday's closing party for the Miami Book Fair International.
Fortunately the sulky saluki was snapped from her reverie when an elbow encased in an elegant satin glove connected with her ribs. It was a broad salute from one of The Bitch's favorite towering personages, Elaine Lancaster. Over the past few years, Lancaster has become a sort of South Beach Babe Paley, an A-list doyenne and fashion plate who uses her considerable influence and wit for the greater good.
When asked how she managed to claw her way up and out of the South Beach drag-queen heap to become the instantly recognizable society fixture she is, Lancaster gives the canine hotdoghouse flower the following lecture: "You've got to be strong. You've got to be determined. And you've got to also watch out for your own ass. Because, honey, the sweeter you are, the meaner you can be. People have got to be able to be just as mean and vicious as they are sweet and good, because it's called survival ... because people will try their damndest to tear you down and to pull you into the gutter where they are, if you allow it. You've got to have a vision of who you are. I'm not saying that I'm some Mother Teresa. Far from it! I always say I'm as nice as you let me be.
"You get in my way, and you fuck with me, I'll fuck with you back, and I assure you that I'll come out on top. I'm not saying, like, I'll beat you up or anything like that, but I'm just saying I know where I'm going," the female impersonator concludes. (When she isn't dolled up as Elaine, the drag diva is better known as handsome man-about-town James Davis.)
The platinum-haired Lancaster carries herself with the swagger of a character from Dynasty, so it's perfectly appropriate that she has acquired the pricey couture of Barbara Davis, the widow of recently deceased oil tycoon Marvin Davis, upon whose life the divinely catty Eighties soap was based. Currently grieving in solitude at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Mrs. Davis donated her high-end clothing to a Los Angeles-based AIDS resources charity called Out of the Closet. Lancaster picks up the tale: "I called them up, and it was the day that they were going to disperse the collection to various stores, and I said don't you dare. They said I couldn't pick and choose items I had to buy the whole entire lot. So I bought it all. I told them there's no way that this is going to fall into the hands of people who will wear these as Halloween costumes! These are serious clothes, and they need to be respected. I bought all of the evening gowns, all the cocktail dresses. Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel ... a lot of them still have the price tags on them, so she never even wore them at all. Lots of them were made exclusively for her and have her name sewn in gowns by Arnold Scaasi, and Nolan Miller, who was a big designer for the show Dynasty."
According to the divalicious scene-stealer, these dresses would have looked picture-perfect on Alexis Carrington. "Some of these outfits look like absolute confections, like something from a bakery. They're so over-the-top and just perfect for my character. I love it, love, love, love it," Lancaster squeals. One question had The Bitch stumped: How could the clothing of a respectably petite society maven possibly fit a six-foot two-inch drag queen?
"Well, her weight fluctuated, so some things don't zip all the way up, and some are a bit big. So the ones that don't fit, I'll have the tops cut off and just have a big ball skirt made out of the bottom. Esteban Cortezar, the adorable little child prodigy fashion designer whose collection has been shown at New York Fashion Week, is helping me out," she explains.
Ah. And does this clothing allow the leggy Lancaster to show off her lengthy assets?
"Like Diana Vreeland said, a woman should always wear clothes tight enough to show she's a woman but loose enough to show she's a lady. You don't have to be obvious to be sexy," Lancaster advises.
Lancaster estimates the clothing collection to be worth more than $350,000, but those who would worry about Elaine's aching wallet shouldn't.
"A lady doesn't discuss prices," she demurely purrs. "I was very fortunate. Not to mention the fact that female impersonation is my primary source of income, so it all comes back around."
And here's one more reason The Bitch so adores Lady Elaine: The few items Elaine refused were trimmed in fur, which the glamorous vixen eschews. "My friend works for PETA, and he showed me how they skin those animals. It's like, no way, honey! I do eat meat, and I don't try to tell people what they should and shouldn't do with their lives, but I'm not going to advocate wearing fur," she explains.
In Lancaster's capable, manicured hands, Barbara Davis's couture gowns will continue their rounds on the charity circuit. Lancaster plans to sport her pricey purchases at every charity fundraiser in town.
"The Davises founded the Carousel of Hope Ball [the Hollywood party that raises funds for diabetes research and treatment], which made millions of dollars for charities. And all these clothes, I can just assume, were created for her philanthropic work. In turn, I got started doing drag as a result of an AIDS charity in Dallas, Texas. And now I have the clothing in my possession that was born out of charity and now continues on, generating money for other charities. It's all kismet! We're all connected, baby!"
Michael Tronn Channels ... Scott Stapp?
No disrespect to Zelda's beau, but The Bitch never believed Fitzgerald when he said there are no second acts in American life. So when word leaked out that chameleon-promoter-artist Michael Tronn was redefining himself as a rock star, she nary twitched a whisker.
By most accounts, this is Tronn's third act. Tronn first entered clubland consciousness when New York magazine featured the then eighteen-year-old on its cover as the proto-mid-Eighties NYC club kid. That other party monster, Michael Alig, was subjected to the dual indignity of a murder conviction and being upstaged by Seth Green as James St. James in a movie adaptation of Alig's life. Tronn, however, parlayed his scenester status into an impressive art career that found him channeling pop iconography at the side of Keith Haring. Those playfully subversive sensibilities are yet are not evident in Tronn's approach to forming what he deems Miami's first gay rock band.
"There are no successful gay groups that play the sort of rock that I'm about," Tronn tells The Bitch. "My voice really lends itself to the music of groups such as Creed, Audioslave, and Staind which is also the music that I really like a lot and want to perform." The Bitch cannot think of a worse musical aspiration. Regular readers of this column will recall her trouncing of diminutive Creed singer, a.k.a. the blandest frontman in the world, Scott Stapp. Why not mimic Thom Yorke or Bryan Ferry? She gave Tronn a perplexed woof.
Perhaps, she hazarded, this is Tronn's way of breaching the gap between cock rock and gay culture (sorry, Big 105.9 listeners)? No. For Tronn the band juggernaut is the extension of a personal transformation. "I had a big heartbreak lately, and that was a catalyst for a lot of creative expression. I've written 50 or 60 songs in the past ten days," Tronn confides. Sample songs include "I Thought You Could Read My Mind," which asks, "Could you feel the planets align when we're together?"
This might sound like the ramblings of a Hallmark-wielding weirdo, but Tronn assures The Bitch he "is not a stalker or anything like that."
More Hotel Party Fabulousness
There's always a week and this was it at the beginning of the season when there's too much fun stuff, and the social whirl begins to interfere with The Bitch's desire to sleep for 23 hours each day.
On November 15 the peregrinating dog was starstruck to find herself hanging out at the reopening of OLA, which quietly closed this summer in the jinxed lot on 60th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. At the new place, the Savoy Hotel on Ocean Drive, she sipped martinis with the aforementioned designing genius Cortezar a heck of a nice fellow and National Hotel resident chanteuse Kimona. Cortezar even madly flattered The Bitch by asking if she was related to the striking flame-haired Kimona. Must be the Irish setter in her DNA.
Chef Douglas Rodriguez mingled little, being about the business of overseeing the serving of OLA's trademark tiny nibble-able things wrapped in melons, or something. The Bitch didn't stay for dinner, though she did learn from party host and sponsor Mark Stockdale of T-Mobile that he doesn't consider Miami Beach the fakest city in the world.
"But then again, I was in Los Angeles right before I came here," Stockdale a bit of a wit for a Sidekick purveyor commented.
Restaurants opening in boutique hotels is a trend for sure OLA follows 510 Ocean at the Bentley, which also launched in November. So are boutique hotels offering a sort of ultra-chi-chi time share-type option?
The Holiday Inn remains an unsightly concrete bunker on the same tony strip of Collins Avenue as the Ritz Carlton, Delano, and the Setai, though it will be ripped down in 2006 to make way for the W South Beach Hotel and Residences.
Behind a freshly painted door in the HI's otherwise dingy twelfth-floor hallway, which boasts industrial carpet and a bumpy acoustic texture on the ceiling, is an airy office designed by Yabu Pushelberg, the firm that has crafted interiors for Tiffany & Co., Carolina Herrera, and the W New York in Times Square.
This office was created to offer visitors a preview of the sleek yet "whimsical" environs that are supposed to define the new development. The palette is dominated by stark white walls, lacquered white tables, and a white alligator-skin divan. But there are also some funky twists, like dashes of primary color and a massive black-and-white cow-skin rug slung over the whitewashed wood floors.
After perusing the décor, The Bitch arranged herself on a white leather sofa, where she nibbled on dog biscuits and lapped up a bowl of imported Norwegian spring water. A few feet away Evelyn Perez-Larin, a perfectly groomed saleswoman, was showing off a model of the nineteen-story glass tower that will house the new condo-cum-hotel. "This one is magnificent," she said, pointing to a corner unit. "It has floor-to ceiling windows." Her prospect, a paunchy silver-haired man in a polo shirt and docksiders, sipped red wine and nodded agreeably. He continued to do so as Perez-Larin reeled off the list of amenities: two gourmet restaurants, a "bliss spa" (What exactly does that offer? The Bitch wondered) rooftop tennis courts, a pair of infinity pools, and "beach ambassadors" who ferry lounge chairs and picnic baskets to beachgoers.
All told, the building is slated to house 511 condominium units, which owners can choose to rent out as hotel suites during the 51 weeks of the year when they are trotting other parts of the globe. Prices range from $700,000 for a studio to $15 million for a sprawling 10,000-square-foot penthouse.
W Hotels are known to pamper pooches with plush robes, doggie toys, and canine massages. But, needless to say, the distinctly bourgeois scene unfolding in the new W South Beach office troubled the non-Beach-inhabiting canine. After all, it's bohemian blood, not money and glitter, that is lacking in the Magic City's most popular hood.
All Dressed Up in Dreams
Tatiana Byron looked as if she'd just stepped out of the frame from MTV's Laguna Beach and appeared, digitally remastered and all, in the ballroom of the Biltmore in Coral Gables. Yet the petite butter-and-honey blonde was actually in full Miami effect; she was here this past Monday evening for her creatively masterminded "Wedding Salon," basically a tour de force of high-end goods for brides, parents-in-law, and grooms (and, in a few unfortunate instances, premarriage-spawned children).
"I've been an events planner since I was in high school, and I put myself through college giving parties," Byron said as she scanned the room, noting a coterie of eggshell-to-ecru-gown-and-train-sporting models, booths offering honeymoons in Punta Cana, and tumblers of everyone's favorite nuptial beverage, Dewar's Scotch whiskey. Admission to the show was $75.
"Are you a bride-to-be?" Byron asked The Bitch. "Is your fiancé here?"
Yep, mmm-hhmmm. Well, it's kind of a special situation.
"Oh, an intercultural ceremony?" Byron inquired.
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More like inter species ...
The Bitch was not too flummoxed to note the presence of some agitated women outside the Biltmore pawing through their "gift bags," which Byron had promised would include "everything from full-size bottles of Vera Wang perfume to Giorgio Armani cosmetics."
"There is a lack of any kind of perfume," complained one, waving an eight-ounce bottle of Martinelli sparkling cider and a Christmas tree ornament from the sack.
"There were in fact two gift bags," admits Robin Diamond of Tara Ink, one of the event's organizers. "The VIP gift bags were for paying customers of The Wedding Salon.... The other gift bag was for brides who were comped into the show and brides who participated in a promotion to gain entry into the show."