A La Carte

Georgetown's American Lady: Susan Mary Alsop

November 12, 2012

At 2710 Dumbarton Avenue, “a plain yellow concrete cube, barely hidden by a curtain of ivy and clematis, a blemish on Georgetown’s streets,” Susan Mary and her political columnist husband, Joseph Alsop entertained in the 1960s during “Georgetown’s glory years.”

(If you live in Georgetown, you’re wondering ‘Where’s Dumbarton Avenue?’ Over the last couple of hundred years, the street/avenue has changed its name several times).

2720 Dumbarton Avenue (Photo by: Judith Beermann) 2720 Dumbarton Avenue

During Susan Mary Alsop’s 86 years of cross-continental marriages and love affairs, Georgetown was the base from which this descendant of one of America’s first families reigned as the grand dame of Washington society.

American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop is written by Caroline de Margerie, daughter of Susan Mary’s childhood friend. Aided by hundreds of personal letters and diaries, she shares her insights into the passions of a remarkable 20th century American aristocrat.

Bold-faced names weave through every chapter, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Noel Coward, Edith Wharton, Brooke Astor, Ho Chi Minh, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy.

Caroline de Margerie (Photo by: Jacques-Francoise Loiseleur des Longchamps) Caroline de Margerie

The great-great-great-granddaughter of John Jay, signer of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and first chief justice of the United States, Susan Mary Jay Patten Alsop was born in Rome to diplomat parents. Her childhood was spent in South America, Europe, Washington, New York, and Maine, where her family kept a summer house.

At 21 Susan Mary married Bill Patten, a Harvard graduate with asthma. This meant no military service and so Susan Mary’s mother got him a State Department job that landed the couple in Paris from 1945 until 1960, when Bill died.

During her years in the City of Light she met the love of her life, Duff Cooper, British ambassador to France. Cooper was the father of her son (she also has a daughter), but she kept it secret from him until he was 47.

Shortly after his death, Joseph Alsop, her husband’s Harvard roommate, proposed (by letter) to Susan Mary. While their union wasn’t perfect (he was gay and she still mourned Cooper) the timing was. Alsop needed a hostess and a built-in family and she needed security and a platform for social engagement. The Alsops’ was the only private home that President Kennedy visited on inauguration night, "stopping in for a bowl of terrapin soup" (the only thing in the kitchen at the time).

The power couple remained lifelong friends after an amicable divorce and Susan Mary continued to use her husband’s name to help launch her literary career.

At 56, she wrote her first book, To Marietta from Paris: 1945-1960, letters to her best friend, Marietta Peabody Fitzgerald Tree (Caroline de Margerie’s mother). She went on to publish three more books, and was a contributing editor to Architectural Digest.

1611 29th Street (Photo by: Judith Beermann) 1611 29th Street

She died in the Georgetown home at 1611 29th Street which she had inherited from her mother.

If Susan Mary were born 50 years later perhaps she may not have relied on men to propel her into a life of influence through entertaining and liaisons. (The lamb went cold at the Alsops the evening President Kennedy was in the garden, preoccupied with the emerging Cuban Missile Crisis). And she may have used her maiden name and started writing professionally decades earlier.

Christian Dior would send her free gowns and Lyndon Johnson "pinched her behind and exclaimed, Why does such a thin girl wear a garter belt?" Anorexic rather than fashionably thin may be what she’d be called today.

Her serial affairs with married men, not discussed or openly acknowledged may have labeled her a home wrecker rather than debutante-turned-mistress. Ironically no homes wrecked, no marriages ended.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable is that a woman so carefully bred to follow the rules, lived her life exactly as she pleased.

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Making it Yours at C. Wonder

November 10, 2012

Home Decor Room (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Home Decor Room

“Highly curated assortment of beautiful products in all different categories under one roof,” That’s how Amy Shecter, C. Wonder’s president describes the new retail shopping emporium targeted to working women, rolling out across the country.

Launched in New York last year, the company will have 11 U.S. stores by the end of this year, 15-20 next year, and plans to go international in 2014.

Vice President of Merchandsing, Jon Zeiders (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Vice President of Merchandsing, Jon Zeiders

Last weekend marked C. Wonder’s debut in Tysons Corner, Virginia. “We’re so excited to be in the Washington area and its number one mall, bringing our great product to our sophisticated customers and their lifestyle," says Jon Zeiders, vice president of merchandising. “Before Chris, no one has done all three,” added Zeiders. Chris is J. Christopher Burch, the company’s founder and CEO (and ex-husband of designer Tory Burch). “The three pillars of the C. Wonder brand are the most amazing products at the best value, fabulous customer service, and the most beautiful store environment.”

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

“What people say more than anything else,” says Shecter “is that our store makes them happy. Chris has turned the retail experience on its head.”

With 85 categories of business, merchandising and editing is key. An amazing 95% of the products are designed in-house. “Everything has to sit together like a symphony,” Shector explains. “And Chris is a great conductor.”  

C. Wonder Launch Party at Tysons (Photo by: Judith Beermann) C. Wonder Launch Party at Tysons

From online to in-store, C. Wonder's cross-channel brand strategy includes mobile point of sale technology and interactive fitting rooms with customer-controlled music and lighting. It's a personalized experience designed to save busy shoppers time. The retailers' signature customer commitment to “making it yours” means monogramming is offered on everything from belt buckles to cheese boards and gloves.

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

Over 2,000 unique items of clothing, footwear, jewelry, personal electronics, home décor and accessories all artfully displayed by category in colorfully chic separate areas.

The original target shopper, "the 35-45 year-old suburban time-pressed mom,” has turned into, Shecter says, “everyone from 15-60." Products have to pass the 'Does she want this/Does she need this?' filter. There's something here for everyone.”

See you at C. Wonder soon.

C. Wonder in Tysons Corner (Photo by: Judith Beermann) C. Wonder in Tysons Corner

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Nike Georgetown Just Did It!

October 25, 2012

“I’d rather eat a bug than what I’m doing now,” said legendary former Georgetown Men’s Basketball Head Coach, John Thompson, Jr. as he thanked the huge laughing crowd Thursday morning who turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the official opening of Nike Georgetown.

Michael Jackson presents John Thompson Jr. with a custom jacket (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Michael Jackson presents John Thompson Jr. with a custom jacket

Making a special appearance, Thompson was there for Nike. “I’m so appreciative to the people of Nike who supported me from way back.” To his friend, Michael Jackson, now head of the basketball brand of Nike, who presented his former coach with a specially made personalized jacket, “I cut him. Told him he was too smart ..." Thompson added, “As I’ve always said to my players, play to win, but understand, don't let the sum of your existence be 10 pounds of air."

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

VP of retail for Nike North America, Tim Hershey after thanking the Thompson family and friends for coming, said "It’s long overdue that we’re here in Georgetown. Finally we got a box big enough.”

John Thompson III talks about his dad, John Thompson Jr. (Photo by: Judith Beermann) John Thompson III talks about his dad, John Thompson Jr.

Only the ninth concept store in the U.S., Nike Georgetown is a multi-category brand experience over three floors and 31,000 square feet (formerly Barnes & Noble) that includes running, training, basketball, football, soccer and sportswear with footwear, apparel and equipment for men, women and young athletes.

"What distinguishes us, said Hershey, "We have athletes to serve athletes." And quite a few staff, 171 to be exact.

John Thompson Jr. and Patrick Ewing (Photo by: Judith Beermann) John Thompson Jr. and Patrick Ewing

Women’s is on the entire first floor. An exclusive women’s run club gets moving November 1 and will gather each Thursday at 6:30 pm.

Nike Georgetown will also host a launch event for Nike+ Fuelband on October 31 and beginning November 3, will offer Nike Training Club on Saturdays at 8:30 am.

Nike Georgetown is located at 3040 M Street.

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