In 1966 I had the great privilege of being introduced to Rebekah Harkness. I was at the time enjoying a great success as a fashion designer in New York City with a showroom and atelier workshop at 550 Seventh Avenue...the best building for NYC high fashion designers with windows facing the back of the old Metropolitan Opera House. I received a letter from the Director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut requesting that I create 6 ball gowns for their commemorative Paper Ball scheduled for the following October. I agreed to this request, which was to be a donation by me, providing I was given the names of the ladies that would be wearing the gowns. They gladly sent the names and to my surprise among them was the name: REBEKAH HARKNESS.
It was a known fact that Rebekah Harkness never stepped onto Seventh Avenue nor purchased any garments from the Avenue's fashion designers. So how this would develop was earth shattering. In the past, according to fashion history, gossip and/or rumour, Rebekah Harkness had been a fashion model for Mainboucher on Park Avenue...far from the madding crowd of Seventh Avenue...where Mrs. William Hale Harkness purchased all her clothes. It was customary for her husband Mr. William Hale Harkness to accompany his wife during her selection. Mainboucher was haute couture and not pret-a-porter (ready to wear) and conduced his salon as did the haute couture fashion designers in Paris. Models would parade out wearing each model for an individual client as was Mrs. Harkness. Rebekah Semple West, as is her maiden name, was one of Mainboucher's models and this is where William Hale Harkness had first seen her. As the years went by Rebekah ceased modeling and became Mainboucher's Directrice and managed his couture operation. One stipulation with Mainboucher was that he never presented a 'press opening' nor 'buyer's showings" for women's specialty shops such as Bonwit Teller or Bergdorff Goodman. Mainboucher was strictly 'custom' couture and sold only directly to clients of high society and great wealth as was Mrs. William Hale Harkness.
Naturally such an intimate and close relationship between couturier, model, Directrice, client and husband would constitute a solid relationship and trust..a bond of privacy and secrecy which occurs in such privileged circles and when Mrs. Harkness died suddenly her husband William Hale Harkness would naturally turn to the one place or person that had a very close contact with his wife and that was Rebekah Semple West. As it turned out he proposed to her and they married in 1947 just around the time of Christian Dior's entry into the couture in Paris with his "new look". Their marriage produced one child: Edith Harkness and their marriage lasted harmoniously for 7 years when William Hale Harkness died 1 October 1954 leaving his entire fortune, that included a major share of Standard Oil, to Rebekah to do with as she pleased. Of course Rebekah was in her own right a very wealthy woman having been born into a socially prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri in 1915 so there was no doubt that she could handle the estate, most reasonably, as William Hale Harkness felt best for it.
No one in fashion media or the fashion/garment business in NYC was hated more than Rebekah Harkness since previous to this great fortune she was the one who kept all fashion press editors, fashion writers, gossip columnists and fashion critics away from Mainboucher's collections and now to have married, then widowed, into such vast wealth they all went into a crazy frenzy trying to get at her any way they could but without any real success. All this happened long before I came along since I was born in 1932 the year Rebekah graduated from Fermata, a finishing school, in Aiken, South Carolina at the age of 22.
ESTABLISHED IN 1965
My career in fashion began just a few years before Rebekah created her Foundation and opened Harkness House for Ballet Arts. Some co-incidents occurred in both our lives at different times but in 1965 both Rebekah and I became major monuments in New York City. We both studied dance (ballet) as children with neither of us actually dancing professionally or making it our career, we both were inclined toward the haute couture and high fashion although we came from totally different economic and social backgrounds but both our influence and careers were meteors launched into place at the same time in 1965. Rebekah opened her Ballet Company setting the Dance World on its peak and I won both the Coty and Neiman Marcus Awards for extraordinary achievements in Fashion Fabric Design creating a whole new trend in fashion art and making the United States a power equal to that of European fabric designers/producers.
As can be imagined these two events in New York City raged like a fire storm across both the fashion and entertainment worlds and although Rebekah was already well known and hated by the fashion press I was on the other hand the darling of the fashion press having been given the first Coty Award also known as the American Fashion Critics Award in Fashion Achievement and the first award for Fabric Design in Fashion. All this happened for me from 1962 in three years when I reached the age of 30 and Rebekah Harkness was 47 years old.
My operation for designing and manufacturing fabrics was supported by another pair of wealthy backers in Bennington, Vermont spear-headed first by Lawrence Vanderbilt-Morris (son of Cornelia Vanderbilt) and later taken over by John Griffith McCullough of North Bennington, Vermont and also of New York City, whose family was known for building the Holland Tubes. They financed my mill manufacturing in the old Tiffany Mill in the Town of Bennington, Vermont before McCullough brought in additional investors. I had moved my design studio there from a loft I occupied on Delancy Place near Rittinhouse Square in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania due to demands for fabrics that the local mills were not able to easily produce in time for deadlines necessary to satisfy my clients on Seventh Avenue basically because the orders were small and it was difficult for them to fit my small orders between their larger ones. This meant in order to keep up deliveries I had to have my own textile mill both for weaving wool and printing silk. It turned out the old Tiffany Mill was well equipped with textile weaving and producing equipment with a full staff ready to be liquidated and dismantled. I found it just in the nick of time to keep it going and preserved and it provided space that I could convert into a major silk screen printing production workshop. In 1965 I was already two years established there and producing and delivering exactly what was needed and thereby earning the Coty and Neiman Marcus Awards.
RECEIVING THE COTY AWARD FROM
SENATOR JACOB JAVITS
AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
NEIMAN MARCUS AWARD
SCULPTURE BY GIACOMETTI
PRESENTED TO TZAIMS LUKSUS BY STANLEY MARCUS
IN DALLAS, TEXAS
Giacometti's model for Neiman Marcus Award
In the summer of 1966 little did I know that my Seventh Avenue atelier and my Bennington Mill would come to an end. If the second wife of John Griffith McCullough was drafting her plans to take it over at that time she certainly didn't indicate anything other than 'keep-on-trucking' so it was arranged that those ladies that would be wearing the original and one of a kind paper dresses to the Hartford Atheneum Paper Ball of 1966 would come in for fittings. Only one lady requested that I come to her first instead and before she came to me. Rebekah Harkness. Rather than an inconvenience I felt it a great privilege since I had little chance to go anywhere very exciting so it was arranged that I would meet her in her studio apartment on the top floor of Harkness House.
I had never been to Harkness House, former ballet dancer wannabe that I was, it was a terrifying experience to see the best that could be created after the St. Petersburgh Mariinski Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet disciplines by French Ballet instructors. So much was happening at the Rebekah Harkness Foundation with plans for rebuilding the Colonial Theatre into a theatre of Dance and renamed the Harkness Theatre but my arrival at the top floor being lifted by a tiny elevator decorated with fantastic but colourfully childish murals of boys and girls dancing like fairies with glitter sprinkled around amused me since I knew instinctively that this was to entertain and not represent something profoundly serious...rather an elevator to fantasy but no fantasy was it when the simple gray door to Rebekah's private suite at the top opened and revealed a splendid and magnificent, impeccable salon/drawing room all in various shades of Apricot, flesh pink and pale rose furnished with brilliant Louis XV crystal chandeliers, sconces, candleabras and settees upholstered in the same coloured silk satins and all mounted upon a soft cushioned thick carpeting of pale Apricot coloured wool. Oil paintings framed in elaborate gold leaf frames were mounted on the walls and objet d'art arranged around the exotic inlaid table tops filled the room adding to all the family memorabilia. Lilly, or so I remember her name to be, answered the door when I knocked right on the proper moment of my appointment. Lilly was a lovely woman of African American descent, or so I thought since maybe she was from France, ushered me in where Rebekah was comfortably seated in one of her Louis XV silk chairs. The hard soles of my shoes pressed into the thick soft carpeting to the extent that I wasn't sure I could keep my balance walking over to greet her but I managed and she insisted I seat myself across from her and had Lilly serve me a cup of tea in a Limoges porcelain cup and saucer. Nothing much was said as her eyes searched over me casually and since I hadn't said a word Rebekah called to Lilly saying: "Give him the broach."
A dressing room was just visible through a door at the end of the Drawing Room where Lilly went and picked up an object coming back and plunking it into my open hand. It was a five tentacled jewel encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies set in Platinum with a huge pearl mounted in the center. It set there in my palm heavy and weighty seeming to stare at me without any eyes. "I want you to make my dress to match this broach." Rebekah then presented me with a ribbon colourd blue, Royal and bright blue, and added: "I also want it to have that shade of blue in the design." We conversed for a short time and it was agreed that she would come to my Seventh Avenue atelier at 550 for a fitting since I claimed that I did not do fittings and only allowed my assistants to make them and in this case I had both a male and a female assistant to do fittings. She agreed and we set a time and date. The interview may have taken 30 minutes altogether.
The other prominent ladies of the New York 400 Social set were Mrs. Stanley (Barbara) Mortimer and Mrs. Robert (Ethel) Scull owners of NYC Yellow Cab Co. and ardent modern art collectors. They both came for fittings without any ceremony but when Rebekah Harkness arrived and parked right in front of 550 Seventh Avenue all the fashion press and photographers were suddenly there flashing and shouting at her. Who in the world was she going to see at 550 Seventh Avenue, a place she swore she would never show herself for any reason. Shock waves surged through the fashion industry..."My God..." was heard exclaimed..."she is going to see TZAIMS LUKSUS!"
Well what a rush this was for them but it wasn't my intention to be located on Seventh Avenue. Like Mainboucher I didn't feel I fit into the Seventh Avenue fashion designers and planned to locate either on Park Avenue or Madison Avenue. Unfortunately the second wife of John Griffith McCullough, Jane Fiske, insisted on funding a Seventh Avenue address for me and since I had no choice since she had been made Honourary Chairwoman of my two corporations I only insisted that if so then it had to be in the same building as Norman Norell at 550 and so it just turned out that there was a large space vacated and available for me to occupy. Not what I wanted or needed but not too bad either.
Her bright Royal Blue Rolls Royce pulled up and stopped right in front blocking any other car and remained there the whole time. Crows gathered around seeking a glimpse of Rebekah as she got out assisted by her chauffeur. She casually entered the building, got on the elevator and arrived without one incident or any kind of fanfare. I greeted her in the showroom and my female assistant measured her for her fitting. I offered her a cup of tea, which she drank, and with only a few words left as unceremoniously as she arrived. The chaos on the street was frantic and the police cordoned off the entrance of 550 in order for Rebekah to enter her Rolls Royce unmolested by anyone. Her chauffeur opened and closed the door for her then drove off and that was that.
Each paper gown was measured into paper patterns...no two alike...and then cut from the surgical paper supplied by the Wadsworth Atheneum and I took them to my studio/apartment on Gramercy Park to paint. This was the difficult part. I had to do all six in one night and I was already exhausted from a days work. I just couldn't do it so I went to bed. My mate Gene woke me up and said..."You have to do this now!" "I can't do it.!" so he gave me a cup of tea and after an hour or two I woke up and started splashing paint on each piece of each pattern and by dawn all six were finished and I collapsed and woke up at 10:00 AM. I generally didn't go to my Seventh Avenue atelier before 11:00 AM giving the staff time to get some work done previous so I would see it and either approve or alter it and delivered the painted paper parts to my male assistant who had cut them and knew how to put them together.
I used an acrylic paint generally used by artists at that time: Noland, Olitski, Frankenthaller and that ilk as I had experimented with it in my own painting but though it worked on this surgical paper I didn't like it for fine art painting. There weren't any further fittings made and the gowns delivered or picked up by each lady previous to the Paper Ball. I sent my messenger to deliver Rebekah's to her maid Lilly and finally to Rebekah personally. I made a seventh gown for Miriam and leased a black limo and Miriam, my two assistants and I went to Hartford for the Ball.
TZAIMS LUKSUS PAPER GOWN
New York Times Press Photo
Hartford Atheneum Paper Ball October 1966
Rebekah Harkness arrived dressed sitting in her Rolls Royce in her paper gown all the way from NYC to Hartford. When she arrived she stated to those questioning her from the fashion press that.."I felt since it was a proper gown I should be able to wear it the whole way here and I did without one tear or problem. It is perfect." and so it was. She was sparkling and delightful and I cannot imagine anyone having more fun at the event and there were some really disastrous things happening with the fringe of people that attended most notably Rudy Guernreich's model wearing a clear plastic mini dress with circular paste on's covering parts of her nude body. She passed out from suffocation from the plastic on her body...no ventilation. Someone in the fashion press couldn't resist on making some false claim that one of my paper dresses tore and had to be fixed with scotch tape...A total lie and fabrication by the fashion press always bent to do something on any occasion after occasion a negativity on anything or on anyone just to justify their insufficient ability to contribute but only watch, observe and comment in their own feeble way that which they can never really share in or be part of. It is called: "A Fashion Press Occupational Hazard" and stressed on their chains as they force themselves into the private lives of anyone they fancy (Freedom of the Press and First Amendment Rights under the Constitution of the United Stated) that they stretch to the point of breaking, sometimes break, if and when employed and/or engaged under the sanction and protection of a Newspaper or Periodical and not Freelance. Not all do this but those that do pick out their victim and never let up. I can name many but so far I was their favorite darling.
After the Ball and a deep sleep we met again at a Connecticut Senator's country mansion for breakfast and afterward Rebekah went off in her Royal Blue Rolls Royce and we went off in our leased black Cadillac Limousine.
The Paper Ball was October 1st so come December Jane Fiske-McCullough was manipulating my two corporations in Bennington, Vermont and NYC to her own satisfaction and just before Christmas 1966 she demanded that a reorganization of both corporations be made and that I would no longer be the principal of either and that she would hold 80% of my Bennington Mill and 100% of my Seventh Avenue Couture Atelier. I would merely be her employee bowing to her every demand. So I withdrew from both corporations with the caveat that she not trade under my name and change the names of both corporations. Thrilled to take over she agreed and I was free of the McCullough ball and chain., Lawrence Vanderbilt-Morris had long before removed himself and gave me his voting power to do with as I felt appropriate. Was anything lost? I had nothing to begin with so how could I loose anything especially since now I was free. Well freedom is a multi-plexed thing to say the least and cut off financially and no power or associates in NYC to assist me in any way, or at least I felt at the time, I did manage to get a couple of teaching positions. One at Maine's Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for a few weeks in August of 1967 and then a consultant teaching position at the Fashion Institute of Technology FIT in NYC...but after one semester at FIT I realized that I didn't want to teach...I wanted to do another couture collection so I gave Miriam Fredenthal my position at FIT and I called Rebekah Harkness asking if she would finance me in a couture collection and reestablish me as a couturier. It was a daring thing for me to do. I had her personal phone number and hesitated for a long time but finally I felt that the worse thing is she wouldn't answer or decline.
To my amazement she answered and knew who I was. I briefly explained my idea and plan and felt it would cost around $25,000.00 to create a collection. She immediately suggested I come see her and discuss it further. I based my cost according to the cost of my first collection that caused a sensation and brought me the fame of being the new Christian Dior but I knew to do a proper collection with all the trimmings and jewels that was required it might cost twice as much as just a simple group of silk prints and now after all I didn't have my own fabric mill and had to rely upon other fabric houses in the US and/or Europe for the collection. We met. She immediately showed me office space just outside her Harkness House salon that she would vacate for my atelier/workroom and then divided with a folding screen the office of the Harkness Orchestra conductor, Jonathon Sternberg, so I would have a proper office of my own. He didn't much like the arrangement but found later that I didn't much intrude on his activities and we got on well together without actually communicating anything verbally to one another.
I brought in all my best dressmakers and tailors but not any of my Seventh Avenue assistants or associates who folded two months after my departure. One of my Italian dressmakers recommended a Romanian woman excellent in couture pattern making and following instructions for my assistant: Georgette, and I hired her on the spot. She was a God Send and perfectionist. We were cramped but comfortable and Rebekah arranged that I have an expense account, the amount of which I never knew, and had her lawyers set up a new corporation called: PIROUETTE INC. with a checkbook that I had absolute authority for signing cheques for anything. I never asked or was given a salary or percentage of the corporation. In addition she set up a drawing account in the amount of $25,000.00 that I could use but it was against future profits from PIROUETTE, INC and payable back if no profits materialized. I never used my drawing account but managed on my expense account instead. After all I was dead poor since my McCullough connection took everything and left me dead in the water. Fortunately I wasn't bankrupt or owed anything to anyone so I lived on my expense account that Rebekah provided for me.
The Old COLONIAL THEATRE
that Rebekah Harkness concerted into
THE HARKNESS THEATRE
Things were happening in both Rebekah's and my life at the time...big things...she was building her Harkness Theatre, the Harkness Ballet was preparing for a grand opening there as well as trials in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was putting together an haute couture collection set to have a press opening in the second floor ballroom of Harkness House in February right after the Paris Fashion Week. Everything was working like clockwork for both of us yet we didn't communicate or see one another for weeks. She set up her staff to take care of my needs and her lawyers Leon Frosin to handle any legal affairs. No contracts or agreements were made and nothing un-necessary since she and I had decided this was it and anything else was superfluous and not essential. I had Louis Nizer as my lawyer but I never called upon them for any contract nor did Rebekah's lawyers offer me any. I didn't really like contracts..since John Griffith McCullough claimed to me..."Contracts are made to be broken." and he broke his with with me as well as his verbal gentleman's agreements with me.
The Indianapolis, Indiana trials were to begin and I was given a first class ticket to fly there for the opening of the Harkness Ballet. Little did I know that I would be sitting next to Rebekah sipping champagne and having lunch 42,000 feet in the air having a long and leisurely chat. Rebekah was such an elegant, graceful and wonderful woman. Unique on this earth...privileged, wealthy, powerful, disciplined, intelligent and above all gracious and always impeccably dressed. I fully trusted her instinctively. She was a Goddess and a Saint. I opened up my life experiences to her and she listened intently and shared some of her life and plans with me. We landed and were escorted to our hotel where only she, Donald Saddler and I were put up since the ballet company were in another hotel a few blocks away.
There is much to say about this Indianapolis trial event which was a great success but right now it has no purpose to this story.
Rebekah left on an early flight back to NYC the next morning and Donald Saddler and I remained with the ballet company until the next day and arrived in NYC two days after Rebekah.
The next morning I was given two tickets to the opening of the Harkness House Theatre. This was not the opening for the press or that described by Richard Holden's Biography in Dance magazine. This was previous to that opening when Rebekah invited the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and a special guest list. When I arrived with my guest Gene Vestel Lott I found that she had placed our two seats immediately in front of her's and the First Lady. Taking our seats she introduced us to Lady Bird Johnson but the First Lady knew Gene Lott's father since he was Program Chairman of the Voice of America in Washington, DC. On Rebekah's left was a beautiful young blond boy, 18 or in his early 20s seated, a dancer obviously and Rebekah's escourt for the evening, smiling confidently and glaring imperiously without being introduced or speaking. I assume after many years now that he was Bobby Scevers, later to become her lover, 25 years younger then she, and managed to overpower and have authority not only over Rebekah but her children. At this moment Bobby Scevers didn't really exist in reality for me as I assumed he was only a stand in for the evening as decor for Rebekah. The program had many of the short ballets including Time Out of Mind, Sebastian and Monument of a Dead boy danced by Lawrence Rhodes...and finished with Rouben Ter-Arutunian's production of Stravinski's: FIREBIRD suite which was sensational. I don't think that Clive Barnes was in that opening audience but I can say with authority that every production was perfection. The thearte was magnificent and certainly meant for the creme de la creme of aristocracy and not one incident anywhere in the building marred the event. Most observers felt the ceiling mural was very amusing.
I should make some comments here concerning things I have read written by Craig Unger and Charles Holden, however, for the moment I think what they have to say has little merit or importance in the greater picture...the portrait of Rebekah Harkness, that I am creating from real knowledge and not hearsay, now in this document.
I don't think anyone knew Rebekah Semple West Harkness as well as I did. Nor do I believe Rebekah shared with anyone what she shared with me. I can say that she was a very human and compassionate individual without one hateful thing in her mind or body. Innocent throughout life and to the end of it. Giving without needing to receive anything from anyone in return. Allowing only the finest and best to be achieved in all aspects of human endeavor. A genius of calculation and circumspect to deliver any and all necessary for success on any level. A woman of extraordinary vision and virtue and a woman willing to sacrifice body and soul for the perfection of mankind in all that is honorable and essential to find free expression no matter what they choose. This is, was, the purpose of money. Rebekah didn't restrict anyone but instead provided them with everything they needed whether they used it to succeed or hang themselves. She let them do with what she provided what ever they were capable of doing. And that is why she was often hated and more than necessary condemned as being superficial and tasteless in her choices of people and art but I disagree that that was the case and I can prove my case on her behalf since I know her better than anyone on this earth! She had some of the best people surrounding her in my time there.
Yes, certain choices in art, might have restricted her. Dali's Urn of Life was not a suitable vessel for her ashes. It was a good public presentation that should never jave been intended to be used. The Octopus broach, with the diamonds, rubies, emeralds and Star of the Sea Pearl was not an Octopus as the press claimed. It only had five tentacles. Right there the fashion press got everything wrong about Rebekah Harkness but continued to feed this false information against her to the public but for what intent?...to ruin her...to destroy her. to humiliate her...she, Rebekah, who could not be destroyed, ruined or humiliated by the likes of Eugenia Sheppard, Eleanor Lambert or John Fairchild at that time or even Craig Unger or Charles Holden not withstanding Barbara Grizzutti Harrison or Bobby Scevers...well nor any other of similar criminal mind..
As is universally thought, bright Royal Blue is Rebekah Harkness's favorite colour. NOT! Royal blue is her colour for the public! The colour she displays so they can identify her on sight. She actually hates bright Royal blue! I won't say what her favorite colour is to preserve her interests but I can say that she loves all colours. Rebekah Harkness goes through, like many famous and wealthy individuals or celebrities, situations that make life absolute Hell and as a result if one is intelligent they manage to find ways to simplify their lives so things can move along more quickly for them in situations when there is chaos and confusion. Airports are a good example and this I learned from Rebekah that getting one's luggage after a flight can be a nightmare since all luggage looks alike. Of course it does because that is what the commercial industry demands with its advertising of what every consumer should buy from them and what they offer is limited to a thing that is not easily identified in a mass. LVMH luggage all looks alike so if several celebrities are claiming their baggage they have to look at the tags identifying each and every one. Well Rebekah Harkness solved that problem for herself and I must say that her solution was so fantastic that I have decided not to reveal it to anyone here. I did the same, having learned the solution from her, and too I will not say what I did to find my airline baggage without any difficulty. Lessons learned from brilliant people might be shared but as Gilbert and Sullivan claimed in their production of THE GONDELIERS: "If everyone is somebody then no one is any body." And..that is the size of it. In any case when all of her luggage appeared she and I grabbed it and sent it flying into our Limousine and were off before anyone else could find theirs. Getting in and getting out is what it is all about.
My collection only had a few weeks to be completed since it was started after the first semester before Christmas and was planned for a press showing in February. This worked since that was when Spring/Summer/Resort collections were introduced but also it was when Fashion Week started in Paris for Spring collections. As work progressed it occurred to me that perhaps Rebekah would agree having our first showing in Paris and then showing later in New York so I presented that possibility to her. She immediately picked up on it and arranged for extra funds to be made for all the Paris arrangements. The question was who in Paris to work with and although I discussed public relations with Eleanor Lambert she didn't pick up on suggesting anything for Paris so I called one of my avant garde friends, Bill Cunningham and he suggested I call Percival Savage in Paris. I did and everything was arranged with a showing and stay at the Hotel Crillon with his staff handling invitations and press as well as hosting dinners, arranging photographers, a hair stylist, runway models and a Directrice to meet with clients. I've written about this many times so I will pass all the details but it all came off smoothly without a flaw. Well other than Eugenia Sheppard, John Fairchild and Eleanor Lambert chopped me down to pieces and spit me out vehemently.
The press showing in New York at Harkness House also went well but the American press, like Eugenia only picked up on negativities that didn't really exist. The collection was perfection and everything surrounding it absolutely flawless. Neiman Marcus praised it claiming it was pure Paris couture. Never the less the blow was really devastating to my senses. Not because what was said was so vicious but there was no reason to be so cruel and I knew it had to do with me being associated with Rebekah Harkness. Rebekah also knew this but was silent. In fact she flew to her Island Capricorrne in the Caribbean before we left for Paris. I don't know if she saw the collection at the Crillon or not. If so then she went incognito. I wondered about that since the invitations were from her in her name announcing a collection by Tzaims Luksus, however, she may have stayed away knowing if she came the press might single her out and thereby the collection would suffer. I feel, after many years trying to figure it out, that no matter whether she came or not the press would have sabotaged the collection just for spite. This gave me proof of how vicious and two faced the fashion press actually was and so I took up an diversion and alternate plan that was offered me in Paris and arranged in New York City and left Harkness House of my own free will. Rebekah understood my reasoning and made no comment.
The last time I saw Rebekah was just before Paris. I know she defended me against the press in New York later but we never had any meeting together. I was never hired and never fired. In fact my position was as I chose it to be under her roof and with her financial support but I felt I couldn't continue using her funding when the fashion press had destroyed me and gave no indication of letting up. There was no discussions concerning it other than I informed my staff that I was leaving. They were sad about it but continued showing up for work each day and Rebekah kept them on payroll as I had set them up. Later my assistant Georgette told me that Rebekah took all the couture clothes I had created for herself and daughter to wear with a few things going to various ballerinas. My atelier remained where I set it up and continued to the end of Harkness House days making clothes for Rebekah and costumes for the ballet company so all the money spent was well spent and I had set up the finest group of dressmakers and tailors that New York City could gather in one couture atelier for her and that she really appreciated. Like her, I took nothing in return.
Several years later I wrote a long letter to Rebekah thanking her for all she had done for me at a time of great need and when my career was in jeopardy and explaining how she topped it off in the most extraordinary way and how grateful I was for her doing it. She had completed a dream for me and with that I had no need to continue. I had done Paris and I had done the press. I continued designing fabrics in France and Italy for a few years and refrained from making any appearances in NYC other than one Coty Award event which I think was the last presented. I traveled in Africa, India, Nepal, the Himalayas and Bali instead and have no regrets other than I would like to have met with Rebekah at least one last time. It never happened and many years later I heard things had gone badly for the Harkness Ballet, Harkness House and resulting with her death.
I cannot say anything against her. She took people with talent and provided them with all they needed and never once interfered in their lives. If they had difficulties then it was their own fault and I don't believe that Rebekah herself ever fired anyone but seeing all the competition existing among choreographers, dance teaching staff and administration it is no wonder such chaos was permeating and festering around her. What is mostly said about Rebekah is actually how people treated her and her things and I saw many instances of how they were taking advantage of her money and then spreading vicious rumours. What ever was happening in her private life with her children and the unstable Bobby Scevers certainly never got outside their little circle when I was there and what ever he has to say after her death certainly reflects more on his own behavior and attitude than it does Rebekah's or her children. We can only get so close to another individual and when we do then there must be a sharing of responsibilities and honor. I know that the press was the worse they could be for no good reason against her but isn't that exactly how they are..finding a small red spot and picking it until it is a monstrous wound and then covering themselves in the blood they draw from their victims. They are the hopeless and lost having nothing nor lives of their own and are parasites taking everything they can to support themselves. It is the press that will destroy us, our country and the world in the end all with their warped ideas of their privilege of freedom of speech.
How can one explain a famous person? It probably isn't possible and critics and the press know this but never the less try. Getting inside someone else's head is not possible so the critics and press can only sort through what a famous person discards, like garbage, the press and critics sort through it but it is always out of context with the truth...with reality. Rebekah Harkness was the critic's and press' hardest nut to crack and although they preferred to claim she was a Rhinestone rather than a Diamond...they were wrong...she was Adamant! Now most people who rise to fame for one reason or another and come from all aspects and/or conditions of life are not much different and I can verify that because I came from a very simple life and ended up just as mysterious, loved and then hated by the critics and press as did Rebekah Harkness. With all our differences, one quick glance, eye to eye, and Rebekah and I knew exactly how to advance and instinctively knew what was going on and how to handle it. We were public figures thrust into the limelight without any real grip on anything other than our intrinsic sense of purpose. We had that anchor in common and knew we faced the fires exploding around us would extinguish us unless we stayed absolutely cool headed. I didn't have the resources and experience that Rebekah had nor the fortune to fall back on and escape easily as she did but we both knew that fortune or not we could resist, survive and express ourselves as we chose simply by our determination, self determination if you will, and it worked for us.
Now as simple as we were basically we knew the tricks of the trade...what trade is that? Theatre! We were trained to face an audience. That is what dance instruction is all about. I didn't go to strengthen my legs when I was six years old nor did Rebekah but training in dance is a physical thing whereas facing an audience is another and that involves never looking at them...the audience...that is...nor looking into the lights of the spots shining in your eyes. One looks over and beyond and not blinded by the light nor affected by an audience reaction anywhere in the auditorium. Well as the Earl of Oxford expressed in one of his plays credited by William Shakespeare, "All the world is a stage and we are mere actors upon it." Well some of us also dance and act at the same time on that 'stage of life' and as a result we build up a confidence to face the public knowing that any moment we might break a leg or fall on our face. It happens but not with Rebekah or me since dance also gave us a sence of balance and poise. We managed quite well whether alone or as partners.
You reading this might wonder ...what is the point of all this talk written down by me? Well never mind if you don't know since I can go on with what is easier to understand but I will speculate and try to leave myself out since this is about Rebekah Harkness. Well first of course this...........
We go through life living many different personalities. We have a face for every occassion and that doesn't mean being two-faced. One day we are in a bathing suit, the next in dirty clothes digging in the garden or feeding the hogs and the next night in black tie and in Rebekah's case wearing diamonds and a silk gown by Mainboucher or me. Being two-faced is something else. What I am referring to is that we have one face for our own private life and another for the public. It stands to reason especially in the time of Rebekah and mine that we were not 'reality television characters' but instead real life Stars with talent beyond our ability to express it all easily on earth. Even with a vast fortune Rebekah had difficulties of being accepted as really credible. I had no money and found it easy to become credible. I spent nothing on credibility since the fashion press lavished me with massive colourful credibility but the world expected Rebekah to spend her fortune to prove she was credible. Well Rebekah was absolutely incredible and her fortune only proved that an incredible person with a fortune can drive the world crazy with their God gifted talent that every professional and critic wants to diminsh as mundane and worthless and don't forget that we get our sense of humour from God just as we get everything else. Rebekah had everything so what can one give someone that has everything. Oneself! One gives oneself and I gave Rebekah me. I gave her myself! I walked into her Urn of Life like ashes as a novice entering a Monastery with Rebekah as my Mother Superior although for me Harkness House was both a Monastery and a Nunnery. Rebekah was the Mother Superior and Donald Saddler was the Friar Priest...they both answered the door when the bell was rung the at the gate and I left meself as an orphan infant to be saved from starvation and exposure.
I became her one and only Couturier after Mainboucher but I only had her fitted for one gown, the paper gown for the Wadsworth Atheneum Paper Ball. Georgette, my assistant, was given all of Rebekah's measurements by me and updated as well (based on the physical form as she was in her photo at the top of this missive) and Rebekah had access to my atelier just a few steps across a hall from her own suite of rooms at Harkness House so she could check everything there anytime and most probably after we all went home, designs, sketches, fabrics, works in progress et al...she owned it all as well as she owned me and I was happy to be owned by her. So I never actually had to make a dress expressly for her since she could just instruct Georgette or pick something out among the samples completed as to what she wanted or needed from my atelier. I was an in-house Couturier for Rebekah. She also gave me herself. Well of course I wanted to do something specifically for her but that would happen after I proved myself with this first collection and when the opening night of the Harkness Theatre was on us and I took my seat in front of her and Lady Bird Johnson I was a bit shocked to see what she chose to wear to this opening night. She knew I would be and maybe she wore it to get my reaction or maybe she did it to make her statement for everyone else attending. Certainly Lady Bird Johnson was in on her little trick that she played on us since the First Lady was her guest at Carlyle House, dined together and were the best of friends before they arrived...this tells me that Lady Bird Johson had an unusual sense of humour, as Texans are known to have, as well and went along with this incredible presentation Rebekah staged that night. Wondering what it was? Well you will have to wait a bit more.
As Gene and I took our seats Rebekah and I looked directly into one another's eyes intently for what seemed an eternity in time frozen ...I cannot say how long it was but maybe only for an instant. In that locked glance I knew exactly what she was up to with her get-up and then I sat down facing the proceneum stage waiting for the curtain to rise.
She chose to wear a tight fitting pink gown with a design similar to a little 12 year old girl's with frills, lace and some crystal beads and seed pearls remeniscent of the 1930s and a blond wig with saussage curls hanging down all around. To this she added a matching neckless, diamond earrings, bracelets, shoes and a little Shirley Temple hand bag decorated with diamonds and seed pearls with a drawstring that dangled from her wrist. It was the most outrageous costume I could imagine anyone wearing in public and not on stage as a vaudevile act. I think she did it just for me and then told the First Lady..."Watch Tzaims' reaction when he sees me." Well I knew how to be cool and also I knew what she was after and about. Now of course my reaction, which I suppressed and then felt amused was not what anyone else saw and my first thought was: "The press is going to hammer her for that outfit if they are here." [I don't think the press saw this since it wasn't a press opening night] but on the other hand I don't know if anyone in the audience paid much attention or all they saw was the First Lady and also since they were all starring at the ceiling mural looking up as well and all having had passed a portrait of her in the lobby in front in another mural of what appeared to be a Dali painter wannabe extravaganza...in full view she managed to actually arrive and seat herself totally incognito...other than of course for me knowing since she placed my seat right in front of her own and I couldn't escape seeing and greeting her. This one little event could inspire a whole book written on the subject and so I have to stop and go on letting other things surface that I knew made Rebekah Harkness the most clever and amusing woman I could ever hope to meet in my lifetime.
Actually this appearance that Rebekah presented to me did rather upset me and has given me much food for thought all these decades since after this event I saw her only a few times and just briefly when she came and went to and from Harkness House and her suite just across the hall. Of course the door to this hall was not the main entrance to her suite. She had a much more elegant one at the other end so it wasn't often she used this one. Our tight and busy work schedules prevented any kind of fraternizing and I didn't think anything of it. Out of the blue she asked me to meet her in one of the practice dance studios on the ground floor. This one was somewhat her private work-out space after hours and the ballet company had left. She asked that I bring and wear my tights and ballet slippers, which I had and that were black, along with my dance belt. She knew I had trained in ballet and wanted to dance with me. It was just the two of us one evening when the rest of the house was quiet. The studio she used was very contemporary with modern lighting and a fine sound system. She didn't have her pianist present. We went through various moves one after another and it was obvious that she wasn't interested in performing on stage but kept working out for the exercize. We didn't dance a duet touching. I hadn't trained fully and never experienced dancing with a partner as might be expected so I wasn't trained to support a ballerina as is the custom in most French ballet duets. I don't think this bothered her. We didn't have an intimate relationship and there never was any indication or desire for one that I detected. She was satisfied that I could dance well although I knew I was too old and rusty to do much. I had given up ballet when I was 18, tried again when I was 26 when I joined the Atlanta Ballet Company, which lasted only a few weeks, when I realized it was too strenuous and difficult and besides my muscles would't stretch easily then and also my toes were always sore and bleeding. This is an occupational hazard for ballet dancers...sore feet! Now at an age of 35 I was surprised I could move at all, however, one doesn't ever loose the ability altogether. It just isn't something one displays to anyone so this was quite the experience doing so for Rebekah Harkness. After an hour or two we ended our little workout and left the building since it was late at night.
As the date to depart for Paris was soon coming on I heard that Rebekah had left with the company for her place in Watch Hill, Rhode Island and leaving the Harkness Ballet Company there in their training space she herself flew on to the Caribbean where she owned Capricorne Island. The whole island. It was used about that time in a motion picture that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor filmed called: BOOM. Taylor playing a character similar to Rebekah where a drifter lands on her island and is taken in and kept in luxury as her lover. As I recall it was a Tennessee Williams play originally or created especially for Burton and Taylor as it was one of those films they cranked out, along with Faust, one a week it seemed.
At the time I was confused since there was no sign that Rebekah would be in Paris since her secretary who also acted as my secretary and generally for all expenses and bookings for travel claimed she had received no instructions to make any arrangements for Rebekah to go to Paris for my opening. Of course she wouldn't and I should have realized that. After all my project was brought about very quickly and her schedule didn't fit around it but was already set. I just expected she would fit it in to her travel plans and was disappointed. I said to her secretary that I was going to Capricorne Island to see her. Looking at me astonished she stated: "You are going to Capricorne Island? Should I arrange your travel? When are you leaving." but her shocked expression made me hesitate and after a short interval I calmly said: "No. I am not going." and went back to my workroom to finish up details to leave for Paris.
I only had one incedent that gave me reason the re-evalue my association after that and it had to do with Leon Frosin who appeared one afternoon with Richard Burton wandering around and visiting my atelier and office. Leon Frosin was Burton's legal advisor as well as Rebekah and all mail and communications went to Frosin before going to Rebekah. My legal advisor was Louis Nizer whose offices were in the Paramount Building. Nizer was also Elizabeth Taylor's legal advisor. I was introduced to Burton and a friendly hello was exchaned along with a handshake. Later in Paris it was announced that Elizabeth Tayler had arranged the last minute to have her own line and collection of clothes presented at Maxim's in Paris near the same time I was presenting my collection. It was a group of racy numbers that I heard was a bit like Hollywood and nothing was heard about it after it was shown but it occurred to me that perhaps Burton had been acting as a spy in my atelier and/or maybe planning to have Elizabeth Taylor take over my atelier. That didn't happen, but the real sizzler was when I received a phone call at home at Midnight, six hours before flight time and departure for Paris when Leon Frosin called me and insisted I come to his legal office on 5th Avenue for a contract discussion. The first time any contract was mentioned by him. I called my attorney at home and was advised not to sign anything and that it was not appropriate for Frosin to have any discussion at that hour and without my lawyer present with me and there was no way he could manage to attend at my side. He just emphasized not to sign anything! Well I wouldn't have in any case knowing better. I wasn't born yesterday.
Frosin wanted me to sign a 5 year contract that he had drawn up and I read through it very thoroughly and the clause concerning 5 years under conditions that I felt not at all desirable I handed them back to him. I won't say why as it isn't important here. It really troubled me and he stated: "Well we can make it for 10 years if you prefer." and that only made it worse! One of his associates was also present in the office. I said that I couldn't and wouldn't sign it under any conditions is when Frosin then stated: "Well forget about going to Paris then." This I expected. It was too obvious Frosin bringing up contract negotiations at this moment in time and knowing it was the end I got up and said: "Fine." and walked out of his office. It was quite a dramatic moment I must say and I felt as though it was a scene out of a motion picture but calm as I might have appeared I was deep inside devastated. Paris or no Paris there would still be a press opening there in NYC at Harkness House so not everything was lost. I had been through worse situations and survived.
As I was waiting for the elevator to arrive the double doors of his offices were flung open and he and his associate came rushing out and said. :Forget any contract. Go to Paris. Good Luck and when you get back we will work out details with you and your lawyers." and shook my hand. It was a relief, having been put through this emotional experience, so I left with some concern for my future with Rebekah's lawyers. But was this just a test? I suspect it was and although I didn't take it as such at the time I must have passed that test but unfortunately I didn't feel too sure about anything after that. The bubble had been punctured and although it didn't deflat I felt ill at ease with it. I knew they had a lot of control concerning her interests and finances but whether she put them up to this or it was their way of conducting business for her was a question not easily answered. Was it how they handled her affairs when she wasn't present gave me more food for thought but I went on to Paris thinking no more about it feeling relatively safe all would work out once I returned but I needed this success in Paris now in order to support my constitution to continue and cleared my mind of any further concerns.
Anushka, my house model originally from Paris, who modeled for all the great houses there earlier before moving to NYC including Yves St. Laurent, was in charge of all the packing and attending to the collection through customs both ways and when the Harkness secretary asked how many tickets did I require for Paris I asked for four. One for Anushka and another model Judy and one for Gene, who would assist me, and myself. There were no questions asked and we were on the plane headed for Paris at 6:00 AM arriving there at Midnight. Percival Savage met us at the airport and escourted us to the Hotel Crillon and after we settled in he took us to have a bite to eat at a bistro on Rue Princess and to Castel's, a Private Dance Club, across from it for bottles of Dom Perignon Champagne and dancing. On the way in we ran into Julie Christie and Warren Beatty who were in Paris for the premier of Bonnie & Clyde...Faye Dunaway was no where to been seen. Percy introduced us and invited them to my opening at the Hotel Crillon. Castel's is/was a private bottle club and quite elegant and with our jet lag we danced till dawn not feeling at all out of sorts until we had to get up the next morning.
Now I could go on with this Paris adventure and again write a whole book on it, however, it has more to do with me and my entourage rather than of or about Rebekah Harkness. It is important, however, in illustrating that Rebekah Harkness was partly there with us the whole time and it was obvious that this trip was especially special because of her. Everywhere we went we actually were Rebekah's representatives and ambassadors. When they saw us, including Maxim's on a Friday night, they saw Rebekah Harkness in us. We were her troope and doors opened for us like they opened for no one else. We had created ourselves in her image and I must say that that image was magnificent and a wonderland opened up for us. We didn't disappoint either. We were what fashion in Paris was all about and we mingled in society without any trouble. Of course I had lived in Paris previous to this but not in this style. Percival had published that I was of Russian origin, as this was true about my father, so we were invited to Prince Obolenski's reception at the George V ballrooms and met up with all the Russian aristocrats and royalty including Prince Basil Yurievski, the exiled pretender of the throne and accepted present Czar of Russia, who had his guards bring me over to him where we spent the whole evening in a private discussion just the two of us. Little did I know I was speaking to the Russian Czar at the time. All I knew was that he was of the Imperial Family and lived in London. It did surprise me that he seemed to know my surname and treated me like a member of his family. Was all this set up? Was I set up? It would have all gone well but Eleanor Lambert, Eugenia Sheppard and John Fairchild upset the apple cart and sent everything flying into chaos! "Murder!", they said." and then committed it in Women's Wear Daily the next morning in NYC after the showing in Paris. An unforgivable act on their part. I realized, not yet fully, that fashion politics sent its gears into place and became an international affair. The darling of the fashion press of NYC now became the most hated fashion designer in the world. It was now Harkness & Luksus and the daggers came flying at me en mass but the deed was done and I have no regrets...well as I said before only one and that is that I never saw Rebekah Harkness again in her life so I never knew what she really felt if actually she felt anything for after all I was free to do as I pleased and that meant free to come and go any way I chose. It was my doing not to just keep on going with her and Harkness House. I feel now that I should have just stuck it out no matter the circumstances. Maybe more was expected of me than I realized and bowing out may have had some effect or at least added to the dissolution shortly afterward of the Harkness Ballet Company. Could my presence with my couture helped to have held the whole thing together instead of it all crumbling so soon afterward? It would be interesting to change history. To go back in time and see what might have evolved had I remained and really took advantage of Rebekah's fortune. I was frugal and cautions financially. I might have with my methods helped keep others from draining her finances. Yet on the other hand there was a deadly trio working at Fairchild Publications and John was dead set to destroy both Rebekah and me and I was black listed and banned from any further press coverage but even worse...erased from fashion history until the age of the computer and the demise of Eleanor Lambert, Eugenia Sheppard and John Fairchild but also too late for Rebekah Harkness and that wonderful land of Harkness House and the Harkness Ballet Company. What a Wonderland it was! It leaves me breathless and speechless just conjuring it all up after all these years!
As Lawrence Rhodes just wrote to me in answer to my email to him at Juilliard:
How Strange for you to bring up this period with all its difficulties, and its rewards, of meeting Rebekah Harkness. Perhaps we can have coffee in the Fall?
All the best.
Director of the Dance Division at Juilliard
Now there you have the first part in a nut shell!