Friday, December 17, 2010

Park Avenue Princess

It's funny how you can look through a book a million times and still find something new each time you leaf through it. I was going through my favorite Tiffany Table Settings book for about the thirtieth time when a name that I had never really noticed before popped out in two different chapters: Princess Gourielli. OK, Princess Gourielli, Princess Gourielli...where had I heard that name before? And then it dawned on me- the Princess was cosmetics pioneer Helena Rubinstein. I guess the reason that I finally made this connection was because I had recently seen a documentary on the rivalry between Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. I remembered hearing that Rubinstein had married a Georgian prince (the lineage was a little murky), enticed by the title. In fact, Arden, a fierce rival of Rubinstein, was also married to a Russian prince for a short time. Perhaps it was a game of tit for tat?

Anyway, in the Tiffany book, Princess Gourielli's terrace was decorated for a birthday buffet luncheon. A buffet table was set with all kinds of dishes as well as a wrought-iron plant holder that held presents and bowls of melon balls. (I might have used something other than melon balls, but each to his own.) A champagne fruit punch was served from one table, while the birthday cake and dessert plates held court on another.

In another vignette shot, a "Silver Anniversary Party in Shades of Gray", Princess Gourielli's paneled dining room plays host to a "chiaroscuro" table setting. This make-believe dinner could not have been to honor Rubinstein's marriage to the Prince as he died in 1955 and this book was published in 1960.

I found additional images of Rubinstein's Park Avenue terrace and dining room in the terrific book
Helena Rubinstein: Over the Top by Suzanne Slesin. In these photos, you can see what her home looked like when it was not decked out for silver anniversaries and the like.

The birthday cake.

The Silver Anniversary party.

You've got to hand it to Princess Giourelli. She sure knew how to set a table...and how to decorate a home.

A view of Rubinstein's terrace.

(Party shots from Tiffany Table Settings; other images from Helena Rubinstein: Over the Top by Suzanne Slesin.)


  1. Wow - elegant indeed. LOVE the terrace. And you definitely get points for making the connection - sometimes it's so frustrating when you know it's familiar and just can't place it!

  2. We all feel completely royal at a gorgeous and imaginative table, with inspired food. I've heard stories of Elizabeth Arden railing at her trainers for not using her special concoctions for her horses legs. She was apparently quite a force of nature.

  3. I can't tell you how many time that does happen, kuddos to you for connecting the dots. I enjoyed the vintage shots of the terrace!
    Thank You.
    La Maison Fou blog

  4. The china from the first 2 pictures (terrace party) sure looks like Coalports Harebell in turquoise (I have service for 12) - is it marked in the book? Would be curious to know!

  5. what a great post+congratulations on the research.

  6. magnaverde12:31 PM

    Well, Jennifer, you're not the only one who didn't connect the dots till now. I didn't realize that the Princess & Helena Rubinstein were one & the same woman either, although I immediately recognized the Princess' dining room, since it was pictured in color in my very first decorating book ever--scored, when I was twelve years old, from the bookshelves in our living room--the 1947 edition of House & Garden's Complete Guide to Interior Decoration. It's still my go-to book and I think it's in your library, too.

    For those who don't own the book, the paneled walls of HR's dining room were stripped pine in a honey color, those chairs are white parchment and the opaline glasses just happen to be 2011's Color of the Year--Cyclamen Pink. More connecting of dots.

    And speaking of dots, I'm old enough to remember when big bowls of chilled melon balls were themselves considered the peak of chic. And as far as I'm concerned, they still are: melon balls, billiard balls, Dots, Necco Wafers, Whitney Houston's old confetti-drenched I Want to Dance with Somebody video--basically, anything with multi-colored polka dots--can never go out of style.

  7. Stefan, unfortunately there is no information on the china. If you think that is what it is, I bet you're right. You sure know your china :)

  8. Magnaverde- Thank you for making that other connection with the H&G book b/c I didn't put that together. I grew up eating a sherried fruit salad with melon balls in it. It was good. Maybe it's time to bring them back!

  9. In Patrick O'Higgins's memoir about Madame Rubinstein
    he tells of an occasion when there was an unexpected guest at a luncheon in her Paris flat. In fact, a Rothschild~ which led Helena to make last minute changes to the dinner service. While in the china store
    room she discovered a piece of roasted chicken that she'd left behind a few days earlier. Tasted it and pronounced it "still fresh!"
    They don't make 'em like that anymore.

    1. Anonymous8:33 AM

      It was not the china store room, she was retrieving gold plates from the safe in her bathroom, that is where she left the chicken two days before, and had forgotten it.

  10. Hello Peak,
    Reggie is loving your series of fashionable entertaining among those that did it best! Thank you for digging up all these wonderful pictures and stories, most entertaining and enlightening. And thank you, Magnaverde, for making Reggie squirt the coffee he was drinking while reading your comment out of his nose, he was laughing so hard. Reggie

  11. This was fasinating. I have always admired her. I purchased her beautiful Opera glasses at an auction in NYC. I have them in a frame that opens up should I want to use them. My Mother set a table like her's and so do I . It's a joy to do it. I love those Beautiful terraces on Park Ave.
    Happy Holidays, yvonne

  12. I love reading biographies more than anything. You put a couple more ladies on my list. Thanks for the entertaining history lesson.



  13. Jennifer, this is a very famous apartment in the world of Manattan real estate, so I would not be breaking any confidences to say it is located at 625 Park Av. Helena Rubinstein once owned the whole building, with her apartment comprising the top full floor, plus the penthouse floor with terraces, plus another added floor that included a ballroom and more terraces. After Madame's death, the building was converted to co-ops, another cosmetics tycoon, Charles Revson, bought the famous apartment and had McMillen decorate it in the late 1960s. The sister of the Shah of Iran was the next owner. Henry Kravis bought it in the mid-90s for a then newsworthy price of $15.