Salon: a fashionable assemblage of notables (as literary figures, artists or statesmen) held by custom at the home of a prominent person.
Maximillian and Ellen Dreksler Lobkowicz aren't promising literary lions, heads of state or Andy Warhol, but in a city where, they have observed, "If you see anybody different, you tend to cross the street, or call the police," they are "bringing the salon out of the closet" as a way of stirring together intriguing people with wildly diverse experiences and inclinations.
They consider one of their art salons a success if "a woman in a mink jacket finds herself standing next to a man whose coat lights up." If there is a common bond, Michael, as he prefers to be called, said, it is "that childlike feeling for adventure and discovery."
Newlyweds Michael and Ellen are themselves in a bit of an adventure. Michael, 42, a self-described "artist and adventurer" and onetime "hip, cool radical" was born in Rome and lays claim to the title of prince--his father, a Czech, is titled but the Hapsburgs, who they claim as kin, haven't had a reigning monarch since 1918. Ellen, 34, "a nice Jewish girl from New York" with a background in fashion and in public relations, was for a time a professional hypnotist and, she asks, "What was a retired hypnotist going to do?"
They met--how else?--when she answered a newspaper ad for an introduction service. "I was the matchmaker," he recalled, the one who did the interviewing of prospective match-ups. She talks about "love at first sight"; he reminds her, grinning, "You paid $300 for me, and never paid the balance."
The Dreksler and Lobkowicz Art Salons were born, said Michael, who professes to be "extremely shy," as "a place where we could find some friends. It blossomed into a full-time business." Today, that business--now the Dreksler, Lobkowicz and O'Keefe Art Salons, with the addition of partner Christine O'Keefe--operates out of a Beverly Hills office with a satellite magazine enterprise headquartered in the Lobkowiczes' Brentwood penthouse apartment.
That magazine, Meetings with Remarkable People, which debuted Oct. 1, is what the Lobkowiczes call "a salon on paper" and is, they boast, "America's first reader-written magazine" and, perhaps, the first with no editing--"We don't even correct the spelling." Its arrival was celebrated at a salon where guests were asked to read original poetry and prose aloud and to explain why they believed it should be published.
An art salon is not just a cocktail party, nor is it tickets for two on the aisle. Rather, Ellen sees it as "a private performance for a small group of people. It's one time, and then it's gone." And, she added, "They're not very viably commercial. Once you bring them above 40 people, what you have is a party, hundreds of people and you say hello and you nod."
The salons were born about two years ago when, with $180 in start-up funds, Dreksler and Lobkowicz installed a telephone and placed an ad in the L.A. Weekly. Michael recalls, "Our first member was a psychic who said everything was going to be fine. It's the first time I've gone to a psychic and she pays me. " She is still a member.
If the salon concept is a bit unclear, well, Michael said, "We're trying to keep it as confusing as possible." Consider some salons past: A '50s theme "hip hop" in a vacant warehouse in Marina del Rey, complete with bubble gum, resident bats and an art exhibit of '50s cars; a weekend motor tour to that celebrated Southern California resort, Piru (which is somewhere near Fillmore). A private Orient Express tour has had to be postponed because of Middle East violence.
Coming attractions: A "Fears and Tragedies" salon, at which everyone will be encouraged to divulge their worst, and, in February, a Valentine's salon for which guests will be asked to write personal ads describing themselves and to try to match other guests to their own ads.
The Lobkowiczes emphasize, however, that although there have been matches made during two years and 15 salons, and although the majority of the salons' 250 members are single, "This is not a dating service." They look on it as a fraternity of sorts for "people who want to venture out of their own worlds. Not only single people are bored to death."
Sharing the Talent
Venturing out does not come cheaply, with salon memberships starting at $650 (plus average tabs of $35-$85 for each salon). But, in order to achieve diversity, they "trade out" with struggling artists and others who share talent. Without this bartering, Michael explained, "the outrageous artist and the international banker" would never cross paths.
Put another way, the salons, said Ellen, are "an opportunity for artists to meet the people who have the money to buy."