LA JOLLA — One suspects that when Dotti Howe completed her plans for Saturday's Jewel Ball, she thought, "Apres moi , le deluge ." The quote comes from Louis XIV, and it translates loosely as "I'm going to be a hard act to follow."
Louis, who dubbed himself the "Sun King," was a rather grand king, as kings go, and as kings go, he went the limit. So did Howe with "Stars," as she styled the 42nd annual Jewel Ball, a party that was regal in concept and virtually majestic in execution.
Its style was more lese majeste than noblesse oblige, and God help the bourgeoisie.
The Jewel Ball is venerable enough and traditional enough and generally dandy enough to make it rank as La Jolla's hottest ticket of the year; one may as well go all the way and name it tops among San Diego's annual parties.
The outdoors setting in a lavish, fancifully constructed ballroom built on the tennis courts of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club has plenty to do with this, to be sure, but more important is the continuity of mood from year to year.
At the Jewel Ball, one feels not so much present at the moment as part of an ongoing event that for its participants never really ends. Conceptualize this as a kind of convivial time warp and you've got the idea.
Thus the themes, although they change from year to year, seem like threads about to be woven into a multicolored skein. Howe did score a coup by naming her ball "Stars," though, because it's the one name that will be etched more or less eternally in the skies. Any time the clouds part and draw a former attendee's gaze up at the two Dippers and Orion's flashy belt, there will be an occasion to think: "Oh yeah, Stars. I was there, and it was kind of a neat party. Had a lot to do with Versailles and stuff like that."
9 Months Painting Set
It had, in fact, plenty to do with Versailles, a fact not lost upon either the 50 members of the sponsoring Las Patronas organization, or upon the 900 guests in attendance. One constant of the Jewel Ball is that the members spend nine months in a rented warehouse painting the theater-like set that will surround and define the party, and this year, the set gave guests the impression that they were in the ballroom of the Grand Trianon palace at Versailles, gazing out at the fountains and formal gardens that made this country place such an idyllic retreat from the gridlock and sloppy zoning of 17th-Century Paris.
It was grand enough for a whole family of Louies, in fact, from the stage, designed as an exact copy of the stage upon which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette tied the knot, to the golden chandeliers that floated from the lighting poles, and the Italian tapestry cloths that covered the tables (the French imported their table tapestries from Italy). The centerpieces were sensational, massive candelabras that sprouted whole gardens from their upper regions and held them, spreading, high above the guests' heads.
The whole program was kicky enough that it attracted not only scores of the usual "I-wouldn't-miss-it" local guests but also assorted Texans, actor Burgess Meredith, Gayle Wilson (Senator Pete Wilson sent his regrets), and Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman, who is commander of the Pacific Naval Surface Fleet. The trendiest name on the list was New Zealander Michael Fay, who, with his wife Sarah, took a top-priced table and spent the evening looking like a man to whom winning the upcoming America's Cup race is but a mere bagatelle.
One of the more unusual gentlemen present was Louis XIV himself, or at least a short-panted, periwigged, preening imposter who pranced about the premises importuning guests to have a thoroughly jolly time. He was part of a larger cadre of performers designed to set a mood, including the Fanfares d'Elegance trumpeters who greeted new arrivals with startling blasts, two chamber music ensembles that provided the sort of mannered cocktail music Louie and his nobles might have enjoyed at garden parties, and a whole covey of "living statues" who posed at strategic points around the pool, site of the cocktail reception.
The statues, all covered in white makeup and dressed to look like classical figures from Greek mythology, watched silently as guests washed down cargoes of shellfish and other hors d'oeuvres with seas of champagne. They were motionless figures at the feast, but they all went scurrying off when the traditional 10 p.m. fireworks burst above La Jolla Cove and sent the guests packing to the ballroom for the dinner of chateaubriand de boeuf a la marseillaise and frozen orange souffles.