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For Years a Party Gal, Expert on Entertaining Brings a Lot to the Table

November 17, 2000|BOOTH MOORE

"Oh, Booth, we've known each other for years, haven't we?" asks Nan Kempner, as she bounds into Christie's in Beverly Hills Tuesday night. The irrepressible New York socialite is at a party to celebrate her new book, "R.S.V.P. Menus for Entertaining From People Who Really Know How" (Clarkson Potter, $40).

Actually, we've never met, but the 70-year-old Kempner's life is socializing, and it's probably safer for her to assume she's met everyone rather than to risk forgetting a face. Besides, by the time she's taken my chin in her hands and kissed me on each cheek, she makes me feel like we're old friends.

Then, she immediately apologizes for her casual attire: a borrowed wool sweater and pleated slacks that hang as perfectly on her reed-like body as they would on an 18-year-old fashion model's. She's in full crisis mode. The airline lost her bag--and with it, her "best Valentino," which she had planned to wear to the designer's 40th anniversary ball at the Pacific Design Center tonight.

"Do you know where Valentino is staying?" she asks desperately. "Surely he'll have something for me."

At least she has her jewelry--a double strand of pebble-sized gray pearls with diamond accents and a matching bracelet. All in all, Kempner looks very chic indeed. She started her book tour a couple of weeks ago in Manhattan, where she lives, and moved on to San Francisco. This is her third book party, and she's having a ball. "I love talking about myself," she says. "But you're not supposed to say that--are you?"

"R.S.V.P" is full of lavish photographs of some of Kempner's best friends (Anne Bass, Lynn Wyatt and Oscar de la Renta, to name a few), who share tips about entertaining and their favorite recipes. Kempner is donating royalties from the book to fund cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York. ("I couldn't ask my friends to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets and then pocket the money.")

Not that she needs the money anyway. Her husband, Tommy Kempner, is a successful investment banker. The two will have been married 50 years in 2002. (They're planning a ball at the New York Botanical Garden to celebrate.) "He's the perfect foil for me because I'm cuckoo. I boil over and he doesn't even simmer."

Kempner has loads of friends in L.A., including Betsy Bloomingdale, who shares recipes for beet soup, chicken mousse and orange cake in the book. "I've known Nan forever," Bloomingdale says at the party. "Nan sets the best table in New York."

For her own parties, Kempner prefers food she can't make a mess of. "The last thing I want is one of those little squabs. Every time I stick my fork into it, the bird goes flying!"

The best fete she says she's ever given was at the Four Seasons in New York, on the occasion of Yves Saint Laurent's first boutique opening. She can't recall what year it was--"sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s probably," but she does remember it was a Sunday. "We had such great music. Sweet Inspirations, which was a gospel group, sang . . . Bobby Short had a Cole Porter band. . . . People were dancing away until 2 a.m. on a school night," she says. "Of course, I didn't mind the dinner I gave for Princess Diana either."

She's thrilled at the prospect of handing over the social scepter to New York's crop of young socialites (Samantha Boardman, Aerin Lauder, et al). But that doesn't mean Kempner's ready for the party to end just yet. "Oh no, I love it!" she says. "And getting dressed is half the fun of going."

Where is Valentino staying?


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