Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay: The Hautest Happenings

by Catherine Bigelow

Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay
Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay

Fine art of fashion: A black-tie McCalls dinner on April 13 at the Legion of Honor museum may have lost an in-person appearance by its star guest — Beijingborn fashion designer Guo Pei, who also established an atelier in Paris — but her global fans carried on in awestruck style as they celebrated her new, major exhibition, Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy (through September 5).

Masterfully organized by Jill D’Alessandro, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s curator of costume and textile arts, this show highlights some 80 Pei ensembles, both in a dedicated gallery and sprinkled amid permanent galleries, where they echo the Legion’s collection of classical art. Even sans the presence of Pei, considered the first couturier of China, this exhibition is a showstopper.

A showstopping haute couture gown is featured in a new Legion of Honor museum exhibition, Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy. | Photo courtesy of Catherine Bigelow.

Draped in a shimmering, black paillette-adorned Talbot Runhof gown, Jennifer Biederbeck, Sotheby’s San Francisco senior vice president, joked she felt underdressed: “After seeing Pei’s designs, it’s difficult to feel as elegant.”

Pei began sewing at age 2 and is the sole Chinese guest member of France’s famed Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Her haute couture prices range in a stratum that soars from the high six figures to millions of dollars. One particular standout, from Pei’s 2018 Spring/Summer Elysium collection, is crafted from bamboo, gold lace and sprouting flowers. The bodice is topped by a galleonshaped train that appears ready to set sail.

Her otherworldly, magical and hand-embroidered creations are evocative of China’s imperial past as well as European decorative arts and architecture, with botanical influences. Her designs have adorned stars such as Rihanna, who wowed at the 2015 Met Gala in Pei’s golden Empress cape — weighing 55 pounds and sporting a 14-foot train. Our own SF Ballet Principal Dancer Yuan Yuan Tan is also a fan, recently striking a pose at the San Francisco Symphony’s Lunar New Year concert in an ethereal Pei gown inspired by China’s coveted blue-and-white porcelain.

Cissie Swig — in a handmade, peanut-adorned rally hat — attends the S.F. Giants home opener with her grandson, Adam Swig. | Photo courtesy of Catherine Bigelow.

“San Francisco, with our position on the Pacific Rim and our significant Chinese heritage, is a natural location to premiere the first major museum exhibition on Guo Pei’s work, and we are delighted to present her exquisite designs to U.S. audiences,” toasted FAMSF Director and CEO Thomas Campbell. “Guo Pei’s creations blur the boundaries between art and fashion. And her designs encourage our visitors to consider the rich historical ties between China and the West.”

“There’s something special about this season opener that has everybody, and our city, coming back together, in person.” — Mayor London Breed

The intricate, architectural scale of Pei’s craftsmanship does cause one to ponder: How to sit, or fit, a Pei artwork beneath a gala table?

Play ball: Hope, grilled hot dogs and happy birthday wishes for San Francisco Giants President and CEO Larry Baer wafted beneath blue skies at jampacked Oracle Park for the team’s home opener on April 8. The cherry on top? We beat the Marlins, too.

“Two years ago, the stands only allowed for cardboard fan cutouts, followed by last year’s truncated season, both in games and crowds,” recalled Baer during a pre-game VIP party. “Today, with a full house of fans and a dynamic team, we feel incredibly blessed.”

Mayor London Breed commemorates Opening Day at Oracle Park with Larry and Pam Baer. | Photo courtesy of Rick Swig.

Among the faithful: still-beloved slugger Barry Bonds; team principal partners, including Larry Nibbi with his daughters, Gina Nibbi and Amy Leder; Audrey and Bob Sockolov; Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis and her politico scribe husband, Markos Kounalakis; numerous Swig family fans, including matriarch Cissie Swig, the philanthropist sporting her handcrafted rally hat adorned with ballpark peanuts; California’s director of protocol Becca Prowda and her husband, Tipping Point founder Daniel Lurie; Giants Enterprises poobahs, president Stephen Revetria and Joey Nevin; and Mayor London Breed.

“It’s hard to put into words the joy of seeing fans without masks — eating, drinking and rooting for the Giants,” Breed enthused. “There’s something special about this season opener that has everybody, and our city, coming back together, live and in person.”

Larry Nibbi and Barry Bonds at a VIP celebration, prior to the Giants taking the field for their home opener. | Photo courtesy of Rick Swig.

Hammer time: May is a mighty month of major sales among auction houses. And Christie’s recently announced, amid its Spring Marquee Week 20th Century Evening Sale in New York on May 12, that a landmark Wayne Thiebaud work, “City Views,” which has never been up for sale, leads the pack.

The striking triptych, one of the late painter’s largest landscapes, was commissioned in 2004 by the renowned biomedical nonprofit Gladstone Institutes and is expected to fetch up to $15 million. All proceeds from the sale will support a new initiative for the biomedical research institution’s scientific training and mentoring programs.

“This painting is an homage to our great city,” noted Christie’s West Coast Chairman Ellanor Notides. “We are proud and elated its sale benefits innovation and science to further the great work that Gladstone continues to achieve for the betterment of global health.”

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