City Pulse

By Amber Roniger


All of a sudden, DOROTHY DRAPER is freakin’ everywhere. Have you noticed? No matter where I look, there she is… BERGDORF’S, THE MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, even the Janovic Plaza window on Lex. Dorothy, Dorothy, Dorothy, this is all I ever hear! As I’m wandering around humming “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” this woman is getting serious play 35 years post-mortem. I’m running my fastest to keep up with an iconographic ghost, and I’m losing. For those who live in the interior design ice age and don’t know about DD, here’s the lowdown: only the most momentous femme-fatale-independent-businesswoman-interior-designer, diva-chic, uber-influential tastemaker ever to hit NYC, nay, the whole damn country. Clinkie to the D!

The high style of Dorothy Draper (insert Phyllis Diller laugh here) seems to be all the rage again, dahling. High society is revisiting talk of the patented Draper effect, being “Draperized.”

To describe her ‘effect’ in street speak: big, large and girly. Dorothy tended to design on a rather (ahem) generously proportioned scale, for large public commissions, hotels in particular (The Carlyle, Hampshire House, The Greenbrier) and was an advocate of the huge striped wall and mega gargantuan flowers she loved to paint and imprint damn near everywhere. This is one woman I would visit in my time machine and invite to tea. Let’s face it ladies, we have a dearth of true female role models, and I nominate Dorothy Draper as a candidate worthy of consideration: a dynamic creative force, design pioneer, writer and advisor, autonomous woman in business in the 1930’s (hello? who was this goddess?), who took no bull and no prisoners, and ranks pretty highfalutin’ on my all-time diva list.

My first foreshadowy glimpse of the Draper Effect currently sweeping the city is the Janovic display. And I can’t help but wonder…with that classic Dorothy Draper glamour-shot from the 30’s that’s in every exhibit of her work…is she sportin’ the Snoop-Dog? Whatever that ‘do is girl, it’s fabulous. Truly timeless.

My first ever venture into Bergdorf’s was earlier this month, past their tremendous DOROTHY DRAPER window display. I somehow magically arrive on the Interior Design Floor, which has of course, been Draperized. I’m fascinated by the crowd of characters who have come to such a tribute and book signing for “IN THE PINK: DOROTHY DRAPER “AMERICA’S MOST FABULOUS DECORATOR” by CARLTON VARNEY (President of Dorothy Draper and Carlton Varney, Co.). Rapt, I observe the scene past my asparagus-tipped, caviar-dipped spear (ok, you know I didn’t eat the caviar, but whatev), which is simply beyond all polite society words that come readily to mind. Just beyond. Do you feel me? Mr. V and Ms. D sure know how to fill a room.

But the motherlode tribute to Dorothy Draper: THE HIGH STYLE OF DOROTHY DRAPER is currently at the Museum of the City of New York (May 2nd through September 10th) (designed by Paul Carlos and Urshula Barbour of Pure + Applied; decorative painting by Millree Hughes). Mayhap you noticed this is where we’re throwing our 3rd Anniversary Par-tay Bash? Of course you did. Mz. Dorothy’s legend has taken over half of the Museum’s first floor in a tributary retrospective of her too-too life and career: from the painted walls, to the myriad photographs of her greatest works, drawings and designs, larger-than-large furniture and rare magazine adverts. I mean, the woman redid the interior of an airplane (Convair 880 Jet) and made it look stylie for cryin’ out loud. Was there nothing she could not conquer, no medium she could not perpetrate? Susan Henshaw Jones, the Museum’s President and Director quoth: “…her bold colors, lavish decoration, and overscaled patterns are everywhere vividly present today.” Javol, mon capitan.

As if all of this fabulousness hasn’t sent you over the edge, Tupperware paired up with the Big D. to create the DOROTHY DRAPER/TUPPERWARE BELL (I kid you not, a dinner bell)…this is so beyond hot. It’s pink and black and is NOT for sale, anywhere. Tupperware made The Draper-designed bells to be given out at the opening of the exhibit at the Museum and guess who has the remaining 100 or so bells? Yep. We do. If you show up to our little soiree, it might perhaps be possible that some DD Bells will be making their appearance. (word is that the first 100 people to buy a raffle ticket will take home one of these faboo-trinkets, but you didn’t get that from me) It’s peculiar though, I keep ringing my bell, but as of yet, Jeeves hasn’t shown up with my tea. Maybe I should take it over to Paris’ mansion and see if anyone responds to my despondent bonging.

Btw to this day, Carlton Varney keeps Dorothy Draper the design firm up and running strong, a living tribute to Dorothy D., and a real slice of New York City and American history subsisting in the present. Ms. Diva Dorothy always relished the proclamation of her “Decoration Of Independence” and I vote that we should ratify this treatise immediately. Ladies?…


1220 Fifth Avenue, NYC

To purchase Carelton Varney’s “In The Pink: Dorothy Draper, America’s Most Fabulous Decorator” go to Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Rizzoli or to purchase online go to

Originally published May 2006



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