It’s been somewhat of a mixed bag at Michael’s this month with plenty of the famous faces usually spotted on Wednesdays having already hightailed it outta here for the Hamptons, Nantucket and other chichi vacation spots. Between TCA, Allen & Co.’s recent summit for movers and shakers and the seemingly daily announcements touting seismic changes in publishing, we’ve also noticed it’s been a bit quieter (in terms of bold face names, not decibel level) at 55th and Fifth in recent weeks. Still, in service to our faithful readers, we kept our weekly date to check in on those intrepid power lunchers who are still dishing despite summer’s siren call.
Today I was joined by fashion industry insider Mickey Ateyeh, fresh off her vacation in Italy, who, it must be said, knows everyone who is anyone. Mickey put together today’s lunch to introduce me to her longtime pal, PR maven Judith Agisim, who, in turn, brought along her client Bisila Bokoko. I’d seen Judith in this very room many times but never had the occasion to meet her. And, as you already know, in certain circles, all roads lead to Michael’s.
When I arrived a little before noon Bisila was already in the lounge, so I took the opportunity to chat with her about her position as global ambassador to The Liceu Barcelona Opera House, where, while based in New York City, she is charged with promoting the historic house in the States and around the world. With two master’s degrees in international relations and business and a law degree from Universidad CEU San Pablo, Bisila told me she has always worked with global companies and her dream has always been to “be a catalyst for change.” In her current role with Barcelona’s Opera House, she is charged with enticing American opera fans and the culturally curious to visit Barcelona. “Eight million Americans visit Spain every year — there are so many reasons that the Opera House should be a stop on their tour.” Of course, said Bisila, the architecture alone is reason enough to visit the building, which was constructed in the 19th century. But it has a storied history as well. The Opera House (which seats 4,000!) has hosted many legendary performers, including Plácido Domingo and is unique within the opera world, she explained, because unlike the rest of the houses in Europe built for royalty, the Barcelona Opera House was “built by the bourgeois” and has always been enjoyed by all. “So in my role, it’s important to keep the spirit alive that everyone is welcome. It’s not just the blue bloods who enjoy the music.”
But the city’s social swans are most definitely on Bisila’s radar and, with Judith’s help, she’s been meeting them all since the women began working together in February of this year. “She has cleverly set up lunches with many of the most important people in fashion, business and society, which has been very helpful,” said Bisila (We’re so very flattered!). “It is very important to connect with the people in the city who have a great interest in opera and the arts.” Last month, 120 of Manhattan’s top influencers were invited to a cocktail party at The Queen Sofia Spanish Institute on Park Avenue. The Opera House got a royal boost from none other than the Queen herself, who was on hand to greet the A-listers (including Sharon Bush and Annette de la Renta) and the opera aficionados who attended. “She was so warm and inviting and everyone wanted to meet her,” said Bisila. “The goal was to make a very good impression.” Mission accomplished.
Clever Bisila also knows that at the heart of every great culture is its food, so she’s also put together fabulous dinners at the Opera House, held during the intermissions in the stunning Mirror Room. Patrons get a taste of the local cuisine during the season, which runs from September to May. “The gastronomy of Spain is another reason that draws people to Barcelona, so it makes perfect sense,” she said. And Bisila knows a little something about food. When she first came to New York in 2000, she worked her way up to the position of executive director to the Spanish-U.S. Chamber of Commerce and arranged tours for the editors of magazines such as Saveur, Wine Spectator and Food & Wine. She’s been the brand ambassador to Foodie Channel, Spain’s online Lifestyle Channel. “I love anything having to do with food!”
Having lived in Spain for most of her life Bisila’s roster of friends reads like the TOC in Hello magazine. She counts many members of several royal families of Europe as friends. When I told her I’d written a book on Princess Diana several years ago, she shared a lot of interesting information about the people she knew in the late princess’s inner circle. Sorry, but it’s OTR.
Like so many of the fashionable folks I’ve come to meet at Michael’s, Bisila’s personal story is a fascinating one. Besides her work as a cultural ambassador, she is a tireless humanitarian with her own charitable organization, The Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project, which promotes literacy and libraries in Africa. Her African parents emigrated from Equatorial Guinea to Madrid to escape violence and a “complicated political situation” in the 70s. In adjusting to their new lives in Spain, Bisila’s mother studied to be a nurse, while her father became a lawyer and raised Bisila and her three brothers. In reminiscing about her childhood, Bisila recalls how unique it was at the time for a black man to be seen in the country wheeling a toddler around in a stroller. “A lot of black people in the country that is mostly white feel self-conscious, but we never really felt different. Even when I’m with Americans and we will go someplace and they will say, ‘There isn’t going to be a lot of black people there,’ I will say, ‘Who cares?’ I don’t see colors, I see people.'”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. G-III Apparel Group’s Morris Goldfarb with some other ‘suits’ we didn’t recognize
2. Fern Mallis, sporting some fabulous accessories from her eponymous collection, Fern’s Finds, with her agent Hedi Kim and Don MacKinnon, creator of the new app, Milq, which, he explained offers “a new way to share culture. When we told Fern we liked her exotic-looking jewelry, she told us that you, too, can look like a world traveler without leaving your house: just tune in to HSN on August 6 when Fern will be hawking her haute items. She’ll also be chatting with The New York Times photog Bill Cunningham for her next sitdown in September at the 92nd Street Y.
3. Peter Brown with a charming gentleman who chatted with me for a few minutes after lunch, but didn’t give me his name. Anyone?
4. Mickey Ateyeh, Judith Agisim, Bisila Bokoko and yours truly
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina (happy birthday!), Michael Kramer and Andy Bergman
7. Playbill‘s Bruce Hallet
8. Former New York City Council president Andrew Stein — with — wait for it — a lovely young lady we didn’t get to meet
9. PR princess Elizabeth Harrison (loved the leopard bag!) and Bonnie Abrams
10. Journo Betsy Perry, just back from Monaco on assignment for AARP (“The wealth there is staggering!”) with author Patricia Bosworth, who told me she’s currently at work on her memoir for HarperCollins. The working title: The Men in My Life. Sounds intriguing, no?
11. Joely Hunt, who came floating in wearing a groovy caftan, and Susan Mercandetti
12. Jack Myers
14. Agent Ed Victor and Rick Heller
15. Michael Wolff and Jonathan Knee
16. Bonnie Verbitsky (yes, wife of United Stations Radio honcho Nick Verbitsky) and, so we’re told, her producer from Fox
17. MTV’s Ross Martin
18. The Early Show: Howard Marks; Act Two: publicist Susan Blond with Baron R. Birtcher, whose silvery long locks caught our eye as he made his way into the dining room; and Alex Boye, whose “pop music with an African twist” has garnered him over 25 million (!) views on YouTube. Alex came bearing gifts today. Everyone who went over to the table to say hello left with his new CD/DVD. Talk about a working lunch…
20. Shoe designer Steve Madden, whose only crime today was keeping his baseball hat on during lunch and sporting an unfortunate see-through white T-shirt. Yikes.
21. Jack Kliger
23. Penske Media Vice Chair Gerry Byrne and Fox 5’s Greg Kelly, who shook plenty of hands on his way out the door after lunch.
24. One Day University’s Steven Schragis
25. Producer Billy Kimball
26. Two of my favorite gals: Susan Silver, whose CV includes writing credits for both Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; and PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky, who’s arranged for several fun Wednesday lunches for this column this summer.
27. Jim Mitchell
29. Clear Channel’s Tim Spengler
30. Kevin Crotty
Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.