We missed all the big doings on Monday when President Bill Clinton was at Michael’s for a private lunch in the Garden Room and stuck around to press the flesh in the dining room on his way out the door. Oh well, next time. Today, the usual suspects were, as usual, operating at full tilt around the room, where the decibel level made it hard to hear all the dish my fascinating lunch date was serving up.
I was joined by Dini von Mueffling, co-founder of HvM Communications, a boutique public relations firm that represents a myriad of clients, including hotter-than-hot The Organic Pharmacy and wine expert Antonio Galloni’s Vinous. Having launched the business with partner Laura Henson just five years ago, HvM toils in an impressively diverse number of disciplines, including beauty, wellness, fashion, art and design, business, real estate, nonprofits, and startups.
But to pigeon hole the former intrepid journalist (more on that later) turned entrepreneur is to greatly understate her impressive CV. She is also the co-founder of Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education, which she founded in 1992 when her dear friend died of the disease. Dini ran the foundation for three years and currently sits on the board of directors. Love Heals is the leading provider of HIV/AIDS education in New York City and, reports Dini, has helped educate over 650,000 young people in person and tens of thousands of others through its programs.
Working for the greater good is clearly a passion of Dini’s as she told me about another program she is currently working on: Lunch 4 Learning, an initiative to bring free lunch to all of New York City’s public school children, which is being backed by a coalition of 170 elected officials, nonprofits and celebrity chefs, such as John Delucie, Tom Colicchio and Rachael Ray. Dini’s firm is handling the public relations campaign and mobilizing all the various parties to spread the word about the campaign. “We are working to urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to include $20 million in next year’s budget for free lunches for all students,” said Dini. “Most people don’t realize that kids who qualify for these lunches are identified as getting free lunches and there is so much humiliation associated with it that there is a huge percentage of kids who don’t eat because of it. It’s awful because in many cases it’s the only healthy meal they have for the day.” Dini told me that the mayor’s own city council speaker and public advocate are supporters and are making sure “the pressure is on” to make this incredibly sensible idea a reality. The model is one that has proven to be successful in many cities, including most major cities in New York state and Chicago. Surely, said Dini, the same mayor that made universal Pre-K a tentpole issue can be convinced to do the same with free lunches for all city school children. “Back in January when he sent public school kids to school during the snowstorm he said one of the reasons he did that was because he wanted them to have access to the healthy lunch they needed.” The city’s department of education $24 billion (yes, you read that right) budget will be voted on at the end of this month. Surely there must be room for this, reasoned Dini. I wouldn’t bet against her.
Between bites of salad nicoise, Dini told me her first love had always been journalism. She regaled me with tales of the kind of tenacity and enthusiasm that only youth can deliver. It started with a stint as the youngest intern ever at Rolling Stone, where, at the ripe old age of 17, she was charged with picking up Tom Wolfe‘s freshly written pages of The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was being serialized in the magazine, and bringing them back to the office. At 22, she was the editor-in-chief of J.Crew’s then-groundbreaking catalog, supervising a staff of eight, but left to freelance for several papers, including Clay Felker’s Downtown Express (“I was desperate to be a reporter!”). She somehow wound up covering Asian gang crime and was befriended by fellow reporter John Miller, who made a phone call to New York Post EIC Jerry Nachman and urged him to meet the up-and-comer. Thrilled that she’d finally made it to the big time, Dini called Nachman “five times a day for two months” and finally staked out the paper’s South Street entrance, where she met him one morning and intercepted him before he could settle into his office and enjoy his regular tray of donuts. She was hired for the copy desk but wound up writing plenty of stories — some of which made it to the front page. “It was the best year of my life!” enthused Dini, who was the victim of “last-in, first-out” layoffs a year later.
No doubt those journalistic instincts will come in handy when dealing with her newest client, Monica Lewinsky. “I buried the lede,” said Dini as she revealed the news. When I asked how the whole thing came about, she explained that it all started with a Facebook post she wrote after reading Monica’s piece in the June issue of Vanity Fair. Her comments on her page, which called the article “remarkable, articulate, intelligent and funny… but most of all touching,” resulted in an email from a friend asking if she’d like to meet Monica and talk with her about her plans for the future. Dini had met Monica before briefly many years ago during a Love Heals event. During their four-hour lunch at the NoMad Hotel, Dini told me she was struck by how “intelligent” and “remarkably self-aware” the world’s most infamous White House intern was. “She’s done a lot of work on herself” noting how “proud” she was of her new client who now holds a degree from the London School of Economics. But despite all that, said Dini, “to a lot of people she is frozen in time.”
Dini is now handling all Monica’s public relations and fielding all media requests. She is also, she said, “helping her get to have the life she deserves.” When I asked Dini if Monica would be getting more involved in speaking out against cyber-bullying since she cited the events of Tyler Clementi’s suicide as one of the reasons she chose to write about her experiences now, she declined to discuss the specifics. “I can’t say what she’ll work on” but, she revealed, we can expect “really amazing things to come from her.” Now that everyone has been allowed to move on from the scandal that launched a thousand headlines, it seems that Monica may have finally found the person who can help her put the blue dress and beret away for good. Stay tuned.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Diane Coffey with a group of pals feting Bob Tierney on the occasion of his retirement from the Landmarks Commission. Cheers!
2. Nikki Haskell and two tanned, casually clad pals
3. Charles Schuler with three other well-dressed gents
4. David Zinczenko with ABC News’ SVP of talent and development Barbara Fedida
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer
7. Manolo Blahnik’s George Malkemus and Footwear News’ Michael Atmore
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia
9. Tracey Jackson
11. Dini von Mueffling and yours truly
12. The Fragrance Foundation’s Elizabeth Musmanno, presiding over a table of stylistas (I was coveting the Carolina Herrera dress adorned with her vintage garden print worn by one guest)
14. Discovery ID’s Henry Schlieff (Kudos for the OJ documentary!) and Kerry Kennedy
15. Jack Kliger
16. Lynne White
18. Forbes Travel Guide honcho Jerry Inzerillo
21. Book seller Glenn Horowitz
23. John Arnhold
24. Merill Lynch’s Michael Appelbaum
25. Scott Singer
26. Sarabeth Shrager
28. Chris Roberts
81. Lawrence Stuart
Faces in the crowd: Woman’s Day EIC Susan Spencer with contributor Clinton Kelly and some well dressed gals from the magazine’s marketing team. Is it just me or are the Clinton-Lewinsky references today a little more than a funky coincidence?!? See you next week …
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.