David Zinczenko, Jack Kliger and The Man Most Unlikely to Wind Up at Michael’s

LunchAtMichaelsAs faithful readers know, we endeavor to give our rundown of the movers and shakers who show up at Michael’s every Wednesday a cheeky spin so as not to take ourselves too seriously about the whole power lunch thing. Today, aside from the obvious reason not to make light of an already featherweight subject, I’m too dumbstruck by a new acquaintance I made while making my rounds in the dining room to come up with a pithy opener.

When TV Guide‘s acting CEO Jack Kliger motioned me to come over and meet the handsome young man dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, I couldn’t imagine who he might be. An actor starring in a new crime procedural for CBS? A new reality star ready for his close-up? A family friend getting the full-court “Lunch at Michael’s” treatment? Well, I was half right. “This is Jonathan Alpeyrie,” said Jack. “He’s a combat photographer who was kidnapped in Syria and just released a few weeks ago.” The French-American photographer told me he was on his third trip to Syria when he was abducted at gunpoint by masked men at a checkpoint near Damascus and was held for 81 days. During his harrowing time spent in captivity, he was often chained to a bed and narrowly escaped execution after enraging a guard because he went to the bathroom without getting permission. The solider held a machine gun to Jonathan’s head before being called off by the other soldiers standing guard. Jonathan didn’t seem to want to talk much about his experience, so Jack, who is a close friend of Jonathan’s father, filled in the blanks.

“He was released (on July 18) after his ransom ($450,000) was paid,” he told me. According to Jack, both the FBI and CIA were involved in the negotiations. Last month, in an interview with the British Journal of Photography, Jonathan was quoted as saying he owes his freedom to “A Syrian man, close to the regime, a member of Parliament and a businessman looking for Edouard Elias and Didier Francois (two French journalists who went missing in Syria on June 7) who stumbled [upon] me.” He also told the outlet that even before he was kidnapped, he never thought it was a good idea to talk about kidnappings because it “adds value to hostages.”

Still, Jonathan told me a few people have advised him to write a book about his ordeal (I’d certainly read it). So if he wasn’t here to meet with publishers, what was he doing here in the center of the media universe? “Covering Fashion Week,” he told me with a bemused smile. That lightened the mood considerably and he seemed more than glad of it. “So,” I asked him, “What’s tougher: covering wars or documenting Fashion Week?” But I knew what his response would be. “Fashion Week, definitely,” he said with a smile. The kidnappers didn’t stand a chance.

Steven Stolman and Diane Clehane
Steven Stolman and Diane Clehane
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I was joined today by Steven Stolman, who is having one heck of a year. Having just celebrated his second anniversary as president of Scalamandre and recently married to “gentle Midwesterner” software executive Rich Wilkie, Steven has spearheaded many exciting new ventures for the storied textile house during his tenure with the company. He launched a luxury bedding line; a line of branded fine china, crystal and flatware with Lenox; and he’s about to introduce the Scalamandre lighting collection in October at High Point. This is all due, he told me, to businessman Louis Renzo, who “rescued” the house “out of receivership” and invested “in excess of $10 million” to revitalize the iconic brand.

Today he gave me a first look at his latest project: a stunning illustrated book, Haute Decor (Gibbs Smith), due out next week, which, he tells me, was nine months in the making and is a “love letter” to the house of Scalamandre. “I wanted it to be a scrapbook,” he explains of the “ultimate coffee table book” whose cover is cleverly wrapped in the stunning red zebra print created in 1945 for the legendary New York watering hole Gino’s, a favorite of the rat pack that has long been the house’s signature. Inspired by his favorite book, The Way We Lived Then by Dominick Dunne, Steven beautifully captures Scalamandre’s rich history within the rarified world of interior design and popular culture (including its designs, which are in the Metropolitan Opera House, Ford’s Theatre and on the set of Katie Couric‘s talk show).