Getting face time with a legend is always a treat. So is any event that takes one off the beaten track. And in fashion, the charming restaurant Melba’s on West 114th Street is as off-the-track as it gets. So it was terrific to attend a small dinner there in honor of Ruby Dee—Ms. Dee to you and me—hosted by eBay’s Constance White, designer Kevan Hall and Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley, who showed up a tad late. The affair was low-key (Talley was as dressed down as you’ll ever see him) yet indulgent in a fried chicken-and-sweet potato pie kind of way, with a smattering of Ms. Dee’s family, friends and editors in attendance.
The guest of honor oozed patrician charm, holding court quietly and occasionally checking with her daughter Hasna Muhammad, seated to her right, to confirm little details of her own upcoming travels and work schedule. Muhammad, who was raised in New Rochelle where her mother still lives, noted that theirs’ was not a pampered upbringing. “I shined shoes; I did windows,” she said.
Before dessert, Ms. Dee’s hosts presented her with gifts including a gorgeous pair of pearl and diamond earrings from Mikimoto and two large framed photos, one from her red-carpet Oscar moment, for which she wore Hall’s red satin gown; the other, a black-and-white portrait of her much younger self. Of the latter, Ms. Dee said, “If you’re lucky, you don’t die looking like this.” (Excessive modesty: in her mid-eighties, she’s gorgeous.) As for her Oscar photo, Ms. Dee mused on whether she should retire the look or break it out again sometime, thus invoking the m.o. of a woman she clearly admires: “Mrs. Roosevelt—she used to wear a dress a lot.”
That reference to the late great first lady wasn’t the evening’s only political aside. Each guest left with a goody bag that included a scented candle, the Assouline Mikimoto book and a no-frills, print-out invitation to the June 17th fete for Michelle Obama to be hosted by Talley along with Calvin Klein, Anna Wintour and Shelby Bryan, the terms spelled out clearly in the three-page missive. For $1,000 one can hit the reception at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery on West 22nd Street, while 10 grand buys an upgrade to the dinner chez Calvin Klein.