Realm of the Senses

A chic dinner club in Vietnam, circa 1920s/’30s, was recreated by architect Lee Ledbetter.

The bamboo roof structure was made by Richard Young of New Orleans Event Rental. Young also did the lighting, which was in hues of amber and reds.

The tropical night had turned less so—it was thankfully October—and men in black tie and women adorned in long dresses and jewelry slowly approached the long walkway to a large white tent. They had anticipated this night for months—they were eager to see what was inside, as rumor had that it was a stunning transformation, nothing like it had been seen before in New Orleans. Gourmet food and lively entertainment, as well as a auction of trips around the world, also tempted.

A wine tasting took place before the gala at a private home across the street from the gala’s tent.

The party in question —“Sentimental Journeys”—is a fund-raiser for Longue Vue House and Gardens. Started in 1995, it raises money to support this National Historic Landmark, an eight-acre Classical Revival home and gardens located in New Orleans. The fund-raiser is held every 18 months, since it takes that much time to organize the more than 30 trips that go up for auction. Jaunts have included dove hunting in Argentina, weekends at Round Hill in Jamaica, soaking up the atmosphere in Bora Bora, tickets and lodging at the Masters Golf Tournament, and African safaris. Each event has a new set of co-chairs, and Mimi Bowen, Susan Brennan and Anne Redd helmed this party on Oct. 16, 2004. For the party décor the co-chairs turned to architect and designer Lee Ledbetter, who had only one idea in mind for the theme: 1920s-1930s era Indochina.

The entry tent courtyard was made to feel like an outdoor courtyard, common to Colonial Vietnam.

“I wanted an Asian theme, but something tropical as well,” says Ledbetter. “French Colonial Vietnam seemed rich and seductive, and at home in New Orleans.”

In order to create a total atmosphere for the party, a large white tent is pitched on one, sometimes two vacant lots, thereby creating a plain backdrop that wouldn’t be easily attainable at a private home or existing party space.

One of the 15-foot-tall cartiads that overlooked the dance floor.

Ledbetter based the look on a 1925 drawing of an Indochine Pavilion with a flat, bamboo-clad roof structure. The bamboo ceiling in the tent was made by Richard Young of New Orleans Event Rental. Other architectural elements were inspired by a book on Colonial Vietnamese architecture—Asian “Greek” keys and ancient stone figures, which Ledbetter had turned into 15-foot-tall cariatids (figures). The entry tent courtyard was designed by Luis Guevara to feel like an outdoor courtyard, common to Colonial Vietnam. Banana leaf wallpaper panels were made and placed along the tent walls. The table’s floral arrangements by Flora NY were a combination of tall, lacy papyrus with low orchids placed in a clear bowl filled with black rocks and a few goldfish. The lighting, also done by Richard Young, kept within the Asian theme using lots of colored gels in ambers and red—no fluorescent or incandescent lights.

“Sentimental Journeys”
co-chairs Anne Redd, Susan Brennan and Mimi Bowen.
Grevy Photography Photograph

“You felt like you were walking into a tropical paradise under the bamboo tent. It was breathtaking,” says event co-chair Anne Redd.

The design team did have some alarming moments before the party—tropical weather, which is never predictable, blew down the tent after it had been set up. Thankfully nothing had been placed inside yet. Rain fell and almost washed out the tropical plantings put near the tent entrance. But the weather cleared up for the party.

A chef prepares food for the gala

La Nuit Commence…
The first part of the “Sentimental Journeys” gala evening started with a wine tasting, which was held at a private home across the street from the tent. Guest chef Hubert des Marais of the restaurant at Four Seasons Palm Beach and host chef Gerard Maras, who was with Ralph’s on the Park, but is now at Table One, put together the pre-party’s cuisine. Across the street at the gala, chef Jonathan Eismann of Pacific Time in Miami, was joined by chef Eric Branger, then the executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, to concoct a four-course meal that was paired with fine wines. During the evening’s repast, the auction was manned by Christie’s New York’s Richard Brierley, who rallied partygoers to bid higher than many lots’ reserves. After the auction, Pepe and the Bottle Blondes took over and guests joyfully took to the dance floor, shimmying under the watchful gaze of the
tall, Buddha-esque cariatids.

The night was a huge success. More than $700,000 was raised for Longue Vue’s children and adult educational programs. And for one night, partygoers were given the gift of imagining they were part of a fabulous tableaux in another time and another place.

Sentimental Journeys 2007

The gala returns after being sidelined because of Hurricane Katrina. This year’s co-chairs are Jon Vaccari, Catherine Freeman and Sandra Pulitzer. The patron reception is April 20, 2007, at a private home. Restaurant August chef John Besh will be the host chef. On April 21, 2007, is the gala dinner and auction of trips. Designer John Fernandez has been put in charge of this year’s theme (rumor has it: Moroccan). The guest chef is Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s Restaurant in Seattle, and the host chef is Peter Moore of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.

For more information, call 488-5488, ext. 337, or go to www.longuevue.com/sjourn.

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