For Ellen MacNeille Charles the annual Hillwood Museum gala on Tuesday night was a celebration to mark two milestones. She was stepping down as Hillwood’s board chairman and stepping up to celebrate her 77th birthday.
For a benchmark event, this was the way to go—a gorgeous evening, beautiful tables arrayed on the lawn, flowers everywhere, men in black tie and women in evening gowns, a steak dinner and fine wine, and the French jeweler Cartier as sponsor. The French were also well represented by the guests of honor, Ambassador Francois Delattre and his wife, Sophie. Charles had Delattre seated on her left during the meal of Coquilles Saint Jacques, Onglet de Boeuf, and chilled orange soufflé.
There were plenty of stories for Charles to tell Delattre of her family’s long relationship with Paris through her grandmother, Marjorie Merriweather Post, a globetrotter who made Hillwood her DC home, where regular guests included White House officials, diplomats, business tycoons, and movie stars. There are two actresses in her family: Charles’ aunt is Dina Merrill and her cousin is Glenn Close.
Delattre was in good spirits as he moved around the table to say hello to other guests. When asked if the rumors are true that he will soon switch assignments with Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United Nations, Delattre gave a charming Gallic shrug but opted to not make any news.
It was a big night for Cartier, too, as Hillwood launched its newest exhibition, “Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems.” Visitors to Hillwood will be able to ogle the emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds from this weekend through the end of the year.
The evening’s theme was an inspiration for many of the female guests, who pulled out some of their best baubles. In particular, Adrienne Arsht, the Washington philanthropist, who gleefully brandished her diamonds: a tiara, earrings, and two spectacular bejeweled Cartier cuffs.
When dessert was served, the few hundred under the tent sang “Happy Birthday” to Charles and anyone else who was marking their special day.