Books

Society Grande Dame Deeda Blair Entertains with Style to Spare

Deeda Blair 1972 portrait by Horst P. Horst at her Washington, D.C., home, decorated by Billy Baldwin

It is no surprise that the socialite, health and mental-illness activist and inveterate globe-trotter Deeda Blair was drawn to Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon. Blair is anything but ostentatious, and the last queen of France was, in a way, the same — her serene château at Versailles was a place to relax, enjoy pastoral pleasures and escape the gilded flamboyance and formality of her husband’s palace.

Blair’s affinities with both the monarch and her rural retreat are evident in the new Rizzoli volume Deeda Blair: Food, Flowers & Fantasy. As the book makes clear, Blair’s long silk-stocking life of travel, taste making and forging close relationships with some of the world’s most glamorous people — Kennedys and Shrivers, Hubert de Givenchy and Billy Baldwin — could justify a certain pretension. Instead, she is a woman defined by discipline, pragmatism and refinement.

Deeda Blair book Rizzoli Food Flowers & Fantasy table setting inspired by Marie Antoinette's Petite Trianon at Versailles
In her new book from Rizzoli, socialite, activist and world traveler Deeda Blair imagines a series of dinner parties and luncheons inspired by international destinations and architectural icons. Here, Blair took Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles as a jumping-off point, setting the scene with a hand-painted silk tablecloth, Sèvres pORCELAIN, bamboo-handled silverware and Louis XVI–style fauteuils (photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo). Top: Horst P. Horst photographed Blair for Vogue in 1972 at her Washington, D.C., home, decorated by Billy Baldwin (photo © Condé Nast).

In this voluptuous book, Blair presents a variety of fantasy dinner parties and luncheons, each inspired by her travels and photographed in her New York City apartment. (Designed with the help of Daniel Romualdez, it features furnishings and antiques purchased for Blair’s Washington, D.C., home, decorated in the 1960s by Baldwin.) The menus are tasty and beautifully presented but relatively simple, the flowers beautiful but not extravagant, the table settings exquisite but never overdone. 

Take the dinner inspired by the Trianon. Chic resides in the details: a hand-painted silk tablecloth from Gracie, 18th-century Sèvres plates, bamboo-handled silverware and a loose, slightly wild flower arrangement evoking Marie Antoinette’s naturalistic gardens and meadows. The table and pair of Louis XVI–style fauteuils are pulled up to the living room fireplace for an intimate dinner for two. 

Deeda Blair her husband, Ambassador William McCormick Blair Jr., in 1961 the American embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark. portrait of Blair by René Bouchet
Blair and her husband, William McCormick Blair Jr., share a laugh in 1961, shortly after they were married. They’re photographed in the American embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, where William served as ambassador from 1961 to 1964. Hanging above is a portrait of Blair by René Bouchet. Photo courtesy of Deeda Blair

The locations that inspire the dinners in this book are certainly lavish, but Blair manages to distill their over-the-top aesthetics to align with her signature, smartly tailored sophistication. 

For the luncheon she imagines at Gustav III’s Pavilion in Haga Park, outside Stockholm, Blair goes completely blue and white, using a gingham under cloth and swirly-patterned faience pottery from Apt, France. To evoke aristocratic travel writer Rory Cameron’s pared-back style at La Fiorentina, his family’s Palladian-style villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, she sets a Maison Jansen table sans cloth but with all-white flowers. And she references the woven fences at Givenchy’s Château du Jonchet, in the Loire Valley, by using 18th-century plates with a basket edge.

Deeda Blair book Rizzoli Food Flowers & Fantasy table setting inspired by Hubert de Givenchy's Château du Jonchet
The tablescape inspired by Hubert de Givenchy‘s Château du Jonchet features 18th-century plates with a basket edge. Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo

One of the great pleasures of Food, Flowers & Fantasy is that in addition to being an entertaining handbook — offering advice about table settings, recipes and style — it is also a memoir. In the text accompanying each meal, Blair shares remembrances of her visits to the places and people that inspired them. 

And Andrew Solomon’s introduction paints a picture of Blair as a gracious diplomatic hostess — her late husband, William McCormick Blair Jr., was appointed ambassador to Denmark by President Kennedy — who is also incredibly intelligent and accomplished. She held leadership positions in organizations and on boards that pioneered research into and treatments for breast cancer, HIV and mental illness. 

Coming to a dinner at Blair’s spare, stylish Manhattan apartment, Solomon observes, is “like being inside a pearl” where you’re hosted by a woman whose impeccable clothes are “severe and simple, the kind that only the knowing eye can identify as couture.”

Deeda Blair book Rizzoli Food Flowers & Fantasy cover
Blair collaborated with RIZZOLI on the new book, DEEDA BLAIR: FOOD, FLOWERS & FANTASY.

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