Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dancing into 2015

With New Year’s Eve approaching, there’s a chance you may find yourself on a dance floor to ring in 2015.

If that scenario makes you want to melt into the wall, you may be interested in these four tips from the December issue of Allure magazine:

  • Don’t take a drink on the dance floor – it’s going to spill. 
  • Grab a friend (or a stranger if you dare), but don’t dance alone. 
  • If you don’t like the music, you can’t fake it, so sit it out. 
  • And don’t act out the lyrics to a song – it’s dancing, not charades. 
Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A sweet way to help during the holidays

Charlotte Rescue Mission is putting a call out to help the community during the nonprofit's annual Christmas Day meal open to everyone in the community on Dec. 25.

Homemade desserts including cakes, pies and cookies can be dropped of at Charlotte Rescues Mission Dec. 23-25 at 907 West First St. near the Carolina Panthers practice fields (enter through the glass doors at the second building on the left).

Details: www.charlotterescuemission.org.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, December 19, 2014

Naughty and nice Ice breakers

“Have you been naughty or nice?” is my favorite nice ice breaker at holiday cocktail parties.

But thanks to one of my co-workers with a wicked sense of humor, I learned a naughty one, although as social editor I caution you to use this only with someone you know well enough to tease because it’s never funny to hurt someone’s feelings: If you see someone in a sweater at a holiday party, go up to them and say, “I didn't know this was an ugly sweater party.”

You’ll probably get pinched, but it is a funny line.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

A welcome detail

In life, it's sometimes the smallest detail that can mean a lot.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I went back to the campus of my alma mater, Queens University of Charlotte. I was there to meet with the sharp and delightful Jane Williams, the university's assistant director of annual giving.

She wanted to meet with me to discuss a volunteer opportunity and give me a personal tour of the beautiful campus and some of its exciting new buildings. We had a wonderful time and I learned a lot about the current new buildings and some other new improvements on existing buildings that are in the works. I'm so proud that Queens is thriving.

The whole visit was uplifting for me, but what really put it over the top was the parking space Jane reserved for me in Burwell Circle outside the university's main building, Burwell Hall.

It was a small gesture, and one that's been done for many other visitors, but I was completely thrilled. I was so tickled that when our meeting was over I asked Jane if she would take my picture with the sign. It was just a printed sheet of paper, nothing fancy, but it was such a welcoming gesture and it made me feel special and important.

So thank you, Jane. And thank you Queens for giving me a great education, lots of support throughout my career and the lifetime friends I made while studying there.

Go Royals!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Is this the perfect holiday shoe?

The stylish staff at Via Veneto sent me an email saying the store had the perfect holiday shoe. 

As you can see from the photo, it is a spectacular design. I love it too and plan to feature it next week in a Style cover story I'm doing on the popularity of sparkly clothing and accessories. 

But this shoe is so beautiful and special, I thought I would go ahead and mention it in my blog because it deserves to be under someone's Christmas tree and my story doesn't run until Christmas Day. 

The shoe is by designer Giuseppe Zanotti. It's made in Italy and is exclusive to Via Veneto in the U.S. It's upper is velvet and rhinestone; the foot bed and sole are leather. The price is $520. 

Via Veneto is at Phillips Place. 704-556-0710; www.shopviaveneto.com

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mourning Cecil Shearin

Anyone who ever worked with Cecil Shearin, co-owner of Elizabeth House Flowers, is in mourning over his death at age 62. He was so talented and such a wonderful man.

He was so respected that almost every floral shop in town sent one gorgeous arrangement after another to the visitation at Hankins & Whittington. He did so many stunning arrangements for weddings, parties and events that everyone from mothers-of-the-brides, event planners, socialites, philanthropists and community leaders are mourning his loss.

Those who loved him and his work know that he fulfilled his destiny of using his talent to make the world a more beautiful place and that he did it with great kindness and humor.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A special New Year's Eve party

I've never been a New Year's Eve person, but I might make a celebratory exception since I just found out the Duke Mansion is hosting a New Year's Eve party to celebrate its 100th birthday. It's just one of the special events planned at the historic mansion in 2015. 

The party is from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 31. There's dinner, dancing to music from award-winning lounge DJ That Guy Smitty, a champagne toast to ring in the new year and a late-evening breakfast. 

Chef Harrison Booth is in charge of the multi-course dinner served in a heated tent adorned with lights on the lawn. 

Attire is black tie and the cost is $515 per couple or $258 for single tickets. Proceeds benefit the mansion, which is run by a nonprofit and is on the National Register of Historic Places. To purchase tickets call 704-714-4445 or email kellis@tlwf.org. 

Here's the menu: 

Citrus Endive Salad with Duck Confit (bone-in) and Pomegranate Champagne Vinaigrette in a Pipette

- Duet Entrée -
Duet of Salmon Wellington and Rossini Beef Tenderloin
(Salmon Wellington will be prepared with an Herb Shallot Compound Butter
and the Beef will be prepared with a Madeira Sauce with Truffle and Torchon Foie Gras)

Served with Duchess Potatoes
and Baby Vegetables (blanched and sautéed in herbed butter)

- Dessert –
Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut Filling and Almond Cake with Raspberry Filling
Served with Fresh Berries and Raspberry Coulis
Cake by WOW Factor Cakes

Specially curated wines by Josh Villapando of Assorted Table Wine Shoppe, to include:

Sparkling Wine at arrival, butler passed, served in champagne flutes

2 Whites and 2 Reds to pair with Salad and Entrée Courses

Sparkling Rose with Cake

Champagne at midnight

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, December 8, 2014

Millennials and holiday shopping

Simon, which owns malls around the country including SouthPark mall and Concord Mills mall, just released its 2014 Simon Holiday Shopping Behavior Survey. 

A lot of it focuses on Millennials (those who became adults around 2000). That group tends to like malls the most so Simon has renamed them Mallennials. 

The survey has some bad news for dads - they're the least favorite person to shop for. 

Here are the results: 


  • 89 percent of millennials plan to shop at the mall this holiday season. 
  • 80 percent of millennials reported they “sometimes have a real sense of accomplishment after holiday shopping at the mall.”
  • 81 percent of millennials agree that a key benefit of shopping at the mall during the holidays is avoiding the risk of gifts not being delivered on time.
  • Millennials are the most likely generation to volunteer time this holiday season with a charitable organization (25 percent say they volunteer, compared to 16 percent of Gen X, those born from 1965-1980). 

Sad dads

  • “Dad” finished last (2 percent) when respondents were asked about “favorite person to shop for this holiday season."
  • “Children” comfortably finished first at 40 percent.
  • “Spouse/partner” earned a 24 percent share.
  • “Extended family member/friend” earned 13 percent. 
  • “Mother” finished fourth at 9 percent. 
  • “Boyfriend/girlfriend” snagged 8 percent. 
  • Even “someone else” garnered 3 percent of the votes. Sorry dads! 

Tech habits
  • Many shoppers, including 76 percent of millennials and 72 percent of Gen X, indicate they have purchased a gift at a store’s mall location after browsing the retailer’s web site. 
  • One-half of holiday shoppers (51 percent) plan to use their mobile devices while holiday shopping to compare prices.
  • More than half of holiday shoppers (53 percent) like stores or malls with apps that can make shopping easier. 
  • Two-thirds of millennials say they would post about a good holiday shopping experience on social media sites. 

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Santa's first stop

I recently attended an annual holiday tea at the Charlotte City Club hosted by a childhood friend and her daughter who is now a student at Myers Park High School. It’s a fun mix of the mother’s friends and the daughter’s friends.

I especially got a kick out of the custom napkins that read “Santa Visits Myers Park High School First!”

I had to swipe one for my husband, a Myers Park alum (Go Mustangs!) and he loved it.

It’s a really cute idea that could be tailored to anything that makes you proud. Mine would read “Santa Visits Redheads First!” or “Santa Visits Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Owners First!”

What would yours say?

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jingle Bell Bash

This year's Jingle Bell Bash holiday party celebrates 20 years of raising money for Safe Alliance and its efforts to assist victims of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. 

It's from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Dec. 6, at the Wells Fargo Atrium uptown.  It features a silent auction, music from the band U-neek Flav’ur, dancing, drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The silent auction is filled with holiday gift ideas including designer bags and local sports memorabilia.

Safe Alliance reminded me that he Jingle Bell Bash will be Phil Kline’s final event as the nonprofit's president and CEO.  He's done an amazing job and will be missed when he retires from the agency at the end of this year.  Karen Parker will take things into her capable hands when she becomes president and CEO on Jan. 1, 2015. She's the first female to have that position in the organization's 105 year history. 

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, December 1, 2014


Charlotteans are encouraged to give back to the community on Dec. 2 as part of #GivingTuesdayCLT.

SHARE Charlotte, which is dedicated to helping the community discover its charitable passion, is spearheading the movement.

To participate, go to www.GivingTuesdayCLT.org through the end of Dec. 2 and make a monetary donation directly to the nonprofit of your choice (there are more than 60 nonprofits to choose from).

If you're not able to make a donation, you can also pledge volunteer hours at the nonprofits in 2015.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thank you, Michael Tarwater

As Thanksgiving approaches, I wanted to share a small gesture of kindness that was meaningful to me. Photographer Daniel Coston and I were covering a party attended by Carolinas HealthCare CEO Michael Tarwater and his lovely wife, Ann. For more than a decade, Daniel and I have been out and about chronicling Charlotte’s social scene. I tell him all the time that I could not do my job without his great photos.

As we were talking to the Tarwaters, suddenly Michael turned to Daniel and me and said, “Would you like for me to take your picture?”

Daniel and I were struck by his kindness because in all the time we’ve worked together, no one has ever thought to take a photo of us together. Michael borrowed Daniel’s camera for a second and the photo turned out really cute, especially since Daniel was wearing one of his signature vintage hats. So thank you, Michael. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Here's Michael's photo of Daniel and me:

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy "Thanksforgiving"

I'm always amazed at the number of pitches I receive from p.r. people outside Charlotte promoting their clients. I already get enough from p.r. people here in town, so if it's from outside this area it's often doomed to the trash bin.

But this one caught my eye and I think it's worth sharing since Thanksgiving is a week away.

The p.r. person for Sherly Sulaiman, a clinical hypnotherapist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, sent an essay written by Sulaiman titled "Thanksforgiving."

 Sulaiman lives in L.A. and her practice, New Stress Relief is in Santa Monica (www.newstressrelief.com).

I just hope no one in my family thinks I'm the "Aunt Wendy" Sulaiman uses as an example in her essay!

Here's Sulaiman's "Thanksforgiving" essay:

For many of us, spending time with certain family members can reopen old emotional wounds, even if we thought the scar tissues had healed for good. The holidays seem to be a particularly vulnerable time for old scars and delicate hearts. It is during these times of joy and giving, that we need to also be generous when it comes to forgiving.

Everyone has at least one person they still need to truly forgive. We may know intellectually that forgiving is ultimately better for us, but unfortunately we don’t always practice what we know to be better. While we’re constantly letting go when we excuse friends, colleagues or strangers for irritating or even offensive behaviors, when it comes to certain family members or loved ones, letting go may not come so easily.

There is an aunt in my family (I’ll call her Wendy) who “means well” when she criticizes our appearance, our significant other, our work, or other things she finds counter to her strong opinions. Her untimely remarks can feel like her pumpkin pies, presented as something sweet, but after several servings, we’re left with an ache and a heaviness in our belly that’s hard to digest. Many of us have an “Aunt Wendy” in our lives.

Unfortunately, it can be the actual person or simply a reminder of them that can emotionally trigger us. During holiday gatherings, we’re often exposed to other people’s issues, as well as the dynamic of various relationships, and our own issues. Now that can be a LOT of issues in one room.  It’s hardly surprising that people experience so much stress, anxiety and depression during the holidays.

We need to access some mental and emotional tools to prepare us for these gatherings.  Most of us know that we want to cultivate calmness, stability, detachment and healthy boundaries, especially with our families. Sometimes, we overlook that the key to unlocking the doors to these powerful tools is forgiveness. And other times, we simply resist it.


There are several possible reasons:

1. We think it means condoning the “bad” behavior that hurt us.

2. We see it as a threat to our values. For example, forgiving someone for cheating on us may unconsciously represent a compromise to the value we place on loyalty or honesty.

3. We may feel forgiveness makes us appear weak or “the loser.”

4. We lose a form of protection that prevents us from being hurt in the same way again.

None of these are true. Forgiveness sets us free emotionally and mentally. It allows us to see people for who they are and not who they were or who they remind us of. We can enjoy the present moment as it is, unburdened by fears of the past. This helps make gatherings with family and loved ones an enjoyable experience, from an authentic place.

We can decide to let things go, the same way we do on a daily basis with friends, colleagues and strangers. During challenging “forgiveness crossroads,” I tell my clients to consider these two questions: “Is my desire for happiness and harmony stronger than my attachment to my past suffering?” And, “Is it more important or me to have peace or to be right?”

Forgiveness allows us to choose peace, happiness and harmony over resentment and fear. When we let things go from a space of love and compassion, it’s easier to understand that “Aunt Wendy” is who she is and is simply doing the best she can. We appreciate the time and effort she took to bake those pies…and we enjoy every bite.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Louis St. Lewis, what you doin' up in here?

Acclaimed artist and bon vivant Louis St. Lewis, who grew up in Wadesboro before he left to conquer the international art scene, is returning to Allison Sprock Fine Art Nov. 18. Now living on a farm outside Chapel Hill, St. Lewis will be at the gallery at 600 Queens Road from 6 to 9 p.m. to talk with guests and show some of his newest works. Details: www.allisonsprockfineart.com.

I met him when he visited the gallery last year and he has one of the world's great personalities and the talent to back it up. There's a reason why his works are in the collections of Oprah Winfrey, Christian LaCroix, former Vogue editor  André Leon Talley and the late Maya Angelou as well as museums including the New Orleans Museum of Art.

I can't wait to walk in and say, "Louis St. Lewis, what you doin' up in here?" That's one of his many funny sayings. Try using it sometime instead of the usual party chitchat introductions when you walk up to a stranger and ask how they know the host. Instead, in a very exaggerated Southern accent, just walk up to someone at your next event and say, "What you doin' up in here?" It's a much more fun icebreaker.

His mixed-media collages are based in mythology and religions. Another fan of his, Andy Warhol, once commented that St. Lewis' work was “like Hieronymus Bosch meets MTV."

But it's Louis St. Lewis' bright spirit that's the true work of art, so if you get a chance drop by.

Here are some of his creations:

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday fashion at the Southern Christmas Show

"All Aboard for Christmas!" is the theme of the 47th annual Southern Christmas Show featuring 6 acres of holiday crafts, gifts, decorations, festive food, art, entertainment and more.

It’s open daily through Nov. 23 at the Park Expo and Conference Center, 2500 E. Independence Blvd. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. all other days. Admission at the door is $11; $3 for 6-12; free for 5 and younger with a paying adult. Advance tickets are $9.50 at participating Harris Teeter locations with a VIC card. Parking is $7. www.southernchristmasshow.com.

The show really does have something for everyone on your list, but the organizers sent over photos of some of the fashion items that are creating buzz among shoppers:

Colorful kicks from Birdstone Gardens, exhibit space 2124.

Hair bling from Lashes and Cosmetics, exhibit space 2006.

Handmade items of recycled cashmere and wool sweaters and scarves from Angella Eisman, exhibit space 119.

Handbags that are functional art pieces from repurposed items at Rediscover Handbags, exhibit 904.

Happy shopping!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Art. Music. Fashion.

The stylish and lovely Irina Toshkova of The New Gallery of Modern Art let me know about a collaborative event the gallery is part of.

"Art. Music. Fashion." is from 8 to 10:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Bubble Charlotte champagne lounge, 210 E. Trade St. It's hosted by the gallery along with Bubble Charlotte, the women's boutique Lipp and the men's boutique Silverfly.

The works of artist Robert Mars are the inspiration for the fashion show featuring the newest looks from Lipp and Silverfly.  Mars is the subject of an exhibit on view now at New Gallery of Modern Art. Mars is a graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York who uses paint and vintage paper. His works chronicle America's fascination with popular culture and celebrities, particularly from the 1950s and 1960s.

The party is free. Guests can enjoy appetizers and a complimentary glass of champagne, plus the first 100 people receive a gift bag.

I also encourage you to check out The New Gallery of Modern Art, which specializes in modern and contemporary art. It's located at 435 S. Tryon St. across from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Details: www.newgalleryofmodernart.com.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, November 10, 2014

Holiday House opens Nov. 14

A historic Myers Park home is the site of the Mecklenburg Medical Alliance & Endowment’s (MMAE) Holiday House. Visitors can tour the circa 1924 home at 2148 Selwyn Ave. Nov. 14-16.

The home, owned by Drs. Amy and Sidney Fletcher, will be decked out for the holidays by some of Charlotte’s top interior and landscape designers, florists and home decor retailers. Pianists from Presbyterian Hospital’s team of volunteer musicians will perform.

Proceeds from ticket sales and the event’s gift shop will benefit the Mecklenburg Medical Alliance & Endowment, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of Mecklenburg County’s residents.

A press release from the MMAE detailed highlights of the home’s history: Prior to the Fletchers, owners of the home have included several Charlotte families as well as Old Dominion Beverage Company (1943) and Queens College (1962). The home was a Queens dormitory before becoming the President’s home in 1967. The late Queens president Billy Wireman and his wife, Katie, lived in the home.

When I was a student at Queens, I remember attending several parties at the beautiful home when the Wiremans lived there, so I’m excited about getting a chance to go inside again.

Participating designers include B.home, Cammie Stutts, Cottage Chic, Dunlap Interiors, Flowers by Lingky, Flowers Plus, Frontgate, Kelilabee Flowers, Katie Emmons Design, Natalie Wilson, Party Blooms, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, The Royal Gardens and Scott Sistaire Landscaping and Design.

Among the gift shop vendors are Angelika’s Fine Swiss Bakery, Art Marble Wineglasses, The Buttercup, Cottage Chic, Discovered Traditions, the Gift Shop at Temple Beth El, Donna Murphy’s Animal Menagerie, Eva Crawford Art, Flowers Plus, For Goodness Cakes, The Gifted Box, Kaitlyn Rae Fraser Pottery, Kathy Mansfield’s Jewelry, Lisette Pottery, Multiple Blessings, Natalie Wilson Interiors, Pottery Barn Kids, The Purple Rooster and The Royal Gardens.

Tour hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 14-15; noon-5 p.m. Nov. 16. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Blacklion locations, online at www.mmaeonline.com or at the door during tour hours.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, November 7, 2014

Decor ideas for a rustic chic Thanksgiving

Rustic chic decor is so hot right now, but its casual elegance is not always easy to pull off. Some push it too far into the country/tacky category.

The decorating committee for Wing Haven's recent fundraising Farm to Table dinner got it just right. Volunteer Nancy Lowry spearheaded the decorations and raided her family’s farm for decor that included pumpkins carved into serving bowls.

It's my turn in the family rotation to host Thanksgiving this year, and I'm using these photos taken by Daniel Coston at the Wing Haven event as my inspiration. I hope the pictures inspire you, too.

But first, here's a photo of just part of the gardens that make up Wing Haven. It was taken that night right as guests began arriving. Talk about inspiration! If you're interested in visiting, here are the details: www.winghavengardens.com

Now on to the rustic chic decor:

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Light Factory's 32nd annual Art Auction

The Light Factory, a nonprofit museum of contemporary photography and film, reopened recently at its new home in Plaza Midwood at 1817 Central Avenue.

On Nov. 15, it hosts its 32nd annual Art Auction featuring works from acclaimed artists including Annie Leibovitz, Jock Sturges, Simmons B. Jones and Constance Thalken, among others. It begins at 6:30 p.m. with a silent auction; the live auction starts at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $40 for members, $50 for nonmembers. Details: 704-333-9755; www.lightfactory.org.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Happy advice from Betsey Johnson

Yesterday I had a really interesting phone interview with designer Betsey Johnson in advance of her visit to Charlotte. The popular designer will be greeting fans on the third floor of Belk at SouthPark mall from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 15.

She travels with her own DJ. Don't you love that? I have my fingers crossed that she'll do one of her famous cartwheel/split combo while she's here!

Her already large fan base has grown tremendously because of her recent stint on "Dancing With the Stars." She made it through 4 weeks of competition before being voted off. Viewers who weren't already familiar with her were wowed by the 72-year-old's youthful persona, flexibility and positive attitude. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about the experience, and she's excited to be returning for the All-Stars show on Nov. 25 during the finale.

Here's a photo of Betsey with her pro partner for the show, Tony Dovolani, who she says is now a dear friend.

She was an incredibly wise and kind person to talk with, and I can't wait to share the full interview in next week's Style section in print and online.

One thing she said stood out to me. It's her thoughts on being happy. She broke onto the fashion scene in New York City in the 1960s, was married to Velvet Underground member John Cale briefly and has survived and thrived since then in the brutal fashion business. Even though she's had tremendous ups and downs, her positive outlook has never wavered, nor has her belief that your happiness is up to you. Don't look to anyone else to give it to you.

"I was born a positive person," she said. "Almost every day, I wake up and go, 'I'm happy!' On a day when I wake up and I'm not feeling that great about things, I say to myself that I'm going to make it a happy day. I'm going to change it around. You have to make it happen."

Then she gave this really funny example that's filled with the whimsy she's known for: "If you love wearing a bikini all the time and that's what makes you happy, you need to figure out where you can live where you can be in a bikini all the time," she said.

Follow Betsey on Twitter @xoBetseyJohnson

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tips from Alex Hitz, a famous Southerner with a French flair

I learned so many great entertaining tips from the handsome and charming Alex Hitz when he signed copies of his book “My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist” Oct. 30 at Allison Sprock Fine Art.

(The photo above of Alex was taken at the event by photographer Daniel Coston)

A native of Atlanta, Hitz now divides his time between New York and Los Angeles. His hosting abilities, as he explains in the book, were evident when he planned his second birthday party menu including the decor of coordinated bibs, napkins and tablecloths. The caption on the book's accompanying photo explains that the Chagall watercolor in the background, which matched his party color palette, was a gift to his mother from Alice B. Toklas.

His stepfather was the Grammy Award-winning symphonic and choral conductor Robert Shaw. Along with Hitz’s mother, Shaw helped shape Hitz’s passion for beauty and quality. Shaw’s quote to his stepson was, “If you expose people to the good stuff long enough, some of it just might rub off on them.”

The day before his Charlotte book signing, Hitz spoke to more than 500 women at an event in Richmond, Va., then drove here. When he arrived, Allison took him to dinner at Dressler's at the Metropolitan and he's now a fan of the locally owned restaurant.

Because of her incredible connections in the art world, Allison is able to bring a really interesting mix of celebrities to her gallery. I encourage you to keep up with her web site so you won't miss out on anything (www.allisonsprockfineart.com)

"We came in late that night, but the staff was lovely to us and I was so impressed with my meal," he said.

He thinks the major entertaining mistake is to not enjoy it. "Entertaining is about making a gesture and showing that you care," he said. "Don't invite people and have it be a burden."

He hopes manners will never go out of style because manners are based on kindness and consideration; and etiquette is based on manners.

His one modern pet peeve? "Put down your cell phone forever if you're socializing with other people!"

A life well lived is one of his goals. "That means having a passion and appreciation for beauty and quality," he said. "Celebrate every single day because you never know what's going to happen. You only have today, so make it count."

When he entertains at home, depending on the occasion, he'll have a buffet for 150, or a dinner for 8. "Unless it's a super special day, I don't invite too many guests."

Although his party menu changes, his famous friend and florist, David Jones, always did the arrangements. The only time Alex's brilliant smile dimmed during our conversation was at the mention of Jones, who recently died. "The New York Times did a wonderful obituary. I encourage you to read it," he said.

Here's the link to the obit: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/11/business/david-jones-florist-to-hollywood-dies-at-78.html?_r=0

The French flair in his entertaining skills comes from his mother's love of the country. She attended school in Paris and  she was deeply influenced by Post WWII France, which Hitz describes as the height of elegance, sophistication and taste. In the 1970s, his mother bought a house in France. "Anytime we had more than three days off from school, my mother would pack us up and we would go there," he said.

"The food was better then. Now it's not. It's become more American," he laments.

If you're already thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, he gives you permission to not stress over the holiday.

"Thanksgiving does not have to be oppressive anymore. You can buy so many wonderful things. It's not hard to roast a turkey but if it intimidates you, there are wonderful ones you can buy."

He says the same goes for anything else on your menu, but that you need to have at least one homemade item whether it's a soup or a dessert. "Always have a standout on your menu. For me it's my Butternut Squash Soup or my Pecan Shortbread Cookies." The recipes are in his book.

Frank from Park Road Books was at the event. He had Alex sign a stack of extra copies, so if you buy the book there, you might luck up with a signed copy (www.parkroadbooks.com)

In the spirit of his mission to spread the gospel of good food and living well, here are Alex's Top 5 entertaining tips:

1.  Never skimp on anything. "Whether you're serving frozen pizza or caviar, make sure it's the best of whatever it is and have plenty of it."

2. Make a schedule and stick to it. "Don't wait on anyone. If you do that, you reward the people with bad manners and you punish the people with good manners."

3. Do everything ahead of time. "Don't leave anything to chance. Food tastes better when it's made the day before because the flavors have a chance to mix."

4. Never be pretentious. "Remember the old saying that the higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his (behind). Impress your guests with your simplicity and your style."

5. "If all else fails, call Dressler's!" (I told you he was charming!)

Follow Alex on Twitter @HitzAlex and on his web site, www.mybeverlyhillskitchen.com.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, October 30, 2014

November events

Nov. 1
Male models showcase the newest styles in men's swimwear and underwear during a runway show. The event is hosted by Dan Mauney, owner of Brief men's store. Proceeds benefit Time Out Youth and the Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina. 7:30-11 p.m. at Extravaganza Depot, 1610 N. Tryon St. Tickets: $35, $50 and $125 (VIP). Details: www.facebook.com/BRIEFFashionEvent

Nov. 1
The annual black tie gala at Quail Hollow Club is a chance for guests to mingle with military heroes. Along with a seated dinner there is a color guard, dancing, live and silent auctions and a salute to fallen soldiers from the Carolinas. Cocktails are served at 5:30 p.m.; dinner is served at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $350; $400 (VIP). www.patriotcharities.org

Nov. 1
Samaritan's Feet International hosts this black tie optional evening. Guests also have the option of checking their shoes at the door before enjoying food, beach music from the Ken Knox & Company band, and auctions. Proceeds go to provide shoes, education and healthcare to children around the world. Charlotte Marriott City Center, 100 W. Trade St. Tickets are $150. Details: www.samaritansfeet.org. 

Nov. 5
The Mint Museum Auxiliary's annual fall event features a talk by India Hicks, the former model who also has ties to the British Royals (Prince Charles is her second cousin and her godfather). She'll talk about her life on a small island in the Bahamas that's the inspiration behind her lifestyle brand that includes a line of bath and beauty products for Crabtree and Evelyn; her designs of bedding and fine jewelry; and her two books, "Island Life" and "Island Beauty." 9:30-11:30 a.m. at the Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St. Her books will be for sale at the event with part of the proceeds going to the Mint Museum. $125. Reservations: www.mintmuseumauxiliary.org

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A top secret menu

Tomorrow in my Scene & Heard column in print and online, you'll see fantastic photos from the Duke Mansion's "Homeland" themed Halloween party that took place last weekend at the historic mansion in Myers Park that was used as a setting when the award-winning TV series involving spies was shot in Charlotte.
What I didn't have space to go into fully was one of the reasons the annual party is so popular - the amazing menu the mansion's executive chef Harrison Booth creates each year.
In honor of this year's theme, he put together a menu where nothing is as it appears. All the passed hors d'oeuvres at the beginning of the evening resembled desserts, the main courses were salads that are usually soups and soups that are usually salads. Sandwiches were made out of main courses and the Osso Bucco was in hiding. 
Here's the complete menu description:

Butler Passed Hors d’Oeurves
Meatball Truffles
Savory Cheesecake Bites with Pepperjack, Parmesan, Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach
Slider Macaroons BBQ Beef Tenderloin Sliders with Tomato and Pickle
Guacamole Cone
Reception Menu
Waldorf Soup Warm Apple and Gruyere Soup with Grape and Celery Skewers
Caprese Soup Creamy Tomato Soup with Mozzarella and Fried Basil Flakes
She Crab Salad with Mango and Pineapple
Grilled Butternut Squash Salad Mixed Greens with Grilled Butternut Squash, Candied Pistachios and Maple Vinaigrette
Coq Au Vin Panini Red Wine & Mushroom Braised Chicken with Red Onion Spread and *Thinly* Sliced Yukon Potatoes
Vegetable Lasagna Stomboli with Grilled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Mushrooms with Salsa Verde
Osso Bucco in Hiding Veal Shank and Gorgonzola Hidden in a Wonton Ravioli With Roasted Red Pepper Puree over Risotto
Dessert Station
Dessert Pizza
Chocolate Brioche “Dough” with White Chocolate Bits, Marshmallow and Raspberry Sauce
Mini Cupcakes
Pumpkin Cupcake with Cream Cheese Icing
Lemon Cupcake with Strawberry Icing
Late Night Snacks
Sweet Potato Pancake Pigs-In-A-Blanket with Andouille Sausage
Breakfast BLTs with Bacon, Fried Green Tomatoes and Quail Egg Benedicts
Frozen Cappuccino Smoothies In a Demi Tasse Cup

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Friday, October 24, 2014

I love you, pumpkin

I heard that at a recent rustic chic wedding held outdoors by a lake, the decor included two pumpkins. One had "I" painted in white on it, and the other had "Do."

I had not heard of that cute design element before, but I think it's a fund addition to fall wedding decorations and can be tailored to your own personal style.

I found several examples online, including a few variations (pumpkins for the reception that say "Mr." and "Mrs." and a pumpkins carved with the initials of the bride and groom).

 From www.rehearsaldinnerguide.com
 From www.planningitall.com


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

What I learned from Oscar de la Renta

When legendary designer Oscar de la Renta was in town for "The Art of Style" gala fundraiser hosted by the Mint Museum Auxiliary in 2011, I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with him one-on-one earlier that day during an event at Belk in honor of his new perfume, Esprit d’Oscar. (The photo above is of Oscar de la Renta at the gala with Clay Grubb, Kathleen Jameson and Deidre Grubb.) 

It was a surreal experience to be standing there with other guests and turn around and see the legend stroll in looking fit and tan with his stepdaughter Eliza Bolen, a business savvy style maker whom I’ve admired for years. Eliza was the inspiration behind his new perfume and her husband Alex is CEO of de la Renta’s company. The stylish trio could not have been more charming.

When it was my turn to chat with "Mister" (as his staff affectionately refers to him) he filled me in on some of his thought processes that have helped keep him on top of the fashion fickle industry for decades.

When I asked him what makes a woman elegant, he told me that elegance is how you live, not just how you dress. "To be dedicated to living elegantly takes a lot of discipline," was his verdict. "It’s about understanding yourself and being very visual and dedicated to surrounding yourself with beauty."

As far as his secret to not only remaining relevant, but setting the standard for others in his field, he explained his success this way: "I’m very competitive, and I constantly challenge myself."

And although he had thoroughly enjoyed the Art of Style gala the night before that included an exhibit of vintage and current gowns of his design on loan from the private collections of Charlotte women, he told me that not looking back is key. “When I see a dress that I designed, I don’t know if I did it 20 years ago or two years ago – I’m always moving forward and thinking about the future.”

It seems the future of his company is in good, familiar hands, especially when I found out that Eliza and Alex’s young son played a part in designing a dress for his grandfather’s collection. 

De la Renta was discussing his idea of using a Monet-like print for one of his gowns when his grandson spoke up and said that he was studying Monet in school and had created a painting inspired by the artist’s work. De la Renta loved it so much, he sent it off to his fabric maker in Italy who replicated the design.
“Now he’s asking about his commission,” joked Alex.  

Here are a few more of my favorite photos by Paul Williams III from the gala. I know anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting Mister de la Renta will never forget his charm, talent and wisdom. 

Oscar de la Renta and Chandra Johnson

Committee members Laura Vinroot Poole and Sarah Pearce.

Committee members Lisa Weisiger and Pam Stowe. 

Art of Style co-chair Marianna Sheridan listens to Oscar de la Renta. Based on the relationships she formed during the planning of these events, Marianna was named Oscar de la Renta's Archivist in March 2012, a role that she continues to this day.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, October 20, 2014

A suite idea

At a recent family-friendly party I struck up a conversation with a stay-at-home mom who was there with her husband and their three children.

All of their children are under 10, so they're at a very energetic age.

When I asked her how she manages it all - kids, a husband, taking care of home and dealing with the many other demands of life, here's her secret:

"Every two months my husband and I leave the children with (a trusted) sitter and we spend one night at Embassy Suites," she said. "It's what keeps me sane."

She said they like Embassy Suites because it's nice and has a lot of extras they enjoy, but it's affordable to go there on a regular basis.

They sleep a lot, go to the Evening Reception cocktail party, and since they both love sports they like to gather with others in the bar and watch games on TV. In the morning they enjoy the made-to-order breakfast.

Rejuvenated, they return to their real life ready to take on the world again.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, October 17, 2014

Monster Mash Adoption Bash

CMPD Animal Care & Control and the Humane Society of Charlotte are partnering once again for a Hallowen-themed adoption event made possible by a grant from the ASPCA. The goal is to find 100 animals great new homes.    

The Monster Mash Adoption Bash is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 18. 

It's at two locations: 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control, 8315 Byrum Drive; and the Humane Society of Charlotte, 2700 Toomey Avenue. 

A food truck and DJ will be at both locations. 

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, October 13, 2014

Charity Wedding Gown Sale

The Brides Against Breast Cancer Charity Wedding Gown Sale and Bridal Show is 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 18 at Embassy Suites Charlotte, 4800 S. Tryon St.

Hundreds of new and gently worn designer and couture gowns from designers, manufacturers, bridal shops and individuals will be for sale. Gowns are sizes 4-18, priced from $99 to $3,900. Proceeds go to programs and services for those impacted by cancer.

If you want to be the first to shop, there's a VIP Event from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 17 ($45 for a bride plus a guest, $25 for each additional guest). It includes refreshments, entertainment and giveaways.

Admission to the Oct. 18 sale is $7; $10 at the door.  www.bridesagainstbreastcancer.org.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson 

Friday, October 3, 2014

A new signature Charlotte Symphony fundraiser

From 1972 to 2010, The Symphony Guild of Charlotte worked hard to put together the annual ASID Designer House, which became one of the most successful fundraiser of its kind in the country.

The Symphony Guild is now launching a new annual tour that will become its signature annual fundraiser, the Heart of the Home Kitchen Tour. It's from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 18; tickets are $25 ($30 at the door).

The tour of 12 indoor and outdoor kitchens at eight residences in the SouthPark, Myers Park and Eastover neighborhoods showcase current design trends. Each stop has a special event ranging from tastings from local chefs and food shops to flower arranging demonstrations and young musicians performing.

The opening reception, Prelude to the Tour, is 7-10 p.m. Oct. 17 at South End Kitchens, 1500 South Blvd. Tickets are $50. Proceeds from both the party and tour benefit the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras and youth music education.

Details: www.symphnyguildcharlotte.org.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Feast of the Hunter's Moon

Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, a fundraiser for Historic Rosedale Plantation, is at 6 p.m. Oct. 27.

The five-course meal accompanied by special wine pairings is served by candlelight under tents set up among the circa 1815 plantation home's grounds filled with ancient treasure trees and shrubs including 200-year-old English boxwoods.

Seating is limited. Tickets: $150; www.historicrosedale.org.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bling it on

Before I introduced celebrity hair colorist Rita Hazan at the Southern Women's Show a few weeks ago, I had a chance to take in a few performances by the talented dancers at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

One dancer had extra sparkle on stage and I thought she looked really glamorous.

A few days later when I was giving a presentation at the show, she happened to walk by my booth and I immediately stopped her because I realized why she shined so much on stage - she had strategically placed "bling" on her face and in her hair.

I forgot to get her name, but she told me that she buys the bling at Michael's. It's self-adhesive and comes in a variety of colors and sizes. She says to plan carefully where you want to put it first because the more you move it around, the less the adhesive sticks. Once it's on, she says the trick is to not touch it at all. Just leave it be and shine on.

With Halloween coming and the holidays, I thought this was a great tip to share if you want to add a little extra sparkle to your look.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Model doctors and lawyers

 Area doctors and lawyers will walk the runway to raise money for the nonprofit Safe Alliance and its Clyde and Ethel Dickson Domestic Violence Shelter during Fighting For Women With Fashion.

Over the past three years, the event has raised more than $80,000. This is the first year fashions for both men and women will be modeled. Funds from this year's event go to help launch a healthcare clinic at the shelter.

It’s from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Foundation for the Carolinas uptown. Tickets: $85; www.safealliance.org.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, September 22, 2014

An evening with Retro Charlotte

Maria David, the Charlotte Observer's archivist and research librarian, has always had access to the thousands of images that make up our photo archives. When they were digitized recently, she started the Retro Charlotte blog and Twitter account to share some of the most fun and interesting photos. It's such a hit, it has become one of the Observer's most-read blogs and her @ObserverArchives Twitter account quickly picked up more than 2,000 followers and the number increases daily.

Here's the link to the blog:

Three times a week, she comes up with a different theme for the photo-driven blog. Recent examples are a look back at the first Festival in the Park and the hoopla around the Monkees 1967 Charlotte concert.

Historian Tom Hanchett of the Levine Museum of the New South asked her to be part of the museum's "New South for the New Southerner" on Sept. 23 starting at 5:30 p.m.

Guests will gather for wine and a chicken dinner catered by Merts Heart & Soul restaurant. Then Maria will show photos from Charlotte in the 1970s and talk about that time in our city's history followed by a Q&A session.

Wilson from WCCB did a fantastic piece on the event that aired this morning. Here's the link:


If you're interested in attending, here's how to register:

Expect to see a lot of Observer staff there because if the newsroom was high school, Maria would be voted Most Popular.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson