LA’s society reigning queen of many decades, Betsy Bloomingdale, died Tuesday afternoon at 93. Her death marks the end of an era of refined entertainment and couture dressing. For Bloomingdale, and her tightly knit group of impeccably dressed rich and influential friends, hospitality and high fashion was a way a life.
Being part of a group that shared wealth, conservative politics and affection for designer fashion, Betsy Bloomingdale nevertheless always stood out. She was known for her close friendship with the First Lady Nancy Reagan, and her exceptional hosting talents. Royalty, dignitaries, and the super-rich dined at Betsy’s estate, and remarked on her jovialness, style and hospitality. Her dinner parties were very personal and fun, unlike many other formal occasions. Dennis Basso was quoted to have remarked on Wednesday: “Over the years, I met her from time to time and she was always the perfect lady – old–school, from an era gone by.”
In the book “Entertaining with Betsy Bloomingdale: A Collection of Culinary Tips and Treasures from the World’s Best Hosts and Hostesses” Bloomingdale used photographs of place settings created for many of her own parties. She collaborated with Catherine Whitney, who helped write the book, and utilized the meticulously kept details about her events, such as menus and attendees. The book is a glimpse into exclusive upper class entertainment. In 1994, a famous American columnist Aileen Mehle wrote in her column: “Every time somebody famous hits Beverly Hills, you can find him or her at Betsy’s table — sure of fabulous food and a good time.”
These good times were marked not only by the excellent food, but by the superb gowns worn throughout. In November 2007, in her interview with WWD, Betsy noted that her husband Alfred played a big part in her choosing to wear couture clothes. When he was meeting with the executives of Dior and Balmain to discuss introduction of credit cards in the European market (Alfred Bloomingdale founded the early credit card company Dine and Sign, which he sold to Diner’s Club in 1951, where he later served as an Executive), they requested that he and his wife must dress in the couture. So she did. As she recalled, her first dress was Balmain. Lynn Wyatt, a socialite and a close friend of Betsy Bloomingdale, was quoted in the same article “He was very proud of Betsy when she would come out just looking wonderfully dazzling”. Lynn recalled that Alfred often accompanied Betsy to couture ateliers to help select her gowns.
In 2009 an exhibition of Betsy Bloomingdale’s clothes was organized at the Los Angeles’ Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Curator Kevin Jones worked with Betsy, who was a founding donor of the museum, on the selection and presentation of the garments. He spoke with her at length about what haute couture meant to her life and life style, and he was quoted saying “she explained all of the mystery of the haute couture that has faded away. Now haute couture is used for media and that’s great. But very few people lived the haute couture and she was one of them. For her, it was just a part of her life.” Jones also added: “When she was finished with it, she just walked away because the couture changed. It is now geared for media, selling perfumes, bags and all those wonderful things, but it was no longer a way of life, so she moved on. She was always so modern that way.”
Betsy was born Betty Lee Newling August 2, 1922 in the family of Dr. Russell Lee Newling and his wife, former Vera Browner. The daughter of a Beverly Hills doctor, she was part of LA upper classes from birth, and made a great match with Alfred Bloomingdale, an heir to the Bloomingdale’s department store fortune. They had three children – Geoffrey, Lisa and Robert, and maintained high profile society presence in California, New York, Washington and the South of France.
Betsy’s close friend Lynn Wyatt, a famous Houston Socialite and herself an heir to Sakowitz fortune, mentioned Wednesday that they last met at the funeral of Nancy Reagan in March. Her words describing the dear friend were “always so jovial and so hospitable”.
What can be a better epitaph?