Paris, Venice, San Francisco, Patron of the Arts, Couture, and Design, the Divine Dodie Rosekrans has conquered them all
San Francisco museums and arts patron Dodie Rosekrans, a grande dame on the world stage, has spent much of her life bewitching and bewitched by an international coterie of social lions, art lovers, fashion fanatics, principessas, dukes, couturiers and their many and varied courtiers.
On opening nights at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at diamond-dazzled Paris Opera galas, masked balls in Venice, or the recent big bash to honor Yves Saint Laurent at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, there is one woman who is always the center of attention. The worldly and fascinating Dodie Rosekrans.
Dodie Rosekrans at the de Young Museum recently for the opening of the YSL retrospective (one of the most successful fashion exhibits ever). Her green fox fur jacket by YSL was lent to the exhibit. Photo by Drew Altizer.
Today, Dodie (more formally Mrs. John. N. Rosekrans Jr.), continues to attract the paparazzi as she alights at parties wearing her Jean-Paul Gaultier Firebird feathered jacket, her Galliano couture gowns, her Junya Watanabe dresses, and her edgy Rick Owens leather jackets, all ornamented with baroque pearls (walnut-sized) and Tony Duquette necklaces, all worn with as unmistakable devil-may-care air and her confident stamp of the avant-garde.
“I’ve always loved fashion, ever since my mother took me to the Paris couture in the thirties,” says Rosekrans, who divides her year, carefully following the art, social and fashion calendars, between her mansion in San Francisco (fall and Christmas), her chic jewel-like apartment in Paris, (spring), and until recently, her theatrical grand palazzo in Venice (summer) when she and gilded friends watched the Venice Regatta from her palazzo’s Grand Canal balcony).
“Top designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, Junya Watanabe, Rick Owens, Yves Saint Laurent who I adored, Kaisik Wong, Karl Lagerfeld—are all artists and I admire their creativity, originality, and avant-garde sense of style,” says Rosekrans, who was born in San Francisco and went to private girls’ schools in Pacific Heights.
“I don’t set out to be original,” she said, reclining in a gilded 18th century chaise longue in her study in San Francisco.
“Not at all. I wear what appeals to me,” she continued. “It happens that many of the fashion designers, like Galliano and Gaultier, are friends of mine and I like to celebrate their work. I appreciate and admire their creative originality and sense of style.”
Her closets and attic are filled with decades of vibrant and resplendent couture gowns, Courreges dresses, Thea Porter chiffon gowns, resplendent Halston kaftans, Givenchy chiffon evening ensembles, shimmering Galanos embroidered jackets, hand-painted Galliano gowns, fur coats, an array of handmade boots, beaded saris custom made in India, antique Chinese silk robes, Zandra Rhodes cocktail dresses, Issey Miyake jackets, along with all the feathered hats and embroidered gloves that accompany them, any of which could hold pride of place in a museum costume collection.
The ardent fashion aficionado is also a generous, life-long, arts supporter, benefiting the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Save Venice (savevenice.org), as well as the Centre Georges Pompidou and arts organizations and cultural activities around the world.
Rosekrans, whose original name, Georgette, was replaced by her family’s endearing baby name, Dodie, grew up in San Francisco in the glamorous post-earthquake ‘20s and ’30s. She enjoyed a gilded family life in Pacific Heights, just a hop and a skip from her present residence. Her father, Michael A. Naify, and his brother, originally from Lebanon, built a theater chain at a time when cinemas in California were palatial. It was later sold to United Artists.
Dodie’s Francophile mother traveled each season to the Paris couture. Her young daughter was obsessed with art, fashion, style, creativity and fine craftsmanship as a teenager and sought out galleries and artists.
Dodie, like many young California girls of that time, was sent to finishing school in Switzerland.
“They taught comportment for young ladies, how to hold a knife, and good manners, but I would not call it an education,” recalls Dodie. “In those days, girls didn’t work, so that eliminated a whole world of interesting things I would have loved to explore.”
She soon set out to correct that, studying art, visiting museums and making a point of meeting leading artists of the day.
Rosekrans has had a life-long love affair with art, and she enjoys contemporary paintings and sculpture in her historic residences in San Francisco, and in her Paris apartment. All of the carved stone fireplaces, moldings and architecture are original to the post-earthquake residence.
Rosekrans, a lifelong autodidact, would eventually become a patron of young artists and university art programs, and is an honorary trustee for the prestigious Centre Georges Pompidou Foundation in Paris, among many other posts.
Dodie on the occasion of being honored with the Gold Medal in honor of her gift of several monumental modern sculptures to the French State, in honor of her husband.
At the ceremony, the minister of culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said ‘We honor your gift and your life-long connection with France. Your husband’s grandmother, Alma de Bretteville of course so loved Paris that she recreated the Palace of the Legion of Honor, stone by stone, in San Francisco.’
Today, her collections are scattered in museums and residences in Paris, Runnymede Farm in Woodside and San Francisco. Her taste is for quality and it runs from Parmigianino to Egon Schiele. She recently caused a flutter in the art world by buying Tom Sachs’ provocative Chanel Guillotine/Breakfast Nook, a large counterweighted blade positioned above leather-upholstered swinging tools adorned with interlocking C’s. This is a woman who can admire and appreciate gritty guillotines-as-art.
For many summers, she lived and entertained in the opulence of her gilded and antique-filled 18th century Venetian palazzo, which was decorated by Tony Duquette and Hutton Wilkinson.
Several views of the 18th century Venetian palazzo
In 1960, Dodie married her second husband, the late John N. Rosekrans Jnr, the grandson of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, the legendary wife of a sugar baron. De Bretteville Spreckels, one of the great San Francisco philanthropists of the 20th century, donated the elegant California Palace of the Legion of Honor overlooking San Francisco Bay to the City.
John Rosekrans made another fortune as a business partner with his boyhood friend, John Bowes, marketing iconic sporting products including the Morey Boogie Board, Frisbee and Hula Hoop.
Rosekrans encouraged his wife to buy couture, and their photo albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s are chock-a-block with party pictures of Dodie in Paris wearing Balenciaga and Givenchy, and in San Francisco in Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, New York in diamond parures and over-the-top strings of baroque pearls, emeralds and rubies.
Dodie arriving for a ball at the Fairmont Hotel in the sixties.
Rosekrans shows her rebellious streak and fearless style by also wearing African tribal jewelry, chunky antique Tibetan coral and turquoise necklaces, along with dramatically overscale Tony Duquette necklaces, strands of baroque Tahitian pearls, or even emeralds the size of golf balls, along with Indian and Burmese rubies similar to those found in the treasure troves of the great Nawabs and Maharajahs of India. Sometimes she appears to be wearing them all at once—a thrilling sight.
“I never set out to be dramatic,” says Rosekrans. “I look through my closets and jewelry cases and wear what appeals to me that day.’
Dodie at the Legion of Honor in one of her Chinese robes. Photo by Jeanne Lawrence.
In 1979, the Rosekranses acquired one of the most beautiful residences in San Francisco. Built in 1916 by architect Willis Polk, its atrium, with ornate stonework and columns, was copied from a Spanish Renaissance palace, the Casa de Zaporta in Saragossa. The couple hired San Francisco designer Michael Taylor to design the interiors. “Michael, my husband, and I had a wonderful creative relationship, and there was no question that he loved this house,” recalls Rosekrans.
Michael Taylor included the complexity and richness of a 17th-century twelve-panel Coromandel screen, a perfect counterpoint to the elaborate pilasters and architectural details.
Michael Taylor created one of his most elegant and enduring interiors in California, with elaborate pilasters painted a soft gray, and parquet floors stained dark walnut. Taylor brought in eight bold and gutsy gilded Georgian chairs, a towering 12-panel Chinese Coromandel screen, and a pair of curvy sofas in a style favored by Gwendoline Maud Syrie Maugham, herself.
Lavish silk burlap upholstery (custom-woven), rich chartreuse cut silk velvet on the gilt chairs, and a series of majestic Chinese lacquered tables inset with mother-of-pearl, contrast with 4-foot tall Brazilian mine-cut quartz crystals, massive geodes, tall African carved birds, and chunky Chinese jade collections.
“I have not changed a thing since Michael completed it,” recalls Rosekrans, dressed in Yamamoto, now seated in the living room sipping iced tea. “He was a genius. I would not dream of altering his design. I’m very happy here.”
The decor of the living room is exactly as Michael Taylor designed it in the ’70s. Taylor selected large-scale 18th century William Kent chairs, which are upholstered in chartreuse silk-velvet.
From the terrace, an expansive view of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, as well as, at left, the dome of Bernard Maybeck’s baroque Palace of Fine Arts, 1915. The gilded chairs are Russian.
The smoking room is the purest expression of Michael Taylor’s design, with its walls arrayed in grass cloth, a stash of immense Brazilian amethyst crystals, and a pair of carved Senufo birds. The twig wall sculpture is by Charles Arnoldi, a Taylor favorite.
The 90-inch, round, travertine-topped dining table is a Taylor design. Antique chairs are from an English country house. The crystal-drop chandelier originally graced Maria Callas’ Paris apartment.
Among Rosekrans’s collections are rare second-century BC Roman glass on the dining room mantel, and Greek antiquities.
It is said that the original Spanish Renaissance palace that originally inspired this residence was damaged in the Spanish Civil War. Envoys came to San Francisco to study it and restore the palace precisely. Fantail palms were a Michael Taylor favorite.
Dodie Rosekrans’ San Francisco residence is a replica of a Renaissance palace in Saragossa, Spain. Sculptor Leo Lentelli executed the ornate, carved stonework in the atrium, depicting frolicking cherubim, Bacchus, knights and monks.
Images of Dodie Rosekrans residence in San Francisco photographed by Lisa Romerein.
Seattle-born photographer Lisa Romerein lives in Santa Monica, California, where she specializes in food, travel, architecture, interiors, gardens, portraits and lifestyle features for a client list that includes: C magazine (where these Rosekrans images first appeared), Casa del Mar, Chateau Sureau, Clarkson Potter, House Beautiful, Los Angeles, Kallista/Kohler, Martha Stewart Living, Meadowood, More, Santa Barbara Magazine, Shutters on the Beach, Sunset, Town and Country and Vanity Fair. Her photographs have appeared in numerous books, among them, the cookbook Small Bites, Big Nights, collaboration with Chef Govind Armstrong, and Santa Barbara Living, published by Rizzoli.
Lisa Romerein was the principal photographer for ‘Michael S. Smith, Elements of Style’ (co-written with Diane Dorrans Saeks), one of the most successful recent design books. It has recently gone into an eighth printing.Images of the Palazzo Brandolini, courtesy W magazine.