Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Private Realm

The Glamorous, Philanthropic, Fashionable, and Inspiring World of Dodie Rosekrans

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.

Photo Credits:
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.


Thank You For Asking said...

Your posts are always so in depth, thorough and interesting! I live in San Francisco, so I am especially interested in Dodie's story. I was also transfixed by the pictures of her beautiful homes!!
Thank you for this post!

Unknown said...


What a wonderful post. I love the Rosekrans' homes that were featured in the book on Michael Taylor. I wrote a blog post on Taylor.

I also love your books and blog!!!

The-Countrypolitan said...

What a fascinating and original character Dodie is! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story about her.


Conor Fennessy said...

A wonderful article about a great San Francisco Lady!
You've done it again, Diane.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Adore, Adore, Adore. Divinity- Michael Taylor, Tony Duquette, She found the perfect designers for her-we are not all just one woman when it comes to decoration- or art- or fashion- OR we shouldn't be. I love, NO Adore this post,have always loved her looks and homes. I will be reading this over, and over & Adorever again. Gaye

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-Just returned from the opening gala for the new Impressionist collection (from the Musee d'Orsay) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I wandered, early and alone, in the galleries--Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, all my favorites. Highly recommend.

Kim: Dodie is your neighbor, so this makes it so much more fascinating for you. I adore Dodie--and she has enjoyed many wonderful places and houses and parties. She has given lavishly to the arts in Paris and in San Francisco.
I hope to see you soon.

Melissa--Yes, Michael Taylor (who I knew) is one of the greats. This house is pure Michael Taylor--pure--and it is Michael Taylor maintained superbly, and appreciated, totally.

Terri: Thank you. I agree completely. She is a rare person--kind, thoughtful, generous, and with impeccable manners.

Conor: Thank you so much. It is good to hear from you.

Patricia Gaye Tapp: You are the best blogger! I love the new header for your blog. Thank you for your touching words and enthusiasm. You are the most sensitive person, sensitive to the nuances of this story, reading along. Dodie was friends with Michael Taylor. Michael appreciated and respected Dodie--and I've always thought these are some of his most pure and precisely wonderful rooms. Note that they have not been changed (well, sofas reupholstered with the same silk burlap, and pillows redone, same upholsterer as originally. It is still pure...nothing added, nothing intruding, nothing taken away, the spirit, the soul, intact. It is so uplifting to enter the rooms.

cheers to all, DIANE

rubyhanoi said...

One of my favorite interiors! Michael Taylor's best work in my opinion ..

Charlotta Ward said...

What an amazing woman! What an amazing post!
I love how you have portrayed her - such an intimate and loving portrait.

All her eccentricities are fantastic and her impeccable style is her trademark. From fashion, to art, to design and architecture she is truly an icon whose name will be praised forever.

Thank you for this. I will keep this in my treasure trove.

x Charlotta

TSL said...

Unlike perhaps many of your readers, it is most difficult for me to wrap my head around how wonderful this story is, and the life Dodie lived. I feel like the street urchin who got a peek into the palace.

Dodie's Audry Hepburn looks and genteel and giving spirit are what sang most to my heart.

The Shiny Pebble said...

It is absolutely thrilling to stumble into a blog where the author has done a wonderful job at presenting fresh new material, and the indepth info behind her subject. Fantastic job!

Splenderosa said...

Diane, I read every single word and still wanted more. This is so beautifully presented one can feel admiration for this dynamic woman and art patron. I did not know of Mrs. Rosecrans so now I will look forward to learning more about her. Thank you for taking the time to share with us. xx's Marsha

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Ruby, Charlotta, Tina, and Catherine-

Thank you so much for your wonderful, enthusiastic and emotive comments.
I am thrilled that you 'tuned in' to Dodie, and found her as fascinating as I do.
She is so admired in Paris. When I have seen her in restaurants or at the Prix de Diane, the chic horse racing festival in Chantilly, she has a coterie of friends, and at art museums and antique shows in San Francisco, she is always surrounded by young people. That is perhaps the greatest compliment.
stay in touch. cheers, DIANE
Tina--no, no, you are not a street urchin gazing in (though that is not so bad)...you are a wonderful person who came by, ad Dodie invited you into her house for lunch, or dinner. She is gregarious and appreciative of a wide range of talent and people.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you so much for your generous and kind comment. Now you see why I adore Texans so much. They are the sunniest and kindest and wittiest and most generous people (especially the women...).
I've know Dodie for ages--she is beloved in San Francisco, but so modest and so nice--and she is equally known and loved in Venice, where she had her palazzo for many years, and in Paris, where she has a divine apartment near the Assemblee, Place du Palais-Bourbon. Best location.
One key to her mind: look at the Picasso painting over the mantel. It's a late Picasso, very edgy and fearless. Her art is good--but there is not a lot of it. She is a rare person, a woman of style.
cheers, DIANE

katiedid said...

Thank you so much for yet another wonderful and fascinating look into the lives of San Francisco "royalty"! Dodie Rosekrans has been someone I have wanted to learn more about ever since I started reading your blog. Her life reads like a brilliant epoc novel, and I credit your beautiful writing for making it such a "page turner"!

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!


Beadboard UpCountry said...

I, being a lover of San Francisco, was familiar with Dodie Rosekranz, but did not know details you so artfully presented with this post....What an interesting woman! It seems over her life she embraced many styles in design and fashion....Great read...Maryanne:)

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Katie-
So great to hear from you. Yes, Dodie is royalty in San Francisco, in a sense. She has had a privileged life--and a life of generosity towards creative people. She is always at every opening at SFMOMA and the Legion and de Young, and the antique show. I love her support--early and generous and seemingly risky--of John Galliano, when he needed money to present a collection. It was a triumph, and the rest is history. She always supported and identified emerging talent.
Dear Maryanne-
Thank you for your kind comments. Everyone loves San Francisco, it seems, and it does have a legendary aura of mystery and glamour and ...'age of Aquarius lingers'...and more private lives hidden from the harsh gaze of New York, for example.
Dodie is a discreet woman--but museums here and in Paris can thank her for great munificence.
Next up on THE STYLE SALONISTE: the drama of distant landscapes--when I explore Amangiri in remote Utah. Rock-climbing!
cheers, DIANE

Square with Flair said...

Living in Canada, I didn't know much about Dodie Rosenkrans, although I was aware of her from museum couture catalogs.

Thank you for this wonderful and enlightening post. It was a pleasure to read and learn more about her.

jeffrey doney said...

How fortunate we are to have this eloquently written article to go back and remember one of the true iconic trailblazers in art collecting and recognizing true talent. How fortunate San Francisco is to have had such an amazing woman,
Jeffrey Doney

Dodie is Missed said...

What a lovely tribute to a lovely lady! Dodie Rosekrans' indomitable constitution began to fail a couple of years ago, resulting in her recent passing and the sense of a light extinguished. Although I didn't know her, I have loved her for years and read that Sothebys in New York is handling the disposition of her material estate. Some of the paintings in the photos have already sold and the jewelry auction comes up later this year, possibly coinciding with Elizabeth Taylor's jewels at Christies. As a supporter of the arts, Dodie was unparalleled. Her generosity and, even moreso, her curiosity has made icons out of struggling artists. I heard that her Venice apartment was passed on to the man who helped design it, for example. I believe it. May she forever rest in peace ... although I'm sure she's busy investigating all aspects of her new surroundings.

Alyia said...

Excited to know that she wore pearls for jewelry!

Freshwaters Pearls