(Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

Henry Kissinger, style icon: The NY Times' "Four Seasons wardrobe" interviews offer a weird, candid glimpse into the minds of power lunchers

Grilling the "former diplomat" about where he bought his suit is the least-expected Styles feature ever


Mary Elizabeth Williams
January 6, 2016 1:20AM (UTC)

In what will likely be the most cranky old person thing to happen this week, a former Secretary of State, author and semi-retired war criminal showed the world why he'll never be a red carpet favorite.

It happened within yet another whipped-up New York Times piece about the Four Seasons Restaurant — the elegant midtown epicenter of Manhattan power lunching whose lease expires this July. Because New Yorkers love nothing more than sighing over a harbinger of the end of an era, writer John Ortved headed over to the Four Seasons on a recent afternoon to scope out the scene — and, for some reason, ask the well-heeled ladies and gentlemen who lunch what they're wearing. Those of us who get by on sad desk salad and the occasional falafel from the Rafiqi’s cart generally don't get these kinds of queries. (But I'm wearing five year-old Banana Republic jeans and a sale rack Uniqlo sweater, thanks.) Ortved got some varied responses.

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The managing partner of the Four Seasons Restaurant, Alex von Bidder, cheerfully shared how much thought he estimated he'd put into his shirt and tie combo. Martha Stewart, decked out in Hermes, confessed, "I never go anywhere for lunch without getting cookies for the driver." Agnes Gund admitted she was in DKNY because "I have to wear sleeves because I’m so fat." And then the frequently unreadable Leon Wieseltier popped in to mention, "I’m just lunching with my friend Dr. Kissinger. We had the white truffle risotto. Both of us. It was very good." But while Wieseltier was game to reveal the provenance of his boots, the 92 year old Kissinger, whose occupation the Times reports is "former diplomat," was not.

His reply to a "May ask where your suit is from?" was a terse, "My what?" followed by an almost equally terse, "I have no idea." And when pressed, "How was lunch?" he offered a brusque, "I think we’ve done enough." End of interview! The quotes are accompanied by a photo of Kissinger, clad in a dark suit and red tie, looking like he's considering punching somebody right in the mug. You can also spot him in the background of James Niven's photo in the same piece. The old man apparently likes a glass of vino and a pot of tea with his lunch, if you're curious. And it's the Kissinger factor that makes this easily one of the most surreal things the Times has published in a very long while.

Kissinger, whose last book, 2014's "World Order," was a recent pick for Facebook's Year of Books book club, has done a lot in his nine decades. There are the books he's written, the Daft Punk infused appearances on Colbert, his role in the Bangladesh genocide on the early seventies — a role a Times op-ed just three years ago said "vigorously supported the killers and tormentors of a generation of Bangladeshis." He is a man who can lunch with impunity in the same room with Martha Stewart, even if he still may have to avoid traveling places he could be questioned for human rights violations. That is not a man who has time, after enjoying a nice white truffle risotto, to endure any trivial questions about his attire. He has, as he himself says, done enough. And if he knows what he's wearing, he's taking that information, like a hell of a lot of other secrets, with him to the grave.

'Kissinger's Shadow' Author LIVE


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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