25-Sep, 20:50

14:00, January 18 344 0

2017-01-18 14:00:12
From the Met Ball to the Washington Mall

Where did the former Vogue operative Stephanie Winston Wolkoff stay in Washington while helping President-elect Donald J. Trump plan the inauguration?

The newly opened Trump International Hotel, naturally, where she was attended to by two assistants as well as a publicist, Zoe Weisberg Coady, who couldn’t quite decide whether she liked the place.

“Everything is branded,” Ms. Weisberg Coady said Monday afternoon while sitting in the lobby waiting for Ms. Winston Wolkoff to arrive. “Even the mouthwash!”

The hotel is one of Mr. Trump’s many new trophies. Another is Ms. Winston Wolkoff, who arrived a few minutes later carrying an $11,500 black Birkin bag and a thick black binder that said, “The Fifty Eighth Presidential Inauguration of the United States of America.”

Little about her appearance reflected the working-class voters who helped Mr. Trump win the election. Not the bag, nor her sleek ponytail, nor her outfit: black Dolce & Gabbana overcoat, black leather and fur vest, black Joseph Altuzarra pants. At least Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s black Gore-Tex boots were of the people. “I got them on Zappos,” she said.

Best known as Anna Wintour’s former right hand on the Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ms. Winston Wolkoff, 46, is a high-society swan who once described the edict for entry to that party as, “No money, no come-y.”

Now she is leveraging her relationships on behalf of a president-elect whose candidacy was anathema to the vast majority of her social set.

He was opposed by Ms. Wintour, who spent the last year bundling money for Hillary Clinton and giving her wardrobe tips. And by Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s former Met Ball colleague Raúl Àvila. “I love Stephanie, but I can’t be part of something I don’t believe in,” he wrote in an email.

And by Euan Rellie, the benefit-circuit bon vivant. “I don’t want to pass myself off as a close friend of Stephanie,” Mr. Rellie said by phone. “I’ve known her a little bit for a long time. But there is a real argument against normalizing this administration. There’s a lot of scary right-wing guys being nominated for positions. We should make our opposition to any hint of bigotry or intolerance well known.”

But the fashion industry is not known for its political resolve. Despite being heavily populated with left-leaning women and gay men, its central players are aesthetes rather than ethicists.

The line between right and wrong — even good and evil — is less debated than the one separating beauty from ugliness. Oscar de la Renta bounced between first ladies with diametrically opposing worldviews. James Galanos pledged his allegiance to Nancy Reagan despite the catastrophic neglect of AIDS by her husband’s administration.

If the business has a central underlying philosophical allegiance, it is to change. And the ability to morph with the moment is a defining characteristic of Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s life.

She was raised in the Catskills, where her mother, Barbara Batinkoff, was a homemaker, and her father, Barry Batinkoff, a photographer from a line of successful chicken farmers.

Ms. Winston Wolkoff said Mr. Batinkoff told her that her parents’ marriage was ending “at my high school graduation,” and she stopped speaking to him soon after.

She matriculated at Fordham University, in part because she wanted to be close to her mother, then transferred after two years Loyola University New Orleans. Her mother became involved with Bruce Winston, the son of the jeweler Harry Winston. After Bruce married Barbara, he adopted Stephanie.

The young Ms. Batinkoff changed her name to Winston, after which the Catskills seemed to drop out of her official biography, and she went from playing Division I basketball to being described in news reports as the granddaughter of Harry Winston, an “heiress who grew up in Scarsdale.”

Ms. Winston Wolkoff said Monday that she never intended to deceive. “I am who I am,” she said, adding that the reason she doesn’t describe Mr. Batinkoff as her father is “because I’ve seen him twice in 20 years and because Bruce adopted me.”

In 1993, Ms. Winston Wolkoff got her degree from Loyola in communications, moved back to New York and became a receptionist at Sotheby’s. Later, she spent eight months as the assistant to Ron Delsener, the concert promoter who inspired Bill Murray’s 2015 performance in the Barry Levinson movie “Rock the Kasbah.”

In 1996, around the time Ms. Winston Wolkoff met her husband, David Wolkoff, a real estate developer, she was hired at Vogue as a public relations manager.

One of her first jobs was working on the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards. Graduating to the Met gala, she brought corporate crisp efficiency to an event that had once been rather loosey-goosey.

“She was a thing,” said John Demsey, the group president at Estée Lauder, describing her “perfectly blown out” Condé Nast hair and height (she is 6-foot-1).

At Vogue, Ms. Wintour called her General Winston, and as any general might, Ms. Winston Wolkoff bristled at not receiving proper decoration.

In 2009, an article in The New York Observer seemed to suggest that the magazine’s style director, Alexandra Kotur, was the true power behind the planning of the Met gala. Mr. Wolkoff fired off a testy letter to the editor.

“For tirelessly organizing this huge event for more than a decade, and for raising millions upon millions of dollars for the Museum, I felt that Stephanie deserves the recognition for anything to do with the event, not Ms. Kotur,” he wrote.

In 2010, Ms. Winston Wolkoff resigned to “spend more time with her family,” a decision she said was inspired by burnout and fatigue. “I tried to quit five times,” she said. But her time as a stay-at-home mom to three children didn’t last long.

A few months later, when New York Fashion Week moved to Lincoln Center from Bryant Park, Ms. Wintour — whose spokeswoman said in an email that Ms. Winston Wolkoff had “worked tirelessly” for her — helped install her former charge there as its fashion director.

Ms. Winston Wolkoff also attended charity galas like New Yorkers for Children with women-about-town like Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Lauren Santo Domingo and Rachel Roy.

Another friend was Melania Trump, whose wedding to Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2005 was practically sponsored by Vogue and who attended Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s 40th birthday party in 2010.

Fashion Week at Lincoln Center was widely perceived as overly corporate and inconvenient, and shortly before the partnership dissolved in 2015, Ms. Winston Wolkoff left to focus on a consultancy working with fledgling brands. She and Ms. Trump would meet for lunch about once a month, usually at Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue or at the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side.

Never mind that in 2014, Ms. Winston Wolkoff donated $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee. “Did I?” she said Monday. “I honestly can’t remember.”

On election night last November, Ms. Winston Wolkoff and her husband were among those at Mr. Trump’s victory party at the New York Hilton Midtown. Afterward, Ms. Winston Wolkoff paid what she called a “friendly visit” to the couple’s apartment, where she was asked to assist the real estate developer Tom Barrack with the inauguration, serving as a kind of editor at large.

Some have said Ms. Winston Wolkoff is auditioning for the job as the White House social secretary, but it is more likely that she will become an adviser to the first lady on things like anti-bullying initiatives and wardrobe selection.

To accomplish the latter, designers will have to come around to the Trumps, but Mr. Demsey doesn’t think this will really be a problem.

“The New York City fashion community is having a hard time reconciling the back story of a Trump administration with two incredibly high-profile women who wear designer clothing,” he said, referring both to the future first lady and the future first daughter Ivanka Trump. “But they are glamorous people with high-profile lives.”

Managing the expectation of the new first family hasn’t been easy, particularly when acts like Jennifer Holliday pull out at the last minute to protect their careers. Early on, Ms. Winston Wolkoff reached out to Mr. Delsener, her former boss, for advice. “I said I didn’t want to do a thing,” he said. “I’m pretty down on America right now. It’s a sorry time.”

So Ms. Winston Wolkoff spent Monday examining decorations, while colleagues from the inauguration team did background briefings with the news media, attempting to convey the message that with “the biggest celebrity in the world” as president, other A-list talent was unnecessary.

Outside the hotel, she encountered Steven T. Mnuchin, a previous donor to Democratic candidates who is now Mr. Trump’s nominee to become the next secretary of the Treasury.

“Hey Stephanie,” he yelled, as his girlfriend, Louise Linton, carried a Chihuahua in a Vuitton case inside.

In the Escalade on the way to a meeting at the Mall, Ms. Winston Wolkoff texted her friend Ms. Roy, who is going to the inauguration even though her brother, Rajendra Roy, the chief curator of film at the Museum of Modern Art, is a Twitter antagonist of Mr. Trump’s.

Around 5 p.m., Ms. Winston Wolkoff made her way over to the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium to help apply the finishing touches to an opening dinner.

Crews made adjustments to the sparkly table settings. David Monn, a society event planner favored by Ms. Wintour and the Obamas, waxed rhapsodic about the 26-foot-tall cypress topiaries.

“Oh my God, they look a-ma-zing,” he said. “Ta-da!”

Mr. Monn had friends opposed to him taking the gig, but he described his job as “making things pretty,” not political. “Our team here is probably more to the liberal side than the conservative one,” he said. “But I care about beauty. And I care about our country. I care about things always being right. ”

Ms. Winston Wolkoff, ambling over after admiring the “gorgeous” gilt-edged menus, said: “That’s the truth. This is not about partisan politics. It’s about being able to celebrate the history of America.”

Time to go. “Are we good?” she asked Mr. Monn. He nodded, and Ms. Winston Wolkoff shuffled into her S.U.V.

On the way back to the hotel, she showed a photograph of the Washington Monument on her iPhone. “Look at that,” she said. “ That’s amazing. How beautiful is that? I just wish everyone could enjoy it.”