What Was the Best Gift Audrey Hepburn Ever Gave?
Friends**Bearing Gifts might be Joseph Cicio’s first book, but he’s no novice. Cicio has held positions at Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, I. Magnin, Donna Kara, Erno Lazlo, and more, which is to say he has a very good idea about the kinds of things that people like to buy. In addition to his professional opinions on the matter, Cicio is also an experienced shopper; he’s a world traveler who makes a point of bringing home to Connecticut treasures he’s collected from all across the globe.
And while his own purchases are no doubt impressive, what Friends**Bearing Gifts($75; Pointed Leaf Press) celebrates are the things—and memories—Cicio lives with that came care of a cadre of friends including Prince Charles, Lauren Bacall, Joan River, Princess Grace of Monaco, Audrey Hepburn, and more. It’s these relationships he’s had throughout his life that Cicio stresses he values above any material item; he says, “it's the people that are so important and always have been in my life.”
Still, the gifts that the book catalogues—including beds of peonies from Nancy Kissinger, who wrote the book’s introduction, drawings from Bill Blass, a brass rooster from Slim Keith, and a velvet suit from Kenneth J. Lane—are remarkable to behold. Here, Cicio and Kissinger discuss with T&C the art of giving and receiving gifts.
You’ve got all of these treasures that you’re lucky enough to live with. How did the idea to write a book about them come about?
Joseph Cicio: It really was something I resisted for a very long time. I was very blessed, very early on, I've always been blessed by incredible women in my life, and I think the book shows that. It just seemed to happen that way, and this woman CiCiKempner, when I was just starting out in the business, was a buyer at Lord & Taylor. At some point, I decided I wanted to go to Europe, where I had never been. I booked a trip to London, Paris, and Rome through Lord & Taylor’s little travel agency—21 days, hotel, one meal a day, air back and forth to Kennedy, for $460—and ran downstairs to tell CiCi.
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She was very excited, and she said, "Well, let me teach you something, this is very important. You're going to have a great career, and you're going to travel a great deal. You must promise that you'll buy one beautiful thing everywhere you go, and then when you're as old as I am”—she was in her late 60s at the time, again I was about 22—"you’ll have a beautiful home that will be filled with beautiful things that will have wonderful memories associated with them.” She was telling that it's not the things that are important, it's the memories they represent.
You seem to have followed her advice.
JC: Later, people would always come to my house and they'd say, "I love that bowl, where did you get it?" Everything had a story, and I love to tell stories. People would very often say, "Joe, you’ve got to do a book," but I said no way. It finally happened because people kept urging me to tell the stories. Relationships are very important to me and I value them. Unfortunately, we've all lost too many of [the friends in the book], but, I've never really lost them because I never forget them.
What makes something a good gift?
Nancy Kissinger: I just go with what I know someone loves. If they love dogs, I get something that has to do with dogs. You have to give something that they're interested in, not that you find really beautiful. It has to be something that they will love.
JC: Nancy will do something that not many people do, which is [give something that] doesn't have to be associated with a specific date, it doesn't have to be a birthday or a holiday or an anniversary or something like that.
NK: When you find it, you find it.
Joseph Cicio and Nancy Kissinger
What has someone given you that really stands out?
JC: I'm always impressed when people really know you. Nancy did it recently; she knows I happen to adore white asparagus. And it wasn't a holiday, it wasn't a birthday, but Nancy arrived in the driveway one day with white asparagus. It’s wonderful when somebody hits it like that.
Once people knew you were writing about gifts, did you start getting more of them?
JC: No, because the gifts that are in the book came to me over a lifetime of relationship development. They came in the best possible way, like when Nancy picked up the phone and said, “do you love peonies?” It was done that way, it wasn't planned.
Is there a quality that makes someone a good gift buyer?
NK: I actually am not so good a shopper as Joe. But I try to decide ahead of time whether I need. And I like to go to small stores and see what's there.
On the flip side, what’s the greatest gift you’ve ever given?
JC: I can tell you it's not a thing, that's for sure. If you're my friend, I'll walk on cut glass for you. I'm a very generous person, though sometimes I regret it. Once, my sister came to the house and I had a fox throw that she admired, and I said, “Come on, Vanessa, take it if you love it.” And then I wondered, what the hell did I do that for?
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.