JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

Inequality: The Report & The Closet

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Oscar de la Renta flower dress                                   Credit:

We know –because Bernie Sanders talks about it all the time — that the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is turning into a “yuuge”, yawning chasm. We know that Bernie doesn’t like it , and he talks about mercilessly taxing the “haves.”  CNN Money recently estimated that if he had his way, the rich would be taxed up to the eyebrows at a total 63% tax rate (two-thirds of their pay in taxes) — and that’s just talking about federal, not state, tax.

It is what’s called equalizing outcomes, or redistribution, or socialism or progressivism, or simply taking away more and more from those who appear to have too much, and using it purportedly to help those who have less.


The Rich Don’t Like Inequality Either

It’s true, however, that the rich don’t really like that yawning chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” either. They know when that gap becomes too wide, bad things happen – mostly to them: (think, 1897 French revolution, 1917 Russian Revolution, and 1949 the communist takeover of China).  So, just recently a group of business leaders and captains of industry from a non-partisan, non-profit, business-led public policy organization called the Committee for Economic Development came up with their own ideas for solving the problem. They prefer the idea of  equalizing opportunity, not outcomes.

In a 74-page report, they suggested business owners and executives can improve hiring practices by, for example, not subjecting the long-term unemployed to credit checks (since the long-term unemployed “are bound to have credit issues”); they also suggested that corporations participate in providing child care for workers’ children and aiding in their early education, as well as partnering with schools in “offering job-specific training.” Yada, yada, yada.  Not bad ideas, but nothing earth-shatteringly new, or original either. Which is maybe why the report didn’t get much attention in the mainstream media.

World’s Most Fabulous Closet?

Giambattista Valli gown Credit:

Giambattista Valli gown Credit:

Instead, on the same day the report was published, the Wall Street Journal ran a little feature in its Mansion section about  the closet of a woman named Sylvia Mantella . Or rather not so much a closet, as a gallery to exhibit her haute couture gowns, — and shoes –and purses –and jewelry,  the latter housed in a retail-type glass-topped display cabinet lined with black velvet. It may look as if her outfits and gowns have been staged temporarily to hang from various pieces of furniture around her home, but apparently that’s how they are displayed all the time in the 1,000 square foot closet which was reconfigured off the master bedroom suite for a cost of $535,000 a few years ago.

Of course, I had to see more.

I discovered that her closet had been photographed extensively in  The Coveteur , an online fashion magazine.  Indeed, so fabulous is the closet that it merited a return visit by the magazine the following year. Click on any of the thumbnails for full descriptions of the items photographed to learn the name of the designer, and sometimes a little history of the garment.  For example, the fabulous red Giambattista Valli handmade gown (right) which arrived from Paris in a crate, and which, at the time of the photo shoot, Sylvia had not yet worn.

 Outré Opulence

My eyeballs hurt from just looking at the photos. Many years ago, while writing my second thriller, Delusion, I gave the rich homicide victim, who lived on Philadelphia’s Main Line, what I thought were pretty fabulous “over-sized”  closets where “the designer outfits hung by alphabetical order from Adolfo to Yves St. Laurent.” I was obviously not in touch with my inner fashonista back then — although Mrs. Mantella does not like the label “fashonista”, preferring instead to be known as a collector.

Oh, how drab and dull life would be without gems, like this, which accompanied the photo of her Chanel hula hoop purse in The Coveteur: “[W]hen I saw this bag making its way down the runway, I had visions of taking it to Saint-Tropez that summer,” said Sylvia.  “However, I realized I had seriously misjudged the size of it […] It now sits beautifully at the head of the table in our dining room.” And, of course, there is a photo in the magazine of the bag doing just that!


Chanel hula hoop purse      Credit:

To be fair,  Mrs. Mantella is a highly regarded, and very generous philanthropist, organizing fundraisers and donating to charities like Sick Kids, Doctors without Borders, and to the rescue of exotic animals which are housed and looked after at the Palm Beach property she owns with her husband.  It’s also possible that, perhaps, she does not actually own all the gowns photographed in her closet, but rather like Nicole Kidman (who was reportedly paid $2 million to wear a Christian Dior haute couture gown to the 1997 Oscars) displays them for a fee.  When all is said and done, let’s face it: It is pretty wild for one woman to actually own all the pictured apparel, never mind trying to estimate the total cost of her closet contents!

Either way, it’s probably a good thing that Sylvia is a Canadian, and that her closet is located in Toronto where Bernie can never, ever get his hands on her Giambattista Valli!


One Comment

  1. Great Article! I would love to see this closet. Thank you for providing the links for more.

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