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On a bright summer Saturday, a smartly dressed posse of fashion folk gathered in a flower-strewn backyard to celebrate the birthdays of publicist Lorenzo Martone and Brazilian model Jeisa Chiminazzo. André Leon Talley swept through the garden gates to greet guests like Marc Jacobs, Shala Monroque, Ana Beatriz Barros and Ruffian designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais, who were all gussied up as instructed for the “Downton Abbey”-themed fete. Inside the low, shingled house, actress Isabella Rossellini held court at the kitchen table.
The scene was an unlikely sight in Bellport, a sleepy Long Island village that’s just 65 miles from Manhattan but temperamentally more akin to Mayberry than Gotham. The Hamptons it’s not, as many thankful residents will tell you. Ironically, though, it’s that idyllic, under-the-radar quality that’s drawn a certain circle of New York’s glamour industries — fashion, media, design and art — to the pint-sized coastal town.
Charlie Rose, S.I. and Victoria Newhouse, Gov. William Weld, artist Malcom Morley, publicist Nadine Johnson, Lucy and James Danziger, Alexandra Lebenthal, Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, art dealer Angela Westwater and Rossellini are just a few of the bold-faced stalwarts of Bellport and neighboring Brookhaven hamlet. Newer to the area are denizens like Vanity Fair’s Christopher Tennant, Nicolas Mirzayantz and Princess Alexandra of Greece, Celerie Kemble and Martone, who’s rented a house for the past year with housemates Elettra Wiedemann — daughter of Rossellini — and model Anja Rubik.
“The conventional wisdom of fashion and publishing is that we need to be in the center of the action. But whatever industry you’re in and there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a desire to slow down sometimes,” says Ariel Foxman, managing editor of InStyle, who owns a home in Brookhaven that previously belonged to Costa and his partner John DeStefano, who races thoroughbreds.
Foxman was introduced to the town by T Magazine’s Bruce Pask, a longtime Bellport resident, and first rented a small cottage on Rossellini’s property.
“Needless to say, when you come to a community and Isabella Rossellini is your landlady, it’s quite fantastical,” says Foxman. “She would invite us to use her indoor pool and her ping-pong table and tell us where to buy meat.”
Rossellini herself was turned on to the area more than two decades ago by photographer Bruce Weber. Many credit Weber, who bought a house in Brookhaven in the Seventies, with making the town fashionable among the style set. Other former residents ticked off by Mark Petheram, the town’s go-to real estate broker, included Shirley Lord and the late Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times; photographer Steven Meisel, who used to bring Madonna to town in the Eighties, and Vogue’s Anna Wintour, who lived right next door to Weber but has since departed for a grander waterfront estate in neighboring Mastic Beach.
Jackie Kennedy spent a summer in Bellport, which is edged by the glistening Bellport Bay, in her younger days; actress Jennifer Connelly grew up with her family in town, and Mick and Annabelle Dexter-Jones brought the precocious Ronson children there in their teens. (“I could hear their music sometimes,” remembers David Meitus, Westwater’s husband.)
“You can take the train here and it’s very accessible. It’s a little community and it’s very beautiful and very small and we all know each other,” says Rossellini, who keeps pigs and chickens on her lush property. “Some of us, including me, live here year-round. For acting, I go to New York or fly to Paris. But I don’t like to live in New York. It’s too noisy.”
Rossellini raised Wiedemann, who has followed in her mother’s famous footsteps as a model, in large part in Bellport.
“I have many great memories out there, including learning to ride my bike and driving it straight into our pool and sinking to the bottom,” Wiedemann recalls. “And also having to chase our pet pig, Spanky, off the golf course when he escaped from our garden.”
Weber’s many photo shoots in Bellport were the subject of a retrospective at the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society this summer, which drew guests like interior designers Jay Johnson and Tom Cashin. Weber shot for Vogue, GQ, Interview, British Vogue, Vogue Hommes International in the town, as well as advertising campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch and Agnes B. He often boarded models in his house for shoots.
“I always loved how the light just bounced off the bay,” said Weber in an interview with the historical society. “The town also had a nice feeling of being tucked away from the world. It was a small community then as it still is today. Everyone knew each other, so you could knock on any door and just invite a neighbor over to be part of a photography sitting.”
Weber’s barn-style home — and the gazebos and tree houses he built, which sometimes show up in his photos — is now owned by Michel Botbol, senior vice president of women’s collection at Ralph Lauren, and his partner, Arthur Krystofiak. The couple renovated much of the house but kept an adjacent building used as Weber’s photo studio intact.
“The house hadn’t been occupied for some time and it hadn’t been cared for, but I thought it was magical,” says Botbol. “I had done a shoot there when I worked at W magazine.”