Margarita Bergen, Social Butterfly
By Anamaria Bech
Click aqui para español- >Margarita Bergen, Social Butterfly
It is hard to prove there was a party if Margarita Bergen was not there. Her life and personality have turned her people-loving skills into an occupation with an exquisite title – Social Butterfly.
The title is only too apropos. Like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, the ever-colorful Margarita flits around the city attending the most lavish parties and social soirées, always with one of her signature hats gracing the crown of her head. And at every single event, her presence is known. “People tell me the party doesn’t start until I show up,” she proudly proclaims.
Margarita has met every mover and shaker in town since the 80’s. One is easily impressed by the display of pictures on her shelves: her smiling face alongside King Phillip of Spain, George Rodrigue, Pete Fountain, Celia Cruz, Tony Bennett, Sean Payton, Hillary Clinton, and Irma Thomas, to name a few. She never tires of telling the stories of her encounters with world-renowned celebrities like Andy Warhol, Rita Moreno, and Derek Hough. Every encounter has a picture, and every picture has its own story, but her most cherished one is having met artist and designer Erté.
The camera changed her life, and not just because it captured unforgettable moments with notable people from around the world. Although she is known for her impeccable style and whimsical hats, her most prized accessory is her camera. “I love taking pictures of people at the events. People are so happy to pose for my camera. They know those pictures will instantly be shared online as I check-in [to the event], so they just love it!” Those same photos are also featured in her social editing work for local magazines and her “A Toast to New Orleans” blog.
Born in the Dominican Republic to a Cuban father of Norwegian heritage (hence her decidedly European surname) and a Dominican mother, Margarita was praised from a young age for her beautiful mixed complexion. Her mother sparked Margarita’s eye for fashion and loved to dress her in the latest trends. Inspired by Coco Chanel and Jackie Kennedy, she also made sure Margarita was the center of attention with the iconic Shirley Temple look. Her love for the arts was also instilled in her at a young age. “I remember sitting on my daddy’s lap on Sundays in La Romana in the Dominican Republic and listening to the opera on the Cuban radio station.”
Margarita moved to New York City in the seventies. She worked in bilingual education and government, while regularly attending the opera, the theatre, the ballet, and the symphony. She then began meeting numerous celebrities, politicians and artists who passed through the Big Apple. “I was the token minority. There wasn’t a party I wasn’t invited to. I had to leave my jobs in education and government because my co-workers were jealous that I was the one who got the invitations.”
After breaking up with her then-boyfriend, she decided to leave New York and move down to New Orleans. She helped her brother, artist Lorenzo Bergen, open a fine art gallery in the French Quarter. They built up Bergen Galleries and worked together until she became the sole proprietor in the early 80’s. Owning the gallery was the key to fully becoming the socialite she was meant to be. “People often came to ask for art donations from the gallery for their fundraisers and they gave me tickets to the most fabulous parties in town!”
Her mother’s fashion influence lead Margarita to develop her own style and add her signature flair. Her collection of dresses, costumes, and wigs is extensive, but her collection of hats takes the cake. Over three hundred hats and fascinators make for a dazzling display that gets the spotlight at every event. In fact, each outfit begins with the selection of a hat and ends with her essential accessories: her camera and her dog, Lolita (preceded by the famous Chiquita), who is also dressed for the occasion.
As a cultural advocate, Margarita has participated in several delegations, boards and committees. During the administration of Mayor Barthelemy in New Orleans, she partook in cultural missions and traveled to 17 countries, including Mexico, Japan, and Brazil. She was also appointed to the boards of the French Market Corporation and the French Quarter Festival.
A philanthropist at heart, Margarita participates in many local fundraisers to benefit multiple causes, including cancer awareness, Catholic Charities and the arts. Margarita’s love of causes and people lead to the founding of her famous Roundtable events 14 years ago. These luncheons, held at the Bourbon Orleans, attract all the who’s who in Louisiana, giving attendees a perfect opportunity to mingle, network and make important connections. Margarita’s buoyant style makes these luncheons the events that they are, with a fabulous 3-course meal, live entertainment, and of course champagne.
Margarita shines especially bright during the city’s favorite time of year – Mardi Gras. She dedicates an entire section of her closet specifically for her Mardi Gras costumes, and has been named queen of many krewes in past years, including the Krewe of Cork and the Mystic Krewe of Shangri-LA. Even Lolita became Grand Marshall of Barkus last year. The social editor reveals she will be queen again next year, though she won’t reveal of which krewe just yet.
Margarita’s love for New Orleans drives her to attend as many events as possible, though she is a bit more selective nowadays. “I’m so lucky to know that when my name is mentioned, people immediately smile. Maybe it’s because of my bubbliness.” Her final farewell is already planned and, of course, includes a champagne-themed party. “I want people to say, ‘that lady knew how to live, shared everything she had, and above everything, she loved the arts.’” No one who has ever met the fabulous and darling Margarita Bergen could ever doubt that.