And her somewhat movie star style
“When I was a young child growing up in La Romana, near Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, my mother would drive me on horrible roads to buy beautiful fabric to make dresses for me just like Shirley Temple wore in the movies,” Margarita Bergen says as she swishes around Casell-Bergen Gallery, at 1305 Decatur Street, just across from the historic US Mint. No doubt about it, Margarita was the best dressed little girl in La Romana, and today she is still attracting glances for her somewhat “movie star” style.
“Everything has to match,” she quickly explains as she gives an inventory of 300-plus hats (from wide brims to tiny fascinators), five jammed closets of dresses and suits, and her passing collection of shoes. “I don’t have a love affair with my shoes; it’s more like a quick encounter since I am known as a shoe killer for my notorious one-time experience with many pairs.” Then she smiles and adds, “Fortunately, my wonderful friend, Sammy Steel III, a philanthropist, hairdresser and bon vivant, loves to keep me in clothes and shoes, and I am delighted to be the recipient of her generosity. His favorite place to make purchases is the Red, White and Blue Thrift Shop on the West Bank.”
The owner of a condo in an historic Marigny mansion, Margarita admits it is more of a warehouse for her wardrobe, than a simple place to live. “Well, darling,” she continuous in earnest. “I love clothes and I love to look great since I only have one life to live. After all I am a Taurus and love to surrender myself to beautiful things.”
Fortunately, Margarita is never at a loss for yet another social event to attend. “For 18 years I have been a social columnist chronicling the best parties in New Orleans, and further afield when the invitation calls,” referring to her recent trip to Thibodaux to attend a party in a huge mansion owned by a successful heart doctor. “My regular schedule is to attend six to nine parties a week, selecting the best ones for coverage in my social column in New Orleans Living Magazine.”
When queried about the largest number of parties she ever attended in one night, she smiles as she says: “My all time record was 14 parties in one night, but then be sure to add, ‘I was being chauffeured around in a limo.’”
You would be mistaken if you thought Margarita was a social butterfly who parties every night and sleeps during the day. She has her hands full operating her art gallery, when she is famous for finding whatever a prospective buyer is looking for.
Margarita moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic when she was a teenager. “I earned a BA degree and two MA degrees in bilingual education and school administration from the City College of New York, and was an associate with the Bilingual Bureau for the Education Department of New York State before I came to New Orleans in 1978,” she says. “I immediately fell in love with the city and never left.” For more than 25 years she owned the Bergen Gallery on Royal Street. “It was an amazing gallery with an unmatched inventory of art, especially local festival posters, which I helped to make popular.”
One of the most unique aspects of Margarita’s life has been as the organizer of the New Orleans Round Table, loosely modeled after famous writer Dorothy Parker’s round table at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. In her true style, she staged the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Round Table at Antoine’s Restaurant last week, where 97 of her nearest and dearest friends showed up to raise a glass of champagne and cheer her on. And there she was – bigger than life wearing a purple suit and hat and flip flops. (“Sorry, my friends, for the shoes; my feet hurt,” she offers over the microphone.) She even treated everybody to a glass of champagne. “I just wanted to do something nice for my friends,” she adds with a smile.
Margarita has come a long way since traveling the horrible road from La Romana to Santo Domingo so her mother could buy the beautifully fabric to dress her up like Hollywood’s darling child star Shirley Temple, yet today she wouldn’t object if you told her she was a bit of Mae West, with a large measure of Rosaline Russell, straight out of the movie “Auntie Mame,” thrown in, and she would probably say, “Thank you, darling. I’m just a social butterfly bringing joy to a lot of people.”