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07.14.10

Chelsea Clinton's Secret Wedding Plans

Dubbed “The Wedding of the Century,” the Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky nuptials this month are shrouded in secrecy. Lynnley Browning lifts the veil on the mansion, the party, the guests, and the gift bags.

If Chelsea Clinton gets a migraine during the final fitting for her custom Oscar de la Renta wedding gown, she’ll have a stylish new place to rest her cerebral head.

Clinton recently bought two cream, lavender, and taupe sofa pillows at Hammertown, a tony home-furnishings store in Rhinebeck, New York, the quaint village on the Hudson River where she is marrying private-banker boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky this month.

Rhonda Cayea, manager of Hammertown, described the $178 pillows as “understated”—an adjective that doesn’t apply to much in Rhinebeck.

Click Image to View Our Gallery of Chelsea Clinton Through the Years

Take Astor Courts, where Clinton and Mezvinsky will tie the knot July 31. The turn-of-the-century 26,000-square-foot mansion, built to resemble the Grand Trianon at Versailles, has five bedrooms, seven fireplaces, indoor clay tennis courts, and an indoor Mediterranean-style pool. A few months ago, the photographer Annie Leibovitz, who lives in the grand dairy barn on the estate, gave David Bowie and his wife Iman a tour of her multimillion-dollar digs as they were house-hunting. The $12 million mansion has since been taken temporarily off the market—until the wedding drama is over.

The Beaux Arts mansion, built by Gilded Age tycoon John Jacob Astor IV, sits high on a bluff, surrounded by 3,500 bucolic acres and dense forest that, these days, are crawling with Secret Service agents—all in Defcon 1-style security mode for the closest thing America gets to a royal wedding.

“Get out of here,” a tall, blond, and very fit Secret Service agent wearing shorts and an azure “Cape Cod” T-shirt laughingly told an intruder, who had taken the half-mile walk up the gravel toward Astor Court’s iron gate. “I have nothing to tell you,” the agent added.

View Our Full Coverage of Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding To the intruder on the gravel path, the scene in the forest evoked Errol Flynn in tights as Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men hiding among the maples and oaks. Along the borders of the estate, workmen were busy repairing crumbling stone walls.

The locals call it “The Wedding of the Century.” But it’s so private, so shrouded in secrecy, neither the local sheriff’s office nor the town police have been given any details about how to deploy, said Tom Traudt, the Rhinebeck town supervisor. “I expect we’ll get a head’s up 10 days or two weeks before the event,” he told The Daily Beast.

Secret Service agents aren’t the only ones in lockdown.

Josh Kroner, the affable owner and chef of Terrapin Restaurant, an upscale eatery in town that’s catering the rehearsal dinner, is spending the entire week out of his kitchen to deal with security, White House staffers, local farm suppliers, and the event’s quasi-celebrity planner, Bryan Rafanelli, in Boston. On his plate: how to make the dinner at Grasmere, a Revolutionary War-era private estate with a Georgian brick manor and Edwardian stone barns, all spread out over 525 acres of farmland, hayfields, and forest, feel cozy and intimate.

This week, Kroner’s longtime catering director, Hugh Piney, a chatty Brit, is busy fielding phone calls from reporters and making sure there’s enough horseradish-encrusted Ahi tuna with miso aioli—Terrapin’s signature dish—to feed Chelsea’s nearest and dearest. “We use all the local farmers,” Piney said. “We can get everything here—except fish.”

With 8,300 residents, Rhinebeck is sometimes dubbed “the Hamptons of the North.” The entire town, which grew rich—and Democratic—amid the influx of wealthy Manhattanites over the past 15 years, is straight out of The Great Gatsby—with a heavy dose of liberal consciousness thrown in. (Think Pilates, organic food, and a surprising number of Tibetans.) The nearby Rhinecliff Inn serves the “Millionaire Mojito,” and Uma Thurman, Drew Barrymore, and Sarah Jessica Parker have all been spotted in town. But don’t expect locals to snap their pictures. “One thing about this town, we like to respect people’s privacy,” says Cayea.

How do you pull off sneaking hundreds of A-listers into this sleepy hamlet on the Hudson?

Still, a little digging reveals that some guests have been booked at the Beekman Arms, a favorite dining establishment of Bill and Hillary, who live in Chappaqua, which is a 90-minute drive south. Larry Cihanek, the inn’s host and a former advertising executive, once seated the two Clintons at a table near the bathroom, while five Secret Service agents covered the kitchen and lurked outside under the eaves. “I usually put children next to the bathroom because they like to play around,” Cihanek said. He paused, with a twinkle in his eye, and added, “So does Bill.”

According to The Hudson Valley News, guests invited to the wedding include President Obama (though he's not attending), Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Clinton confidant Terry McAuliffe, and media mogul Ted Turner.

But how do you pull off sneaking hundreds of A-listers into this sleepy hamlet on the Hudson?

Patricia Garofal, a neighbor and friend of Kathy Hammer and Arthur Seelbinder, the wealthy Democrats who own and live at Astor Courts, has been eyeing the helicopters flying over River Road—the entrance to the estate—for weeks. And according to a resident insider, Countess Iliana Kerckerinck van Meeteren, who lives in a nearby estate overlooking the Hudson River, has been tapped to provide use of her private helipad to certain guests.

“The security’s going to have to be intense because of the number of ways you can access the property,” said Garofal, who signed a confidentiality agreement with Hammer, a former executive at Oxygen Media, and Hammer’s property-developer husband, Seelbinder.

Given that Amtrak runs through the Hudson River side of Astor Courts, Garofal said it was likely the wedding party would rent out entire train cars to ferry guests to and from Manhattan, two hours south of Rhinebeck.

Apparently, those who make the trek will receive—spoiler alert!—gift bags that include Rhinebeck Farmers’ Market paper calendars and orange tote bags with woodcut honeybee prints. According to a resident insider, the co-owner of The Paper Trail, a chic local emporium of paper goods, jewelry and gifts, is assembling 310 gift bags.

At $2 a piece, those totes are in fact “understated.”

Lynnley Browning is a frequent contributor to the business pages of The New York Times and is a former Moscow-based correspondent for Reuters, where she covered energy and commodities. She lives in Hamden, Connecticut, with her son.