"OH, YOU MUST COME. You simply must come," Becca Cason Thrash exclaimed. I had called her to see if I could get myself invited to the party she was throwing in April to benefit Houston's Stages Repertory Theatre. "We're calling the night 'A Celebration of American Fashion,'" she said, her voice as creamy as vichyssoise. "Anna Wintour [the editor in chief of Vogue] will be here, and some of the great American fashion designers are coming—Diane von Furstenberg, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, and Carmen Marc Valvo."
"And I assume it's black-tie?" I asked.
"High black-tie, my dear. This party is going to be flawless, absolutely flawless, and I expect everyone to look their best. I've told my girlfriends, 'You have to wear something by an American designer, and you have to look divine.'"
For five years I had been seeing the name Becca Cason Thrash in boldface almost every time I glanced at the society columns in the Houston Chronicle . I read about her extravagant parties in Women's Wear Daily , Town and Country , Talk magazine, and Liz Smith's gossip column. I read stories that called her "the high priestess of posh." I read that Houstonians had nicknamed her TriBecca because she changed her outfit three times at every party she threw. I read about her wildly avant-garde, 20,000-square-foot mansion—a house originally designed by Preston Bolton that her husband, John Thrash, the chief executive of the Houston energy company eCorp, had remodeled, tripling its size.
It occurred to me that no Texas socialite had attracted this kind of attention since the seventies, when Houston department-store heiress Lynn Wyatt became the toast of society columnists everywhere for the parties she threw in Europe for the jet set. Indeed, when Becca and a planeload of her Texas friends headed to Paris in March to celebrate her fiftieth birthday, a weekend that culminated in a candlelit dinner at the historic Château de Chantilly, outside the city, W magazine devoted two pages to her, pondering the burning question: Is Becca Cason Thrash on her way to becoming "the next social superstar"? And this summer even the august New York Times, in a Sunday-magazine story on Texas society, pronounced Becca the next Lynn Wyatt.
How, I wanted to know, had this happened? Becca was not born or raised in Houston. She is, in fact, a native of the humble border city of Harlingen, where her father, Slim Jim Cason, worked as a sportscaster for a television station—hardly blue-blood credentials. She feels no need to emulate, say, Brooke Astor, speaking in refined tones about her love of philanthropy and fine china. She is, in other words, not your average wealthy American socialite. To give you an idea of just how different she is, let me tell you about the lunch I had with her in April, shortly before her party. We were at the Crescent Court Hotel, in Dallas, where she and her husband were staying. They had been to a dinner the night before, and as she walked into the hotel's restaurant, wearing a black Helmut Lang T-shirt, a light blue Chloe jacket designed by Stella McCartney, a black leather Gianfranco Ferré skirt, and Sergio Rossi sandals, she announced, "My God, I drank so much wine last night I feel like I've just come out of anesthesia." She threw back her head and roared with laughter. Then, after the waiter recited a litany of pricey specials, she told him that she wanted a hamburger and Fritos.
"We have no Fritos," he said.
Becca raised her eyebrows and gave him a coquettish glance with her navy blue eyes. She looks at least a decade younger than her fifty years, and she can easily outflirt women half her age. "Would it be too difficult for you to run over to the convenience store in the next building and get a package for me?" she asked. The waiter seemed mesmerized. "Actually, it would be no problem at all," he said.
Just then Becca's cell phone rang. It was an old friend calling. "How are you and why didn't you come to Paris for my fiftieth-birthday party?" Becca demanded. "Do you realize what this might do to our friendship? Okay, love you and can't wait to see you." She hung up and the phone rang again. This caller represented a New York jewelry designer who wanted Becca to wear some baubles to an upcoming gala to benefit Houston's new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. "What kind of jewelry?" Becca asked. "Oh, they sound fabulous—send them down. I have the perfect dress."
Lunch arrived, and between bites of Fritos, Becca discussed, in the following order, the house her husband had built ("his art project run amok"), a friend of hers who is in her fifties and still does not need a face-lift ("She is a freak, an absolute freak, of nature!"), her idea of a rigorous vacation in Aspen ("a hike from my hotel room to Mezzaluna for lunch"), another woman she knows on the social circuit ("She is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I really do love her"), an upcoming dinner invitation ("I'd rather jump off the Transco Tower than go to that dinner"), and the Thrashes' membership in the exclusive Prince of Wales Foundation, which raises money for English architectural restoration ("The American members are people like the Basses, the Rockefellers, the Forbeses, and the Trumps. And then there's us. Do you love it?"). Becca then described in detail the dresses she would be wearing to a series of lunches and dinners Prince Charles was throwing for foundation members later in the summer. "I just happened to be rifling through a friend's attic and saw this mustard-yellow Bill Blass gown, a dozen years old, and I said, 'This would be perfect for Buckingham Palace!' Listen, I'm dying for some more Fritos."
"Eat some of my french fries," I said. Without a moment's hesitation, Becca speared a forkful of fries and