“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 Chteau 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 moved them over to her plate.

“There’s just no one else I know in society like Becca,” said Houston Chronicle society columnist Shelby Hodge when I called a few days later to tell her about my lunch with Becca. “And you’ve got to watch her in action at one of her parties. No one in this town throws a party like she does. The scale of the decor, the orchestrating of the guest list, the combination of old Houstonians and the new fast-money crowd, the elegant gay men and the Europeans and out-of-town celebrities—it’s what I call ‘the Becca factor.’ When you hear she’s throwing a party, you know you have got to be there just to see what’s going to happen.”

And so I headed to Houston. “You’re not going to be disappointed,” Becca had told me. “I think you are going to see what a real Houston party is all about.”

THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE, of course, who simply do not get the social scene. They see its parties and galas as little more than exercises in wretched excess and cannot fathom why it is necessary to dress up in outrageously expensive clothes and spend buckets of money on glamorous soirees just to benefit one charity or another. Becca Thrash is not one of those people. She was already fantasizing about the high life when she was a little girl in Harlingen. “In the way that boys grow up dreaming about becoming All-Pro football players, I dreamed about fashion and culture and fascinating conversation,” she says. “I dreamed about living in a beautiful home filled with beautiful art and beautiful people and beautiful parties. Even back then, I wanted to be a hostess—and I didn’t even know what the word was.”

Becca’s mother, Betty, had been the football sweetheart of Harlingen High School in 1949. At a pro-am golf tournament in Harlingen the following year, she met Slim Jim Cason, then a handsome running back for the San Francisco 49ers (he later played for the Los Angeles Rams). After Slim Jim’s retirement from football, the Casons moved to Harlingen, where he sold insurance by day and read the sports news at night on channel KGBT. Although Slim Jim’s buddy Y. A. Tittle, the legendary NFL quarterback, was “like a godfather” to Becca, she never had the slightest interest in football or any other sport, for that matter. She was utterly absorbed by the idea of glamour. When she was just thirteen years old, she slipped her father’s press pass out of his wallet, taped her name over his, took a flight to Houston by herself, and then used the pass to get into a Beatles press conference, where, she says, she batted her eyes at Paul. At Harlingen High she was renowned for having been, briefly, the girlfriend of a top Mexican bullfighter. She told her friends that she wanted to be an internationally famous fashion designer—she was one of the few girls in town who read Vogue—and she designed all of her own clothes, which were made by a seamstress who lived across the border.

After graduating from high school, in 1970, she spent two years studying at the Fashion Institute of America, in Atlanta. Then, wanting to experience the cosmopolitan life of Europe, she moved to London, where she dated rock stars and went to fashion shows. In 1973 she came to Houston, where she worked in the Yves Saint Laurent boutique at Sakowitz, went to all the best nightclubs, and lived at the Chateaux Dijon, the hot singles apartment complex (where George W. Bush also lived during his single days). “She was this very stylish young woman with this long hair that she used to flip from side to side,” recalls Adriana Longoria, one of Becca’s first Houston friends. “She’d sweep dramatically into restaurants; when she walked in she definitely stopped traffic. Everyone would look at her and say, ‘Who is that?'”

Becca dated a few of the local trust-fund boys, getting her first taste of Houston society, but in the late seventies she moved to Mexico City to work as the fashion and beauty editor of Mexican Vogue. She envisioned herself becoming the next Diana Vreeland, Vogue‘s editor during the sixties, who was famous for her wit and her flamboyant affectations. After two years, however, she quit in a huff when her boss told her that she was too demanding. She returned to Houston and started a public relations business, representing trendy restaurants, nightclubs, and retailers that catered to Houston’s society crowd. She developed a reputation for staging spectacular parties and fashion shows for her clients. “Even back then, she had these ideas of what would make the perfect party,” says Frenchy Falik, a longtime Houston society columnist who was then writing for the now-defunct Houston Post. “Every decoration had to be just right, the candlelight had to be just right, the models had to be dressed a certain way—and if she got there and it wasn’t right, woe to the people who screwed up. She had a vision, and whatever it took, she was going to get it!”

“What really made the parties so interesting was that Becca got together all these various elements of Houston life that you had never seen at one party before,” says Mickey Rosmarin, a Houston retailer who hired Becca to promote his women’s clothing store, Tootsies. “There were people who normally went to country clubs mingling with the young, hip crowd who went to nightclubs and with Saudi Arabians Becca had met who were over here doing oil deals. And she was always inviting all the female fashionistas she could find.”

The only party that didn’t go off well was a luncheon and fashion show Becca put together for the opening of the Wortham Theater Center in 1987. Walking across the theater’s dimly lit stage before the show, she lost her footing and fell seventeen feet into the orchestra pit. “The moment I realized I was falling, I put my feet together and tried to land on the balls of my feet so I wouldn’t ruin my new Charles Jourdan alligator pumps,” she says. Eighteen bones in her feet were broken, but her shoes were indeed unharmed. The doctors also told her that the tight Jean-Claude Jitrois leather skirt she was wearing had kept her legs from flailing out, thus preventing a serious back injury. The moral of the story, according to Becca? “Being a fashion victim can save your life.”

There were some Houston women, especially those from families who thought of themselves as “old money,” who found Becca more than a little overbearing, but men were completely fascinated by her freewheeling, gregarious personality. “I remember seeing Becca in Paris for the fashion shows in the mid-eighties,” says David Feld, a Dallas-based journalist who has spent 25 years writing lifestyle and society articles for publications like Vogue and the New York Times. “Every time I turned around, she was tooling off on the back of some count’s motorcycle for lunch or being picked up at the hotel by someone else in a Ferrari. So many men were sending her flowers that she had to put the bouquets in her bathtub and her bidet. Her room looked like a Mob funeral home.”

In the eighties Becca was married for a couple of years to an heir to an Italian fortune who was in Houston overseeing family investments. They divorced because of a lack of common interests—he didn’t like going to as many parties as she did, she says—but remain close friends. At one point he told Becca, half joking, that he was going to include Frenchy Falik in the divorce. “He said he wanted to accuse her of alienation of affection because she and I were always on the phone every night talking about what was going on around Houston.”

Becca continued working through the mid-nineties. She and her business partner, Holly Moore, were making six-figure salaries staging parties and fundraising events. They became even bigger players in the Houston scene when they started a local society magazine called PaperCity, their idea being that Houston could always use more coverage of social events, especially more pictures of people at parties. Then, on a Sunday night in late 1995, she was walking out of a party just as a man was walking in. “How rude of you to come just as the party is ending,” Becca said.

The man was John Thrash, and he was smitten. “I spent the rest of the night talking to her,” he says, “and I swear to you I didn’t really take the time that night to contemplate how beautiful she was because I was so distracted by all the things coming out of her mouth.” He was 41 years old (Becca was then 44), a former emergency-room doctor who had quit practicing medicine to help with his family’s energy firm, which had become enormously successful. He had little contact with Houston’s society crowd. When he wasn’t working, he was supervising the construction of his mansion—a flat-roofed, granite-and-slate showplace with skylights, two-story windows, imposing oak-and-stainless-steel furniture, large marble tables engraved with quotations (“The greatest dreams are realized by those who have the ability to dream greatly”), glass floors that had to be constantly cleaned, and a “pool room” that contained not billiard tables but a 22- by 44-foot indoor swimming pool. “He was building a palace,” one of his friends says, “and all he lacked was a queen.”

In April 1996, four months after they had met, Becca and John were married. Suddenly, Becca was no longer the hired help; she was the mistress of the mansion. She quit her job, sold her interest in PaperCity, and turned her attention to a new life. She was ready to stop throwing parties for others and start giving parties for herself. She was ready to make her childhood dream come true.

BECCA IS HARDLY THE FIRST flamboyant Houston hostess who was not to the manner born. Longtime residents still swap stories about Joanne King Herring, the former local television personality who looked like Zsa Zsa Gabor. In the sixties— during her first marriage, to Houston millionaire Bob King—she threw a Roman bacchanal party at her home and hired a black Boy Scout troop to dress like little Nubian slaves. During her second marriage, to Robert Herring, the chairman of the board of the Houston Natural Gas Company (which later evolved into Enron), Joanne became more refined, but she still knew how to entertain. For a party honoring a Middle Eastern potentate, she turned her mansion into a sultan’s palace. The late seventies saw the rise of Sandy Hovas, a furniture salesman’s daughter who was so busty she had been known at Lamar High School as Buckets. She married Baron Enrico di Portanova, a member of Houston’s oil-rich Cullen family, transformed herself into the Baroness Alessandra di Portanova, and started throwing parties at their 32-room River Oaks mansion that lasted until sunup. Even the couture-clad Lynn Wyatt recognized the merits of putting on a good Texas show during her heyday. In the late seventies she served chili and fried chicken at a party she threw in Monaco for Princess Grace.

Yet by the early nineties, the older generation of Houston hostesses were either dying or going into semi-retirement, selling their sprawling River Oaks mansions and moving into smaller digs, merely going to parties instead of throwing them. Of course, there were some Houston women who seemed willing to claim the social throne. The beautiful and blond Carolyn Farb was so well known for throwing charity balls that she even wrote a book about her experiences. And there were others who hosted luncheons or elegant dinners and were more than happy to see their name in the society columns, but they didn’t have the inclination—or, perhaps, the supportive husband—to orchestrate the kind of over-the-top spectacles that would become part of Houston lore.

Which left the door wide open for Becca—and she came through it full speed ahead. In 1997, before the house was even finished, she threw a seated dinner to benefit the March of Dimes, and less than a year later she hosted a gala to benefit the Best Buddies Foundation, a national charity run by her new friend Anthony Kennedy Shriver that provides mentoring for the developmentally challenged. Frenchy Falik later wrote that the guest list was “a virtual who’s-who-a-thon of society image-makers.” Among Becca’s celebrity guests was Prince Albert of Monaco (a friend of one of her best friends), who at one point joined a cluster of men gazing up through the second story’s glass floor, catching tantalizing glimpses of various female guests. Becca’s first outfit of the evening was a beaded pink Badgley Mischka gown that matched the $1.5 million worth of pink pearl-and-diamond jewelry that New York jeweler Harry Winston had loaned her for the evening. Women’s Wear Daily ran her picture. Becca was on her way.

Along with numerous dinner parties, she would throw a couple of major galas a year, bringing in such marquee names as Cindy Crawford, Jaclyn Smith, Ali MacGraw, Lois Chiles, and José Eber, the eccentric Los Angeles hairdresser who always wears a cowboy hat. Becca made sure that her parties were filled with guests who were rich, interesting, and good-looking, and she supervised the seating arrangements, never allowing people who were married or dating to sit together. The morning after another Best Buddies benefit, in 1999, some panties were found in one of the bathrooms, setting off rumors around town that have yet to die down.

Some of Becca’s parties looked like they cost a small fortune. At one Venetian-themed fete for Houston Grand Opera, she had an authentic gondola shipped from St. Louis, lowered by crane through a skylight, and placed in her swimming pool. At another party for Best Buddies, which she called “Shanghai in the Spring,” she transformed her home into what Shelby Hodge described in the Chronicle as “a Far East still life” filled with Asian statuary, golden parasols, and dangling lanterns. But Becca knew how to make money off of her parties. She would charge $700 to $2,500 a ticket and, utilizing her public relations skills, get corporate sponsors to donate everything from the food and the liquor to the valet parking and the airfare for the out-of-town celebrity guests. As a result, she could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a charity with just one dinner party. “It’s not simply throwing a party that gives me joy,” Becca told me, “it’s knowing that these parties give back a lot to the community.” She maintains an office with a full-time assistant to help with her fundraising events.

Meanwhile, she began making a name for herself on the international scene, jetting off to other people’s parties in between her own. At one of the dinners for the Prince of Wales Foundation, she went up to the grande dame American socialite Betsy Bloomingdale, introduced herself, pointed to a diamond ring on Bloomingdale’s finger, and said, “My God, that looks like an ashtray on prongs.” Then there was the weekend in 1999 when Becca and John were among twenty guests invited by Kip Forbes, a son of the late billionaire Malcolm Forbes, to his fifteenth-century chteau in Normandy. At the end of a champagne-drenched dinner, the heiress to a huge East Coast fortune asked Becca about Houston’s reputation as the home of high-dollar topless dance clubs. Becca was going on about the way the women in these clubs do a “pole dance” when the heir to a huge European fortune asked, “What, my dear, is a pole dance?” Becca climbed into one of the chteau’s ten-foot-tall stone windows and demonstrated how the dancers shimmy while holding onto a pole, and soon she had everyone at the party attempting the pole dance. “There are many women near and dear to my heart,” says Forbes, who has spent most of his life in international society’s stratosphere, “but Becca does light up a room in a very memorable way. I hope to feast on her company for many years to come.”

Not everyone has been so charmed. Backbiting is the favorite sport of the social set, and there are some people in Houston who are more than happy to dish about Becca off-the-record, calling her an arriviste who puts on airs and flaunts her nouveau richness. (Perhaps her critics will talk only off the record because they want to keep being invited to her parties.) They say she’s not just a social climber but a veritable social mountaineer. After the W article detailed rather condescendingly the extravagant way Becca had celebrated her fiftieth birthday party (when she was told that she could not book eight tables at Le Grand Véfour, the venerable three-star Paris restaurant, she called some of her French friends and had them book tables separately, infuriating the restaurant’s management), several readers fired off irate letters to the magazine. “Becca Cason Thrash is the latest in a long line of high-society caricatures,” wrote one woman. Carped another incensed reader, “Becca Thrash sounds like exactly the type of American I do my best to avoid while traveling abroad.”

So many letters about Becca were published in W this summer, pro and con, that some people wondered if she had become a regular feature of the letters-to-the-editor page. Did the criticism sting? Becca says she was distraught that people who had not met her would want to judge her. “But, please,” she told me, “if I had to tiptoe through life and be cautious, I’d be looking right now for a cyanide capsule. Who wants to live like that?”

And as I was about to find out at her black-tie benefit for the Stages Theatre, when it comes to one’s critics, the old adage is still true: Living well is the best revenge.

WEARING MY DECADE-OLD TUXEDO, I drove my rent car, a four-door beige Ford, past the imposing mansions of the city’s Memorial neighborhood until I reached the Thrash estate, tucked away at the end of a street called Longwoods. A variety of black Mercedes and Lexus sedans, along with a Bentley, a Jaguar, and other European automobiles I could not identify, were being waved through a stone-and-steel gate by men in official-looking red-trimmed jackets.

“You’re here for the Thrash party?” one of the men asked me after I found the right button to lower my driver’s-side window.

“Can you believe it?” I said, holding up my invitation. I gunned the engine and headed down a crunchy granite-pebble driveway, wound past an undulating green lawn and a grove of crape myrtle and cedar trees, and came to a stop in front of the most geometrically complicated home I have ever seen. It looked more like a high-tech office building or a cutting-edge art museum than a house. Another man in a red-trimmed jacket whisked my Ford away while even more men in red-trimmed jackets ushered me toward two front doors the size of Mississippi River barges. I gave my name to various people, all of whom said, “Welcome, Mr. Hollandsworth!”

The doors opened, and I took a deep breath. Circulating among the rooms were the kind of handsome, happy-looking people you see in advertisements for fine watches—self-confident men in Armani tuxes and wrinkle-proof women with manes of luminous hair and splendid figures generously enhanced by plastic surgery. To create the right ambience, Becca had installed special lighting to make the walls glow red and hired models to glide around wearing dresses by the designers she was honoring.

Unlike most society parties, which take a couple of hours to warm up, Becca’s party was hopping fifteen minutes after it began. The revelers were moving around so quickly, saying hello to one another, that they resembled fresh laundry tumbling in a dryer. The city’s great tycoons, their jowls hanging down the sides of their faces like water bags, mingled with the common millionaires. The women hugged and acted thrilled to be together again even though they had probably seen one another only days before at the city’s best restaurants.

Then Becca came striding down a hallway toward the foyer, wearing a white Marc Bouwer gown so clingy it made the curves of her body look like a Putt-Putt course. Her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail and a glass of chilled vodka was in her hand, which she waved around like an orchestra conductor’s baton as she greeted her guests. “Sweetie, you’re here!” she exclaimed to one woman. “If you hadn’t been able to come, I would have slit my wrists with a dull razor blade!” She let out a whoop of laughter. Then, taking a quick sip of vodka, she turned to her right and grabbed the arm of another woman, who was wearing a billowing white silk dress that probably would have paid for my college tuition. “My God, do you look divine or what?” she said.

I stood in the foyer and stared at the arrivals. Here came Robert Mosbacher, the Secretary of Commerce when Bush the elder was president, with his new young, blond wife, Mica, at his side. Here came the international modeling sensation Lauren Bush, the niece of Bush the younger, with her date, Lucas Somoza, a high school classmate who, it was whispered, was related in some way or another to the infamous Nicaraguan dictator. Here came Lynn Wyatt, who, despite being rather, shall we say, reserved in the interview she gave W for its article about Becca (“She’s a nice girl. She’s married to a nice guy. She’s . . . well . . . fun”), knows a good party when she sees one. And here came the new generation of the city’s social divas, stunning creatures in their thirties and forties who confidently walked five steps ahead of their husbands, posed with fixed smiles for the photographers, and made cute comments to the society writers gathered in the foyer. Cathy Echols, the blond wife of a banker, sidled up to Andrea Minnis, the blond wife of a real estate developer, and cracked jokes about her “jewelry elbow”—apparently, a form of tennis elbow brought on by wearing too many bracelets.

Among the guests were a few men who have no real social standing but were invited because they make Becca laugh. One of them was Al Nolen, a balding, fiftyish high school counselor, real estate agent, and society columnist for The Examiner, a Beaumont newspaper (his column is called Out and About). He went to the bar and ordered a cranberry juice and vodka. “It’s the perfect drink,” he explained, “a positive with a negative.” Nolen was so excited to be at Becca’s that he couldn’t stop moving and was shaking the hand of everyone within ten feet. “In my columns I like to call this house a ‘poshienda.’ Isn’t that delightful? A poshienda!”

A murmur wafted through the crowd: The celebrity fashion designers were arriving. Mark Badgley and James Mischka smiled graciously as women approached to tell them how good they looked whenever they wore their dresses (“I mean, really good,” one woman said). The curly-haired Diane von Furstenberg was accompanied by her young femaleassistant, who carried a small camera. Von Furstenberg took one look at the house and exclaimed, “This is a temple, a temple.” Turning to her assistant, she said, “My camera!” Then she proceeded to photograph the tables, the walls, and even the peculiarly stitched tuxedo jacket worn by George Lancaster, an executive with the Hines Corporation.

Fashionably late, Vogue editor Anna Wintour arrived with her boyfriend, financier Shelby Bryan, who was born and raised in Houston. Everyone pretended to listen while he spoke collegially with old friends about his attempts to raise $35 million for something or other, but their eyes kept darting over to Wintour, who was wearing a silvery Chanel cocktail suit. One of the fashion world’s most powerful figures, she is renowned for her reserved, somewhat aloof English personality and the dark glasses she wears constantly. Perhaps to show respect, Wintour was sans sunglasses this evening, but it seemed as if she desperately wanted them. Her eyelids blinked rapidly at the orgy of chatter that swirled around her. She hardly knew what to say when Cerón, the voluble Mexican-born hairdresser to many of Houston’s glitterati, whispered in his sultry accent, “You look fab-oo-lous.” When a woman in a very low-cut Ralph Lauren gown that displayed what partygoers said were very new breasts introduced herself, even Wintour did a doubletake at the cleavage.

At one point, I watched Wintour watching Becca. Although Wintour said nothing, she seemed awestruck. On this evening Becca was a social cyclone, complimenting everyone she saw, laughing at everything they said, and spouting off a series of one-liners. When someone asked about her 2,000-square-foot kitchen, she said, “I don’t know that much about it. John and I go out to eat almost every night.” When someone else asked if she ever swam in the indoor pool, she said, “Oh, God, no, it’s too cold. I’ve never put my big toe in there.” To another person, she said, “Take a tour of the house. Our house is your house, except for the rooms that are locked.” When a guest asked to see her closet, she sent her upstairs. “We’re going to expand and add 1,100 feet to it,” she said. “I’ve got to find a place to put all my clothes.”

Meanwhile, John Thrash seemed to have undergone an amazing transformation since those days in 1995 when he first met Becca and was known, she says, as “a kind of Tibetan monk whose socialization had not begun to evolve.” Thrash was kissing women on the cheek, showing people to their tables, and taking no offense whatsoever when he came upon a couple of half-stewed men who were trying to puzzle out some of the sayings that were engraved in his marble tables. “‘This truth within thy mind rehearse, that in a boundless universe is boundless better, boundless worse,'” one of the men recited, quoting a table. “What the hell?”

Around the indoor pool were tables draped in red fabric, and on each one a large silver vase held 275 red roses—some 8,000 in all. A stage had been suspended over the middle of the pool, where the Houston actress Sally Edmundson provided the evening’s main entertainment: a scene from Full Gallop, the one-woman show about the life of Becca’s heroine, Diana Vreeland. As Vreeland, Edmundson exhorted the audience to act larger than life: “You have to have style. It’s what gets you up in the morning.” After the performance and the seated dinner (chicken paillard, salad with goat cheese, and papaya mousse), which ended around eleven o’clock, Becca’s guests rose from their chairs like hyped-up salesmen after a motivational speech, grabbed their drinks, and began mingling again as if the party were just beginning. A few people, including Wintour, slipped away early. But Diane von Furstenberg wasn’t going anywhere. She was having such a grand time that she asked Becca to sprawl across the bed in the master bedroom with her so her assistant could take their photograph.

Everyone imbibed great quantities of champagne. One giggling woman became disoriented as she tried to walk across the second-story glass floor and fell, injuring her leg. Members of the catering staff carried her out of the house in a throne-size chair. “Good-bye and good luck,” cried the still-walking guests, holding up their glasses of champagne in a kind of group toast. Lucas Somoza was so entranced by his surroundings that he did not watch where he was going and stepped straight into the shallow end of the swimming pool. A short time later, a newly married young woman who was staring adoringly at her husband a few feet away—one of the few women who actually took time that evening to look at her husband—also stepped straight into the pool.

Then, while Becca was upstairs changing into her second outfit of the evening, Al Nolen, the Beaumont paper’s effervescent gossip columnist, decided that he wanted to shake hands with the lead singer of a pop band playing at the far side of the house. Trying to take a shortcut, he walked the wrong way around a table and became the third guest of the night to fall into the pool—but he fell into the deep end. His Prada dress shoes with the trendy thick heels and wide toes, which he had recently purchased at Neiman Marcus’ Last Call sale, quickly filled with water, and he began to sink to the bottom. The last words he was heard to say before his balding head was completely submerged were “Oh, holy shit.”

“Save that man!” shouted several people nearby who had no desire to ruin their own clothes. Nolen, meanwhile, was still sinking, staring plaintively upward. Some witnesses said his eyes seemed to focus on the glass of cranberry juice and vodka he had set down on one of the tables. Then Charles, the Thrashes’ houseman, leaped into the water and grabbed one of Nolen’s outstretched arms. Just as he was pulled to the side of the pool, gasping for air and telling people that he really had seen his life flash before his eyes, Becca descended the staircase by the other side of the pool in a stunning black Jean Paul Gaultier gown.

“I’m back!” she trilled as the partygoers turned and applauded. Meanwhile, Nolen had slipped out a back door. Was he just too embarrassed to be seen again? Of course not. Ever resourceful, he always keeps a second tuxedo in his car when he goes to parties, in case of emergency. He was soon back in the poshienda, shaking hands again.

“Sweetie, you’ve changed too!” Becca cried when she saw him, still oblivious of his near-death experience. “Just following in your footsteps,” Nolen replied, a cranberry juice and vodka already in hand.

At two o’clock Becca went off to make her last change, returning in red silk La Perla pajamas—a signal to her guests that the party was over. Everyone formed a line to say good-bye to Becca and John, thanking them so profusely you would have thought they were U.N. workers who had just provided a truckload of food for starving refugees.

The great front doors finally shut behind the last guest. The party was over. The house was silent. Then Becca turned to her husband. “Baby,” she said, “wasn’t it flawless? Absolutely flawless? When can we do it again?”