A Special Life

Karl Langerfeld

When Marc Rosen was three years old, playing on the lawn of the New Jersey home where he grew up, he heard a familiar jingle in the distance. He thought it was the sound of an ice cream truck heading his way. The tune—which was actually coming from a van selling balloons—would become one of his earliest memories.

When the van arrived, he glanced at its collection of colorful balloons, and chose a white one. But as he walked back to his house, the ribbon slipped out of his hand, and the balloon drifted up into the atmosphere. A week later, after his sadness had subsided, he looked up at the evening sky and noticed a bright full moon. He imagined this was his white balloon, “in the heavens for everyone to enjoy,” he remembers. “I think of my white bubble every time I look at the moon.”

And what do you see when you look at it today? I ask.

“There’s something romantic about the full moon that makes you want to make a wish on it, or dream on it. It makes you think anything is possible.”

In what way?

“It gives you the confidence that things can be better—or special.”

For many years now, Marc Rosen has enjoyed a successful career in the cosmetic industry, where he’s designed perfume bottles for Elizabeth Arden, Burberry, and Fendi. And while his visionary creativity still occupies a large place in his life, Rosen has also been fortunate enough to cross paths with many interesting people. So many, in fact, that he’s recently written a book about his encounters called Rubbing Shoulders. “It’s kind of a fun summer-reading book,” he says. “Most of the stories I just enjoyed reading out loud. The real challenge was to sustain my voice, but I tried to write it through the eyes of someone who had a bit of wonderment.”

As with much of what Rosen writes in Rubbing Shoulders, there is a comical story involved, but then, behind that, there’s often a bigger story—much like the tale of his balloon. To Rosen, it’s obvious that his encounters with famous people like Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, and Karl Lagerfeld have been a constant source of entertainment at dinner parties, but he also sees his experiences—and not all of them deal with celebrities—as levers that have propelled him to where he is now.

An essential part of Rosen’s tale to triumph is when he met his current wife, the movie star Arlene Dahl. “I became comfortable with very accomplished people,” he says. During our conversation, Rosen also points to things he does that other people may not do—like speak to strangers in the supermarket line, for instance. But I think he also knows that life has dealt him a rather good hand. “If you’re lucky and you recognize it—and don’t take it for granted, and are not selfish about it—then you really can enjoy it.”

How, I ask, would you define luck?

“Luck is just running into a situation or a person that could change your life—sometimes in very large ways, and sometimes in tiny, tiny ways.”

As I learn, Rosen is a lucky man with the rare problem of frequently running into the rich and famous. But he is also a good storyteller. And so on this particular afternoon, as we talk in his office, his mind is on an encounter he had earlier in the day with an ABC news anchor.

“You know,” he says, “I watch ‘World News Tonight’ with my wife almost every night and [the anchor] David Muir often wears an off-white shirt with a solid tie. I said to Arlene, ‘He should really wear a patterned or striped tie.’ Anyway, I just had lunch today at a little place near Lincoln Center, and there was Muir. I thought: I’ve got to say something. So I went up to him and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I have to tell you that when you wear a patterned tie, it makes all the difference in your appearance.”

Muir stood up, shook his hand, and replied, “I’m going to wear a striped tie for you tonight.”

“I laughed,” Rosen recounts, “but that’s so typical of my life and this book.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the day after my meeting with Rosen, I search online for Tuesday night’s episode of “World News Tonight,” but can’t seem to find it. So I email him, and ask: Did Muir end up wearing a patterned tie last night?

Almost right away he responds. “Yes he did, lol.”

A coincidence? It’s easy to think this way—to let your mind wander into a series of what-ifs. Suppose Muir had already intended to wear a patterned tie that night? Or maybe he thought it would be a nice gesture, a one-time gag, and then he would go back to wearing his trademark solid tie. Even if he did wear  a striped tie Tuesday night, what are the chances he’d do it again tomorrow?

Toward the end of the day, just after 6:30 p.m., the same time ABC airs “World News Tonight,” my email pings. It’s Rosen. “David Muir wearing striped tie again.”