A Local Life: Renee Zlotnick Kraft

Socialite Added Flair, Style and Humor to D.C. Events

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 20, 2006

At first it was a bit jarring for Renee Zlotnick Kraft, Washington fur heiress and stalwart of the charity circuit, to be approached by strangers at traffic stops as she idled in her maroon Rolls-Royce.

Some wiseguy would turn and ask, in upper-crust deadpan, "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?"

The line had became a national catchphrase during a mustard advertising campaign, and Kraft adapted herself to the inevitable. When next accosted, she was ready.

"Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?"

"But of course!" she said, flashing the condiment jar she kept in the car before motoring off to the next party.

Kraft, who died Aug. 9 of Parkinson's disease at 91, had a profound sense of whimsy that brought her a core of admirers. She was a diminutive but dramatic woman who once confessed to a fleeting early interest in stage acting. Instead, she became a fervent contributor to Washington arts organizations, particularly the Washington Opera.

She was influential in bringing the most haute couture to the opera's fund-raising events.

Jamie Craft, who ran the solicitations committee for the opera's auctions, said of Kraft: "She'd talk Saks Fifth Avenue out of an Adolfo, which was not an easy thing to do. She was a good customer, so she had the standing to do it."

Renee Kraft spoke the merchant's language. Though not born in minks and sables, she very soon was modeling them for her father, Samuel, a Washington business fixture known as Zlotnick the Furrier.

While at finishing school in Tarrytown, N.Y., she held many student offices, among them president of the dress committee. She was uncharacteristically bad at stole patrol.

"It was my job to inspect the girls' clothing as they came into breakfast," she told the Washington Times in 1990. "But I had to resign because I could never pull anyone out of line. Those girls were my friends."

Her name did not appear in social columns until the 1980s, but she was out and about long before that.

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