Thursday, September 4, 2008

Holy Toledo!

Guests entering for the FIT Couture Council Award for Artistry in Fashion luncheon at the Rainbow Room.
September 4th. Back from Summer. Yesterday in New York was hot and muggy unlike those sweet and breezy summer days we had most of last month.

Down at the Rainbow Room high above Rockefeller Center, the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) held its third annual Artistry of Fashion Awards benefit luncheon, honoring fashion designer Isabel Toledo. Simon Doonan, the droll and best-selling humorist who also happens to be the creative director Barney’s New York was emcee, and Andre Leon Talley, American editor-at-large for Vogue presented the award to Mrs. Toledo.

Ruben Toledo's portrait of his award winning designer wife.
This was a much anticipated event for a couple of reasons. The Couture Council, a fairly new entity in the history of FIT’s Museum, is a new and major force in the New York world of Fashion. FIT’s Museum, under the direction of Dr. Valerie Steele, has an extraordinary archive/collection that has been a secret – albeit poorly kept – for years. The directors of the Council have been making a concerted, successful effort to dispel that secret, and to raise funds to enhance and expand the museum’s collection and exhibitions.

It was also the first major social gala event of the new season, and because it involved the world of fashion, which is an impassioned crowd to begin with, and it was a great success.

The luncheon was hosted by the founding chairs of the Couture Council: Liz Peek, Yaz Hernandez and Sarah Wolfe. Once everyone was seated, FIT’s president Joyce Brown welcomed the guests. Among those said to be in attendance (I couldn’t be sure because there were hundreds present so I didn’t catch a glimpse of everybody) were members of the artistic committee including Diane Von Furstenberg, Narciso Rodriguez, James de Givenchy, Lisa Perry, Patricia Field, Cathy Hardwick, Kim Hastreiter, Pat Kerr, Charles Kleibacker, Lisa Perry as well as Harper’s Bazaar’s editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey and the Council’s Junior Chairs, Fabiola Beracasa, Whitney Wolfe, Alexis Tobin, and Tennessee Hamilton. They produced results: the luncheon was sold out and they raised $400,000.

The room was decorated with sunflowers in honor of Mrs. Toledo. The cuisine was inspired by her Cuban roots: Yellow Gazpacho, Cuban-style Sea Bass with warm Mango Sauce, Coconut Rice and Black Beans. Her friend, club-owner and vocalist Joey Arias, backed by Basil Twist and his marionette chorus, opened the luncheon, serving up a special rendition of the Billie Holliday “You’ve Changed ... (Isabel), you’ve changed.”
The luncheon table setting with placemats designed by Ruben Toledo (of Isabel's face).
Before Andre Leon Talley presented the award, Simon Doonan provided biographical background of the designer and gave a commentary on her work, accompanied by images projected on a large screen behind him. Mr. Doonan is an authority on fashion, without doubt, but he is also a funny man, by nature; and so the commentary was both informative, referring to Toledo’s professional development as “talent gathering momentum,” and very amusing -- reflecting his obvious admiration and affection for the designer who is a good friend (along with her husband Ruben Toledo).

Isabel Toledo
Ruben and Isabel Toledo are, in the apt words of one of my lunch partners, “beloved” in the fashion community. They have an interesting and inspirational relationship with each other, working supportively as partners professionally, as well as being, separately and together, warm and gracious toward everyone they come in contact with. This is no small matter of note, especially in the highly competitive, often cut-throat, back-stabbing world of fashion. The Toledos set the barre and are rightfully admired for it.

After the Award was presented Mrs. Toledo told the audience how she’d been in love with fashion and design since she was nine years old (she’s 47) and started making things. All these years later, she revels in recognizing that “a fashion designer’s importance is being able to shape our history,” since “clothing is what the time looks like.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a fashion designer express this simple yet profound historical insight.

She had a deeply appreciative audience listening to her words of wisdom and expressions of humility. In the audience (again, reporting what I was told although I missed seeing several) Kelly Bensimon, Hamish Bowles, Edmundo Castillo, Cecilia Dean, Stephen Gan, Julie Gilhart, Linda Fargo, Joan Helpern, Cathy Horyn, Jeffrey Kalinsky, Derek Lam, Helmut Lang, Dawn Mello, Paul Cavaco, Josie Natori, Candy Pratts Price, Peter Som, Barbara Cirkva, Caroline Hirsch, Howard Socol, Stephano Tonchi, Max Vadukul, Michael Vollbracht, Eleanor Ylvisaker; Iris Apfel, Joey Arias, Serena Boardman, Sandy Brant, Dawn Brown, Fabiola Beracasa, Lisa Cashin, Paul Cavaco, Beth Rudin Dewoody, Linda Fargo, Sandy Golinkin, Audry Gruss, Agnes Gund, Gene Krell, CeCe Cord, Neal Fox and Martha Kramer, Sharon Hoge, Meghan Sheekey, Alexandra Lebenthal, Susan Lyne, Matthew and Cari Modine, Jonathan and Ronnie Newhouse, Elyse Newhouse, John and Laura Pomerantz, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Ingrid Sischy, Elizabeth Stribling, Marcy Syms, Judith Thurman, Alice Tisch, Lizzie Tisch, Becca Carson Thrash, Barbara Tober, Carmen Unanue, Lauren Veronis, Dr. Patricia Wexler, and Sarah Wynter, to name only a few.
Looking north from the Rainbow Room at noon yesterday.
Next year, beginning in June the Museum at FIT will present a retrospective entitled Holy Toledo! Isabel Toledo and the Art of Fashion, which will run through September 26, 2009. The exhibit will feature more than 75 looks dating back to 1985 including fluid jersey dresses, seductive lace and architectural denim, and also featuring illustrations by Ruben Toledo along with films of Mrs. Toledo’s fashion shows and other visuals that explore her creative process.

Born in Cuba in 1961 and raised in New Jersey, "Isabel Toledo is a designer's designer,” said Valerie Steele, co-curator of the upcoming exhibition, as well as director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT. ”She is greatly admired by members of the fashion community because of her originality and technical expertise. Although superficially simple and even prim, Isabel’s clothes are actually extremely sophisticated and subtly seductive.”

The designer’s work is based on a profound understanding of pattern-making and construction. She combines a passion for curvy architectural shapes with an affinity for draping liquid fabrics.
Isabel and Ruben Toledo
Cari and Matthew Modine
Becca Thrash
Whitney Wolfe, Bonnie Dudley, Jean-Christophe Laizeau, and Sarah Wolfe
Isabel Toledo and Hamish Bowles
Joey Arias and Judith Thurman
Mickey Boardman and Andre Leon Talley
Joanna Molloy of Rush & Molloy, interviewing.
Iris Apfel and friend
Roger Webster and Kim Hicks
Candy Pratts Price
Sharon Hoge
Cathie Hardwick and Agnes Gund
Lauren Veronis and Jeff Peek
Valerie Steele and Rosemary bonzo
Martha Kramer, Sharon Handler, Margo Langenberg, and Caroline Hirsch
Megan Sheekey
Pamela Fiori
Alexandra Lebenthal
Yaz Hernandez and friend
Whitney and Sarah Wolfe, Bonnie Dudley, and Liz Peek
Simon Doonan
Beth DeWoody and Dawn Mello
Gillian Miniter
Kathleen Doyle and Luly Duke
Martha Kramer and Barbara Cirkva
Yaz Hernandez with a Ruben Toledo designed fan
Mariana Kaufman, Dennis Basso, and Linda Fargo
Liz Peek and Joni Evans
Becca Thrash and friend
Audrey Gruss and Neal Fox
After the luncheon, as I made my way back uptown, I stopped by Michael’s where it was the first Wednesday of the new season. NYSD readers know that Wednesday is the day when all the big guys and girls in the media come out to play (to lunch). In the bay, Terry Allen Kramer, newly back in town after a summer with her husband Nick Simunek at their house in St. Tropez, was giving a lunch for her newly married friend, Margo McNabb (now Nederlander), so I got a picture.
Top row: Peggy Siegal, Felicia Taylor, Beth DeWoody, Margo McNabb Nederlander, Somers Farkas, and Mia Matheson. Bottom row: Terry Allen Kramer and Kathleen Turner.
At the table next to them, Showtime’s Matt Blank was lunching with Holly Newman, and next to them Liz Smith was with Conde Nast’s Jonathan Van Meter; and next to them CBS’ Leslie Moonves was with Apollo Management’s Leon Black. Next to them: Barry Diller. Meanwhile around the room: Mike Ovitz and guests; Today’s Exec-Producer Jim Bell and wife Angelique; Peter Brown and guest; Jerry Della Femina, Dr. Gerry Imber; Betsy Perry with Joe Versace, Bruce Wasserstein and daughter; Beverly Camhe with Susan Copperman; Star Jones and Amy Davis; Bonnie Timmerman and Gerry Schoenfeld; Gerry Byrne, Bob Barnett, Harry Evans, Jamie LeFrak, Joan Gelman and Cynthia Kayan; Carol Weisman, Pamela Keogh and Joe Montebello; Gil Schwartz, Lynn Goldberg.

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