In keeping with the Thanksgiving spirit, there were exclamations of gratitude at the Alzheimer’s Association Imagine Benefit. Thank G-d we can dress up and hug each other was the gist of it. Gala Founder and General Chair Princess Yasmin Aga Khan donned a turquoise sequin jacket by Vice Chair Naeem Khan. “Glitter and more glitter,” said the princess. “What could be more fun?”
Also fun: bonding with Paulina Porizkova with Patrón in hand. In my hand, that is. She was generous with her compliments, but admitted accepting them (can we assume there have been plenty!) has been harder than giving them. “At this point in my life. I’m giving myself permission to simply say thank you,” she commiserated, when I talked about my own tendency to deflect praise.
She was there with friend and host committee member Peter Thomas Roth. (We all went home with his sunscreen.) These were two serious beauty experts. “I learned not to share my own thoughts about improving a woman’s looks early in this business,” he told me. “I might think a mole should be removed. But, she might love it.”
Take note, plastic surgeons. No surgeon has touched her face, said Paulina. Would you if you looked like her? She showed Alice Lutz “the walk.” It reminded me, many years ago, when she showed Janis Kaye “the pose,” who showed me. I’ve been twisting that way for photos ever since.
Rita Hayworth put a face on early-onset Alzheimer’s and that image became a rallying call to fundraise, thanks to daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. And so, the evening began with a video tribute to Hayworth, who had glided across the screen with the greatest.
She was the daughter of two dancers, a Ziegfield Follies girl, and a second generation Spanish dance teacher. “My mother grew up playing the castanets,” Yasmin recalled. “When I was little, she would play them and dance for me at home.
“My mother was very gentle, soft, loving, caring and just really sweet,” Yasmin continued, in her own gentle voice, when I asked for more remembrances from her early childhood. “She loved music and sports. We’d go swimming, to play tennis, to the golf course, where I watched her. I wasn’t a golfer at that point, but I am now. She was a make your bed, clean your room kind of mom. Then, at night, I would stand in front of the mirror with her while she put on cream. ‘Make sure you hydrate your face and your neck,’ she would always say. ‘Your skin is important!’
“She was really a working mom, and at home she was very simple. She, no doubt, had a difficult life but she really didn’t discuss it with me ever, never burdened me with her problems. We all have them in life, right? And she always kept a wonderful friendship with my father. He’d come to California and visit. Then, I would go overseas and stay with him. So there was never tension, which was so helpful.”
When Yasmin came of age, she went to Swiss boarding school. By the time she was in college, Yasmin said, her mother’s behavior became “odd,” her memory, erratic. It took more than ten years before Yasmin found the doctor who diagnosed Alzheimer’s. “I had never heard of it before,” she recalls.
“Eventually, I became her conservator and moved her into the apartment next door to me in New York. I think it’s so important to be with your loved one suffering from the disease. I shared my thoughts with her, cared for her, held her hand. When my son was born, I brought Andrew into her arms. You just don’t know what comes through. When the neurotransmitters caused her to fixate, become angry or upset, I changed the subject. It was hard, but that’s our responsibility as children. It’s the life cycle.”
Yasmin also has always felt a responsibility to use celebrity for the greater good. “When my mother was diagnosed, I talked about it,” the princess continued. “I did an interview with Barbara Walters, who was wonderful. Even President Reagan had it. Yet, denial is still a big problem. It’s often hush hush — hide your loved one. Tuck them away. Don’t talk about it. I’m not sure why. I’m not going to mention names, but there are people in Hollywood that have family members with Alzheimer’s, but will not get involved. It gets me really upset. Do you know how much they could do for the cause? For public awareness? They’re in a place where people look up to them. They could do so much good. Because we need to stand up to find the cure.”
Those who stood up that evening included CEO Harry Johns, Alexandra Soffer, a member of the Alzheimer’s Association New York City Chapter Board of Directors, talking about her late father, and Karyn Kornfeld, remembering her grandmother. Kornfeld co-chaired with Steven Kobre, Deanna Rockefeller and Gregory Smith. Joseph Boitano, Brooke and Oliver Kennan, Naeem Khan, David Hyde Pierce and Brian Hargrove, Nicole Sexton, and Martha Webster were benefit Vice Chairs. Sharon Bush, Diandra Douglas, Emily and Jon Gelb, Louise and Stephen Kornfeld, Anne Hearst McInerney, Robin and Roger Meltzer, Peter Thomas Roth, and Jennifer and Lonnie Wollin were the Host Committee.
Also there: President of Alzheimer’s Association Joanne Pike, Krystal Joy Brown, Tamar Greene, Meghan Picerno, Oliver Kennan, Caitlin Sullivan, Chele Farley, Ubah Hassan, Michele Herbert, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Francine LeFrak, Andrew Roosevelt, Kara Ross, George Yancopoulos, Jean Shafiroff and Hunt Slonem.
They enjoyed performances by Broadway talent from Hamilton, Phantom and Wicked. Billed as an “Evening of Song and Storytelling,” it featured Krystal Joy Brown (currently Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton), Tamar Greene (currently George Washington in Hamilton), Meghan Picerno (currently Christine Daaé in Phantom of the Opera), indie-soul artist/singer-songwriter Oliver Kennan, a classic string quartet including Caitlin Sullivan, Alex Fortes, Katie Hyun, and Kyle Armbrust, and former Juilliard Jazz students of Wynton Marsalis, all under the music direction and accompanied by Dan Micciche (currently Music Director and conductor for Wicked).
Josie Natori designed and curated the gift bags which included products from Peter Thomas Roth and Ubah Hassan. Rolex Watch USA underwrote the event, which raised more than $600,000 for Alzheimer’s Care, Support and Research Programs.
Photographs by Ilya S. Saven & Craig Barritt/Getty Images