The state of organized social life

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Dining outdoors. Photo: JH.

Thursday, July 30, 2020.  Another very warm day in a very warm (and humid) week in New York. It’s the kind of weather where you’re glad to get inside to get out the heavy air. 

The temp falls into the low 80s, high 70s in the evening, so it’s bearable and even pleasant enough for those of us eating out. 

Outdoor restaurants have sprung up all over the city occupying parking lanes and sidewalks. It’s a treat right now for us New Yorkers who like to get out with others.

Organized social life is its quietest in New York at this time of the year. This whole pandemic thing has added to the lack of activity. Although it has also taken us to a new — and obvious — way of gathering people together for a cause. And that is the ZOOM effect where you host your “virtual” party on camera so that everyone appears together — but separate.  It’s a kind of tele-social event. Compared to the actual physical gathering of people together for a fund-raising purpose, the idea of virtual does not appeal to my curiosity. However, I’ve “attended” two so far and I must admit I was very impressed and watched with pleasure and surprise.

The China Institute and Yue-Sai Kan’s China Beauty Charity Fund (CBCF) co-presented this year’s China Fashion Gala 2020 via Zoom, of course!

A fund-raising gala a la black tie and dress-up for dinner at one of the city’s major ballrooms has become the classic way to appeal for major funds. It’s in the ticket price for starters with more raised during the evening with auctions. The rest is dinner, maybe dancing, some speeches and occasionally entertainment. And if it started at 6:30 or 7, you’re very possibly out and on your way home by 10:30 at the latest. During the season there are often more than one or two of these a night in New York. And they raise many millions for many philanthropies. 

A “virtual” fundraiser is not a fashionable event because the attendees are mainly at home watching it all on their televisions. However, last Thursday night, July 23rd, The China Institute and Yue-Sai Kan’s China Beauty Charity Fund (CBCF) co-presented the China Fashion Gala 2020 virtually for the first time, and it was a big hit!

Yue-Sai Kan kicking off the China Fashion Gala 2020.

The evening was hosted by Yue-Sai, who is co-chair of China Institute as well as founder and chairwoman of CBCF.  Yue-Sai herself is a fascinating woman. Chinese, she came to New York as a young woman with a musical background. Working at a job in a PR agency in those early days in New York, she was “discovered” by some Chinese filmmakers doing a series on New York for a China audience. 

A scene from “Looking East,” Yue-Sai Kan’s popular weekly TV series which ran for 12 years.

The PBS series was a first for the Chinese people, seeing New York live (on video) for the first time, and with Yue-Sai as the hostess-guide. In time her natural entrepreneurial side emerged as she became a familiar face to the viewers in China. Women were highly influenced by her American fashion, and hairstyle.

I first met her when I interviewed her for the NYSD back in 2001. She’s a resident of New York as well as China, and is a popular hostess at her East Side townhouse, as well as an active international businesswoman. I’d never been to a previous China Fashion Gala, but there is nothing to compare it to last Thursday’s.

The advantage of “virtual” galas is that the producers/co-chairs can provide much more interesting information and show with visual details about the subject. Because it is a media production it has the often spectacular benefit of many locations and guests. So it’s like watching a private television show designed to interest you personally. That means even those of us who are not primarily interested.

The China Fashion gala’s annual celebration of Chinese design is a platform for Chinese talent emerging onto the international stage. It’s also a forum for recognizing individuals whose contributions have helped position China at the forefront of global fashion and beauty. To this “attendee” who knows the host, Yue-Sai, it occurred to me while watching how she has been uniquely at the forefront of merging cultures. 

This year’s gala honored Estée Lauder with the Beauty Award. The inaugural award was accepted by Group President of The Estée Lauder Companies, and Global Brand President, Estée Lauder Stephane de La Faverie. It was presented by Yang Mi.

Stephane de La Faverie holding the inaugural Beauty Award on behalf of Estée Lauder.

Chinese investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist Wendy Yu was honored with the Millennial Leadership Award, presented by Jason Wu. 

Chinese American designer Phillip Lim was honored with the Leadership Award, presented by Lisa Ling. Actress, director, artist and activist Lucy Liu was honored with the Icon Award, presented by Yue-Sai Kan. Each award was donated by Baccarat.

Jason Wu.
Wendy Yu with her Millennial Leadership Award.
Lisa Ling.
Phillip Lim with his Leadership Award.
Yue-Sai Kan presenting Lucy Liu with the Icon Award.
Lucy Liu with her Icon award.

Co-chairs of the virtual evening were Elizabeth Segerstrom, co-managing partner and co-owner of South Coast Plaza; Mariko Miura, CEO of Meihodo New York; Julian Rizzuto, founder of Dreamlink Foundation; Mark Gong, emerging Chinese designer; and Jeannette Chang, former SVP of Hearst Magazines International.

Prominent guests who appear included: Christian Louboutin, Guo Pei, Grace Chen, Angelica Cheung, Bette Midler, Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi, Xiaowen Ju, Karolina Kurkova, Maggie Q, Jordan Connor, Lang Lang, Anna Hu, Rain, Chen Man, Simon Collins, Didi Pei, Ban Ki-moon, Kenny G and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Better Midler.
Christian Louboutin.
Angelica Cheung.
Karolina Kurkova.
Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi.
Jordan Connor.
Kenny G.
Chen Man.

It’s great viewing, always changing, moving right along to keep your interest. Highlights included a private 40-minute live cocktail party via Zoom with honorees immediately preceding the gala. There is also a globe-spanning opening musical performance by Quincy Jones Productions — really fabulous; plus an amazing special dance of the Thousand Hand Bodhisattva performed by members of the Chinese People’s Art Troupe of People with Disabilities; and a fashion show by Chinese couture designer Xiong Ying, who showcased her creations under the Heaven Gaia label.

Dance of the Thousand Hand Bodhisattva.

Highlights from the Heaven Gaia collection …

As of this writing, China Fashion Gala 2020 has raised more than $600,000, exceeding their projected goal of $500,000. An online silent auction on has been open until today, July 30th.  Proceeds benefit the many diverse programs of China Institute, the oldest independent, non-profit organization in America to focus exclusively on China.

Now to see for yourself, the entire evening is available for your edification and pleasure! …

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