One of the most popular society of fashion photographers in New York of the past quarter century has been Mary Hilliard. Mary started her career after her marriage and her children got to a certain age. Coming from the same part of town in life as many of her subjects, she may have been the first of her group to cross over to the business side of life.
Mary’s style is an understated chic work uniform. Any dressing up or dressing down for an occasion is subtle at best. It’s a navy peplum jacket with white blouse, and slacks and comfortable shoes. Her working style is almost as understated. It provides almost a camouflage for herself from the glitz that may surround her. If you didn’t know, you could mistake as a member of the evening’s staff. Although her own background is a lot bluer than the fancy guests.
That, incidentally, is irrelevant to the woman who is only concerned about getting something good out of the time spent.
If you were to watch her work: she stays on the sidelines and gives the impression of being present as if prepared. But the way she focuses is almost imperceptible. She can be having a conversation when she’ll suddenly politely excuse herself, and make her way to a place for a shot of someone or something happening.
From the Mary Hilliard Archives: This event, the ABT annual gala at Lincoln Center in 1988, an age that marked the “Nouvelle Society” of the gilded age of the Reagans. These ladies were 30-somethings, 40-somethings (sometimes 20-somethings) and in their heyday. I’m always struck by what young looked like twenty years yore. Now, for this gang, the term “young” is used to describe a point of view and hope for the best in terms of cheek and jowl.
This was also an exciting moment in New York which was on the brink of a economic breakout. The late 80s, a year after the Day of the ’87 Crash, New York was poised to flourish again.
Several of the women in these photographs are familiar faces to many of us. As fascinating as it is to look back, it is even more fascinating to consider what the years passed since then have determined for the lives of these women.
I particularly like the Gayfryd Steinberg for the roses that look as if a painter added them to the photograph. Such a young swan in this image, Mrs. Steinberg looks every inch the storybook princess with the uncertainty of beauty and the confidence of youth.
The dress, she told me recently, wasn’t a Lacroix but a Galanos that she had and which she dressed up with the roses. Having learned that, the photo looks even more like an official portrait of a woman and a time in New York.
Mary Hilliard reported that Lacroix designed the costumes for that night’s performance of Gaite Parisienne. She quoted Robert Trump who pointed out his (then) wife’s sixteen-button-length red satin gloves decorated with roses, ribbons, tassels, and black braid. Also Mai Halingby’s Lacroix had front zipper.
It was also noted that because of all the ladies in Lacroix, there was a scene in the ladies room as guests were quickly helping each other in and out of their dresses. Meanwhile on the Promenade the 800 dinner chairs were dressed in the same pink, bow-tied slipcovers used at a previous gala.
The evening honored Eugenia Doll, the great dance philanthropist, Frederic Franklin and Alexandra Danilova, all of whom starred in the original Gaite Parisienne.
American Ballet Theatre’s Movado Gala and Benefit Performance (800 attending the dinner).
Chairman: Blaine Trump who was so busy and rushed beforehand that she arrived at the party wearing to different shoes.
Cost of ticket for dinner and performance ($500 – $1000)
Music: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawksplayed tunes from “For Me and My Gal,” and “Anything Goes” and closed with “Goodnight Sweetheart.”
Favors: Elbow-length yellow gloves by Robert Isabell
Flowers: Robert Isabell used flowers in “lacroix colors: hot pink sweet peas, fuchsia-colored ponies, mango-colored parrot tulips, French roses in a brilliant saffron, and jewel-colored anemones.
Food: Glorious Food served filet of salmon, filled with herbs; caviar sauce; breast of capon with morel mousse; chanterelles sauces; haricots verts with confetti of peppers; saffron rice; orange tart with orange zest; grapefruit-Dubonnet sorbet; coffee; petits-fours.
Photographs by Mary Hilliard.