It’s been said that “It never rains on the FLO (Frederick Law Olmsted) Awards”. But rain indeed threatened and clouds stubbornly hung over Central Park’s Conservancy yesterday on what was the celebratory silver anniversary of this organization. And so, as a precaution, (rain had been predicted for the early part of the day), a sprawling see thru tent was erected over the paths and walkways at the entrance, to insure that the approximately 1,240 philanthropic, designer clad, and fabulously hat attired movers and shakers (women and men) would stay dry. As luck would have it, it never did rain and in fact, peaks of sunshine eventually broke through. The legend lives on!
Referred to as America’s answer to the ‘Ascot’, this important, high profile, and popular fundraising event, hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy, ($2.3 million was raised this year from FLO for the Conservancy’s “ongoing mission of restoring and maintaining Central Park for generations of New Yorkers”), is the city’s annual ‘rite of spring’ and considered to be a fashion spectacle where hats take center stage and mix harmoniously with the incredibly lush gardens and beautiful flowers that serve as the piece du resistance.
Admittedly, this is not a ‘fashion event’, (there was nary a turban - Prada or otherwise - in sight) and the majority of women in attendance are (shall I say) involved in more high minded matters and not necessarily the same ones who occupy front row seats at runway shows in New York, Paris, and Milan (though there are some of those as well: Amy Fine Collins, Somers White Farkas, Jamee Gregory to name a few). Having said that, mixed in with the predictable face framing ‘garden variety’ large brimmed hats and saccharine sweet pastel skirt suits, there were some creative individualists who stood out (some even ‘dared’ to wear menswear inspired fedoras and natty pantsuits), and a number of interesting trends on view.
Liz Tremain wearing white faille & black polka dress from Oscar de la Renta
While flowers (flowers on hats, flower printed coats and dresses, flower corsages) are always de rigueur since the Conservancy is ‘all about’ flora and fauna, there were more than just a few women who decided upon graphic polka dots (red and white, navy and white, and black and white). One of the best dressed women, Liz Tremain, daughter of Corporate Chairman Ira Milstein, (Senior Partner at Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP), was wearing what could arguably be considered ‘the dress of the season’ in a season of dots: Oscar de la Renta’s sleeveless white faille and black polka dot dress to be exact. Covered with a tiny black sweater to keep away the chill and accessorized with a dramatic large brimmed black and white hat and black and white shoes, she was proof that certain things, like polka dots and especially black and white, never lose their appeal. (By the way, the year’s chairwomen were Serena Boardman, Betsy Messerschmitt, Hilary Geary Ross, Blaine Trump, and Thorunn Wathne).
Another woman who opted for smart black and white did it in the form of a Chanel boucle tweed skirt suit, but because she modernized it by wearing black dancer’s tights and a somewhat heavy black shoe (instead of bare hose and delicate pumps), she kept the look from being dowdy or too precious.
Dr. Valerie Steele
Then there were my two favorite fashion ‘oracles’ from the Museum of FIT, Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator, and Patricia Mears, deputy director. The former was wearing an artistically deconstructed black Yohji Yamamoto skirt suit with a whimsical vintage hat, and the latter opted for a green and black Isabel Toledo coat and dress combination with a jaunty vintage hat worn tilted to the side.
One guest who didn’t look like anyone else and who caught my eye with her hard to miss architectural silver hat (the shape reminded me of something Cher wore or might have worn to the Academy Awards). What made this interesting was her choice of silver…When I asked her if she chose this because the color was symbolic of the group’s 25th (silver) anniversary, she amusedly said she didn’t even think about that, but thanked me for explaining the coincidence. CBS News Anchor and gal about town Katie Couric looked surprisingly lean and chic in her minimalist khaki coatdress, high heeled pumps, tan legs, but the choice of pale blue ‘lampshade’ straw hat made her look ridiculous. Hats are tricky and if you look like you feel silly wearing one, you probably look silly as well. The rule of thumb in selecting a hat is that it must fit the personality and ‘look’ of the wearer.
But hands down my vote for the most whimsical and original hat (and terribly apropos at that) was a small yellow and black cap decorated with (what else?) bumble bees that sat atop the wearer’s head. And no, they were not real bees but darn good likenesses. The woman ‘accessorized’ with a graphic yellow and black piped skirt suit and faded quickly into the crowd before I could ask whose creation it was. No word on whether or not any real bees ‘bugged’ her.