Thursday, May 07, 2009

“Don’t Rain On Our Parade”

Do you know why I didn’t have to consult with Al Roker to see what the weather would be like on Wednesday, May 6th? Or why, after a quick look at this week’s projected forecast, where one could easily see that umbrellas and rubber boots would be the order of the day, I was hardly surprised that the one bright light would come mid week, on the first Wednesday in May? Well, it’s simple; the first Wednesday in May has traditionally been the date for the Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon, better known as "Hat Day". Legend has it that it never rains on the FLO Awards Luncheon, hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy (whose mission is to restore, manage, and preserve Central Park, in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations),

Bette Midler

While yesterday’s event may not have met with magnificent summer like weather, as it has been in the past, it never actually rained, and in fact, by the early afternoon, one could actually see peeks of sun shine through (it was hard to remember what the sun looked like!) Oh, and by the way, Mrs. Al Roker (ABC Newscaster Deborah Roberts), and the Divine Miss M (Bette Midler), an avowed conservationist, were among the approximately 1200 (divinely clad) guests, who descended upon the glorious gardens. This year’s co-Chairs were Vicki Foley, Muffy Miller, Gillian Miniter, Tara Rockefeller, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

While Glenda Bailey, Amy Fine Collins, Francisco Costa, Tory Burch, and milliner Eric Javits were among the attendees, this is not a ‘fashion’ event per se but a fundraiser attended by the city’s movers and shakers who are on a mission to help raise money to preserve this magnificent piece of heaven in our urban jungle. Still, it is a fashion spectacle nonetheless, and hats (the more extravagant the better) have always taken center stage.

Lookonline's Marilyn Kirschner (left) wearing a hat by Adrienne Landau and Patsy Tarr wearing Lanvin

Notwithstanding the popularity of hats and headpieces these days, (they were all over the recent runways for fall 2009, and Isaac Mizrahi even turned an empty handbag into a purse), they can admittedly be tricky to pull off, and many women never really feel comfortable donning a chapeau. However, this is one event where you feel almost out of place and positively ‘naked’ if you go hatless. You might look at yourself in the mirror beforehand, and have second thoughts about your choice, thinking you look a bit silly, but once you arrive at the entrance to the Conservancy and take in the spectacle, you see that it’s practically impossible to make too much of a statement. And hey, what’s so bad about having some much needed fun, not taking yourself oh so seriously, and adding whimsy to your wardrobe, particularly during these ‘down’ times?

While I fully expected to see the requisite and predictable garden variety (pardon the pun) floral prints, pastels, ladylike dresses, tailored skirt suits, and of course, Ascot and Kentucky Derby worthy big brimmed straw hats, I’m always drawn to those women who add an element of surprise, bend the rules, and break with tradition (by choosing menswear inspired pantsuits, by putting themselves together in an interesting way, or by using their imagination with regards to their headgear). This year, in addition to rakey fedoras, there were as usual, plenty of butterflies, birds, feathers, and colorful sky high and mobile like concoctions making arresting use of flora and fauna, some of which could do double duty as a table centerpiece, and which seemed like dangerous defensive ‘weapons’ and could conceivably poke someone’s eyes out, especially if you were trying to air kiss an acquaintance. (On second thought, with the Swine Flu epidemic as of late, we probably shouldn’t be doing all that ‘kissing’ anyway!)

Black and white persian lamb coat by Revillion

And because the weather was a bit cool, cloudy, and damp at the outset, there were not only more coats this time, but a smattering of furs (and not just fur trims). Unusual for May, to say the least. In addition to a fur collar here and there, I spotted a chic black broadtail cape coat trimmed with Mongolian lamb; but my favorite was a black and ivory Persian Lamb coat by Revillion (where the white fur was pieced together to make a pattern resembling a flower) which the wearer tossed over a bright, graphically floral fitted short dress by Nicolas Guesquiere for Balenciaga.

Guest with mini Birkin bag

As I took in the designer clad throng, it was easy to forget that we are in the throes of a major recession, what with all the Hermes Kelly and Birkin bags (in all sizes including an orange mini which was the chicest of the lot), and of course, various takes on the classic quilted Chanel bag with gold chain handle. But thankfully, the well dressed, well heeled guests didn’t just spend money on themselves: the Central Park Conservancy just got a little wealthier yesterday (to the tune of $2.1 million!) And that’s not chunk change.

-Marilyn Kirschner


Thursday, May 08, 2008


As a fashion spectacle (where hats take center stage), almost nothing compares to The Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon, organized by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. The 26th FLO luncheon took place on Wednesday, May 7th, spearheaded by chairwomen Memrie Lewis, Gillian Miniter, Nancy Missett, and Tara Rockefeller, boasted a guest list which included some of New York’s biggest movers and shakers (Mayor Bloomberg and Martha Stewart among them), and best dressed social fixtures (Jamee Gregory, Amy Fine Collins, Somers Farkas, Susan Fales-Hill, Muffie Potter Aston). Those honored “for their outstanding commitment and contributions to preserving the park” were Nancy Paduano, Margaret and Ian Smith.

In fact, this annual rite of spring (which is the Central Park Conservancy’s largest benefit), has become known as the “Hat Luncheon”. And for a good reason. What began as a small intimate gathering for a few hundred is currently a popular ‘see and be seen’ date on one’s social calendar, which now draws well over 1200 guests, most of whom apparently use the theme and location of the event as a perfect opportunity to ‘cap’ off their spring finery with a hat. And as everyone knows, hats are ‘big’ these days. In fact, the millinery industry has been getting a real boost from the fashion world these past few seasons what with influential designers such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Proenza Schouler, Carolina Herrera, Alexander McQueen, Donna Karan, featuring hats prominently on their runways.

While some of the headgear worn by guests at the FLO luncheon could admittedly best be described as ordinary, run of the mill and ‘garden variety’ (pardon the pun), and not every woman (or man) wore a hat, (no, that was not Mayor Bloomberg wearing a flower laden chapeau), there were many guests whose inspired, whimsical choices proved they put a great deal of thought and planning into their outfits, and were obviously inspired, as usual, by the enviable natural setting of the location, (the breathtaking Conservatory Garden).

Right: Amy Fine Collins
Photo: Patrick McMullan for the Central Park Conservancy

And so, it was not surprising (and somewhat predictable) to find flowers everywhere; flowers decorating hats and floral printed dresses and coat ensembles. Perhaps it was a case of floral overkill in some instances where guests mixed the two…yikes! And it was hardly surprising that everywhere I looked there were guests clad in colors that mimicked flowers: pink in every shade was a crowd favorite and I noticed a lot of shocking pink worn with black (a real trend this spring), in addition to lilac, purple, yellows, red, and greens. And then there were the feathers….which are obviously not just ‘for the birds’ and continue to be a perennial favorite with both women and fashion designers. Feathers of all kinds, in all sizes and colors adorned every imaginable style of hat. And then there were butterflies: one huge butterfly (no, not a real one) was sitting atop a garden of flowers on one woman’s large hat.

Okay, so it didn’t always work and quite frankly, taken out of context and away from the gorgeous surroundings, (walking around in mid town for example) many of the guests would have looked downright silly if not preposterous. But in the most glorious spot in Central Park, with the lush greenery, breathtaking flowers, and the sun shining brightly on a gorgeous spring day (they say “it never rains on the FLO Awards” and this year was no exception…the legend continues!), everything takes on a life of its own.

Mayor Bloomberg with the Conservancy's President, Douglas Blonsky
Photo: Patrick McMullan for the Central Park Conservancy

I know this is not a ‘fashion’ event per se, the guest list is not solely
comprised of fashionistas and fashion insiders (could it be that Mayor Bloomberg was the only one present at the FLO luncheon who also attended Monday evening's Costume Institute Gala?!?) so you must temper my comments with a grain of salt. From my perspective, I would like to see more women show some individuality and not look so Garden Party-ish, and wearing hats that look like bad cast offs from last year’s Kentucky Derby.

Somers Farkas
Photo: Patrick McMullan for the Central Park Conservancy

Which is why my vote for 'Best in Show’, has to go to statuesque social fixture Somers Farkas, who literally put everyone else to shame arriving in a dramatic starched white floor length shirtdress, accessorized with a messenger bag slung over her body, low heeled sandals, and a jaunty staw fedora adorned with a spray of white ostrich feathers. Of course, being almost 6 feet tall, rail thin, perpetually suntanned, and great looking doesn't hurt (who said life is fair?) and admittedly not too many others could have pulled that off. That said, I can’t think of a better excuse to "go with the 'FLO'", let loose, lighten up, dress up, have fun, smile, and most importantly, raise money ($2.4 million to be exact) for a great cause.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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