From the South Bronx to the Plaza

Jean Shafiroff & Christine Schwarzman
All photos: Lieba Nesis
(Click on images for full size views)

The Casita Maria Gala took place last night at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. The event which began with cocktails in the ballroom at 7:30 pm, a later hour in an ode to Spanish tardiness, was well attended including socialites/philanthropists: Christine and Steve Schwarzman, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, Amy Fine Collins, Joanna and Brian Fisher, Tanya and David Tisch, Susan and David Rockefeller, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Peggy Siegal and Kalliope Karella.

Jonathan Marder & Mary McFadden

Even Mary McFadden, the rarely seen designer, graced the event in her signature black bob dressed in one of her own designs with her white powdered face – she has not aged a bit. The Casita Maria foundation was started in 1934 by Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan in order to give the children of recently arrived Hispanic families the educational support necessary to thrive in the United States.

The dinner

In 1961 the organization moved from East Harlem to the South Bronx with programs including homeless services, drug rehabilitation and violence prevention. The current focus of the organization is on arts and education, as well as summer camps and internships with over 1,400 students attending. Former “Casita Kids” include Tito Puente, Dave Valentin and DJ Grandmaster Flash.

Veronique & Bob Pittman with Ali Wambold

This evening was a celebration of the Casita program and its honorees including famed director Baz Luhrmann, media mogul Bob Pittman, and management consultant legend John Bernbach. John was introduced by mogul Steve Schwarzman who praised Bernbach for his vast consulting expertise ranging from Universal Studios to Cognac and Avis. Jacqueline Weld Drake, the chairman of the dinner, was the master of ceremonies and looked stunning in a Philosophy dress which she told me she just took the tags off of.

William Ivey Long & Amy Fine Collins with Joanna Fisher

Fashion is always a primary component of any New York social event and this evening was no different with Kalliope Karella in head-to-toe Chanel, Christine Schwarzman in a perfect Jenny Packham, Veronique Pittman in a gold and black Ralph Lauren gown, Amy Fine Collins in an embroidered Zac Posen and Jamee Gregory in a fluid Badgley Mischka dress.

Brian and Joanna Fisher with David & Susan Rockefeller

However, it was the jewels that were astounding with big chunks of diamonds gracing the decolletage and arms of the beautiful ladies who wore them-Van Cleef and Arpels and Bulgari just a couple of the magnificent pieces on display. Joanna Fisher, wife of Real Estate mogul Brian Fisher, wore a magnificent emerald pin and a 27 carat diamond ring that she just received for her 30th wedding anniversary. Her good friend Susan Rockefeller was demure in a Morgane Le Fay floral dress and a relaxed hairdo with little makeup belying her status as a member of one of the most prestigious families in the United States.

Chair of dinner Jacqueline Weld Drake & honoree John Bernbach

This event is really all about the Casita children with Bob Pittman telling me he was happy to support them “because they do great stuff for kids.” Bob Pittman the founder of MTV and the current Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, Inc. said he barely watches television preferring the medium of radio. Pittman said he felt old with an upcoming 62nd birthday in December, but appeared trim and youthful sporting a slight beard, a healthy looking tan and a lovely wife.

Catherine Martin & Baz Luhrmann 

A highlight of the evening was the presence of actor Jimmy Smits introducing brilliant director Baz Luhrmann to the audience and extolling Luhrmann for painting big canvases with his current sites set on the city of New York. Luhrmann is directing a Netflix series entitled “The Get Down” which will star Jimmy Smits, and Shameik Moore which will highlight the birth of hip hop with the Bronx getting a huge shout out.

Christin Gudefin, Tanya Tisch & Catherine Beaudoin Jacqueline de Croy-Roeulx
and David Tisch

Luhrmann who directed “Romeo and Juliet”, “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby” has movie star looks with an approachable manner. He spoke of his modest upbringing in Herons Creek, New South Wales, where he said there were eleven houses in his town with zero access to filmmaking until a mentor and organization stepped in to help him the same way Casita Maria helps its youth. He also noted that one hundred percent of Casita graduates attend college highlighting an organization that helps make a difference. Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin, the highly acclaimed costume designer, looked on with pride as her husband spoke of giving back to those less fortunate.

Jamee Gregory, Katya Lee, Samir Tabar & Christine Schwarzman

As the evening concluded the dancing did not diminish with billionaire Steve Schwarzman and wife Christine dancing up a storm while Baz Luhrmann and Jacqueline Drake did a mean samba. Luhrmann is an excellent dancer possessing a grace that is uncanny; it is hard to fathom that one man could possess so many disparate talents.

Then some of the Casita students break danced with an enthusiastic crowd applauding their energetic moves. This night is all about the remarkable youth that are given a chance to thrive because of the generosity of the event’s attendees. As the director of the dinner said in the name of Amy Poehler, “giving to charity is good for your skin and makes your butt look smaller.”

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

1 Comment
  1. I am so glad to know about this The Casita Maria Gala event. It was such a grand event- the photographs are saying it all. I wish I could also attend this event. Well, I am also going to throw such a huge party for my office staff and currently gathering corporate holiday party ideas for that. Could you help me in this?

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