Old China/New China: China Institute’s 2016 Benefit Luncheon Celebrating Design

The China Institute (www.chinainstitute.org), founded in 1926 by a group of Chinese educators, is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected educational institutions devoted solely to Chinese culture. On Sunday, they held their 2016 Spring Benefit Luncheon. The Honorary Chair was Sophia Sheng; Luncheon Co-chairs were Danielle Accettola & Lan Shi; Design Chair was Kathryn Scott. The Keynote Speaker was James Fallon, Editor, Women’s Wear Daily.

James Fallon with philanthropist Jean Shafiroff

Among those who came to celebrate its 90th anniversary (and enjoy a seated luncheon with a special spring menu designed to delight the senses with the flavors of Asia), were Jean Shafiroff, Barbara Tober, Bobbi Queen, Susan Gutfreund, Lauren Day Roberts, Chiu-Ti Jansen (TV presenter, publisher, writer), image guru Montgomery Frazier, and designer Malan Breton. Both Montgomery and Chiu-Ti were wearing Asian inspired clothes by the Taiwanese born American designer and they were not alone.

Dr. Valerie Steele with her husband Dr. John S. Major

Those who also took the afternoon’s theme to heart were Dr. Valerie Steele, who wore a beautiful Dries Van Noten coat with an oriental floral design that she bought in Paris a few years ago; her husband, John S. Major (an historian of early China and translator of Classical Chinese texts), who wore a white shirt with a decidedly oriental blue floral design by Shanghai Tang; Lucia Hwong Gordon, who was wearing her grandma’s cheongsam;

Jane Scheinfeld wearing a coat by Simone Rocha

Jane Scheinfeld, who opted for a red silk coat with an oriental floral design by Simone Rocha. For me, it was a perfect opportunity to trot out my vintage KJL ‘Fire Breathing Dragon’ necklace and Chinese coolie hat with an attached braid.

Montgomery Frazier, Malan Breton, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Chiu -Ti Jansen

There were several themes that rang out loud and clear throughout this organization’s signature sold out event: The first is “East-Meets-West”. This was apparent in its choice of venue, Tribeca Rooftop (which is located downtown on the far west side and boasts dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline), as well as the menu (fresh burrata and heirloom tomatoes, miso glazed black cod, flourless chocolate torte with a trio of sorbet). And it was also apparent in the symbolism of the China Institute’s new location: they recently re-located from the upper east side to lower Manhattan’s far west side .

Mannequins wearing designs by Yeohlee and Vivienne Tam among others

For more than half a century, China Institute has resided in a four story building on the Upper East Side (65th street between Lexington and Park Avenues to be exact). They just relocated to their new much larger (four times the size) headquarters at 100 Washington Street (located on the west side highway, just blocks away from One World Trade). “Lower Manhattan is an energetic and transformational neighborhood, and we want to be a part of it,” said James Heimowitz, the institute’s president who made the welcoming remarks. He views the rebirth of this neighborhood as being parallel to China Institute’s own evolvement.

Yeohlee with models wearing her designs

The other theme was Old China/New China (exploring the exciting dynamic between tradition and innovation). This was actually their first fashion themed event in 30 years and in order to emphasize the “inspiring continuum of Chinese fashion design”, the luncheon celebrated established leaders in the design field (Yeohlee, Vivienne Tam, Han Feng), along with emerging talent (Lan Shi, Jiyeon Lee, Merry Wu). The honored guest was Yeohlee and she took the podium (making her remarks) flanked by two models dressed in her architectural designs. In addition, she and Lan Shi had several pieces up for sale, with a percentage of the proceeds going to the China Institute.

Guo Pei Marilyn Kirschner Chiu-Ti Jansen

Also in attendance was Chinese Couturier Guo Pei. Oh, so you’re not familiar with her name? Let me refresh your memory. She made the dramatic fur trimmed and embroidered yellow coat which was worn by Rihanna to last year’s Met Gala, which of course, had China as its theme. She will be on hand for China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala on Tuesday, September 27th, which will formally celebrate their 90th Anniversary.

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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