You know the old adage: “You can set your watch by it” (whatever ‘IT’ is). Well, similarly, you can literally forecast the weather by the scheduling of the annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon, (the first Wednesday in May), hosted by the Women’s Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Central Park Conservancy and now in its 36th year. As everyone knows, it NEVER (or almost never) rains on this wildly popular and always highly anticipated New York event and if you have been to it in the past, chances are you already have a small collection of pastel-hued umbrellas by Wathne Ltd. to choose from (the longtime sponsor’s umbrellas are handed out to gets as they leave). Regardless, the day is usually picture perfect in every way. The legend lives on.

The tented lunch 

Yesterday was in fact, as good as it gets. Low humidity, plenty of sunshine (it was summer like in fact), and blue blue skies. All the better to appreciate the lush beauty of the glorious Central Park Conservatory Gardens, which have been the signature location for as long as most of us can remember (at its beginnings, which started with a group of 75 women who wanted to “increase awareness from the private sector to support the restoration of Central Park”, it was held at Tavern on the Green).

Jean Shafiroff wearing B. Michael with the designer

The event began with a reception under the wisteria pergola and tours of Conservatory Garden at 11:00 am, followed by a luncheon (mustard crusted filet mignon tartine and key lime tart) and awards presentation under an elegant white tent. When Suzy Aijala, President, Women’s Committee, addressed the guests (which included Katie Couric, Stephanie March, Martha Stewart, Jean Shafiroff, B. Michael, Jamee Gregory, Somers Farkas, Fe Fendi, Nina Griscom, Alexandra Lebenthal, Michael Gross, Dr. Valerie Steele, Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, Elyse Newhouse, Eleonora Kennedy), she mentioned the perfect weather but quickly added, “Almost $4 million was raised. Now, that’s a perfect day!” She welcomed former Mayor Bloomberg (a past honoree in 2014) and said, “Hats off to Bloomberg Philanthropy for their generous gift of $4 million”. The money will go to further the Conservancy’s work throughout Central Park, continuing to make it beautiful, safe, and clean. A brief video followed and then the Frederick Law Olmsted Award was awarded to Judy and Russell Carson and Douglas Blonsky. This year’s Co-chairs were Amandine Freidheim, Elyse Newhouse, Jenny Price, Marie Unanue.

Michael Gross

As usual, the attendees represented a true cross-section of society including major philanthropists; prominent social figures; business, publishing, and real estate tycoons, etc. While it is undeniably a heavily female group, each year it seems there are more and more men (some wore hats and some were hatless). A hatless Michael Gross offered, “I’m wearing a hat IN my head.”

A chic turban-clad guest

While not every guest who descended on the park was wearing a chapeau (or headdress), most did. It’s one event where you almost feel obscenely ‘naked’ if you go hatless. While I myself am not necessarily a hat person, I found a little something (a vintage black velvet turban) to cover my head. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. I was not the only woman wearing a turban but let’s just say, we were in the minority.

A guest wearing a cap that reads Stormy with a chance of Golden Showers

It’s hardly surprising that many seemed to go to great lengths to pay homage to the day and celebrate nature in all her glory with their choice of headgear and coordinating ensembles (this explains all the park-related themes, florals, butterflies, and birds). In addition to the expected nature themes, a few women wanted to make political/social statements with their choice of headgear. One woman had a hat decorated with images of people in the news including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller. Another women’s black cap read, “Stormy with a chance of Golden Showers”.

Guest wearing white Michael Kors Collection jacket and pants

There was literally a little bit of everything including women who stubbornly ignored the forecast for summer-like temperatures in favor of decidedly fall like attire (tall black leather boots, tweed jackets, and coats). They must have been sweltering. Of course, some women were in summery white suits, which always look good. There was one woman who was wearing the same Michael Kors white jacket that Melania wore last week but she paired it with his trousers rather than a pencil skirt. And she did not wear a white hat. Of course, the Internet exploded with comments last week, after people saw the First Lady wearing ‘The Hat’. A few said it reminded them of Alexis Carrington on Dynasty, others mentioned ‘The Black Hand’ (Don Fanucci) from Godfather 2. For the record, I thought she looked positively smashing. My jaw dropped when I saw her. It could not have been more appropriate or stately.

A guest wearing an upside down bunch of tulips as a hat

The FLO Awards Luncheon is not a ‘fashion’ event but it has nonetheless become a high profile fashion spectacle in its own right, and one has to credit the late Bill Cunningham with putting it on the map and making so popular.  Ascot Schmascot! The Easter Parade? Amateur night. Kentucky Derby? Feh!

Alexandra Lebenthal in Dolce & Gabbana

Apparently, many women started seeing his ‘On the Street’ portfolio on the Sunday following the event and decided they wanted to be part of the fun. Unsurprisingly, since Bill’s passing, a few regulars, who had always attended (I won’t name names) have been missing from this and other New York events (it’s as though they feel it’s not worth the effort unless Bill is there to capture them in all their glory). FYI, I am not the only one who has noticed this.

A guest in a huge straw hat and Naem Khan ensemble

It is impossible not to think of the late Bill Cunningham on this particular day, almost two years following his death. The late photographer, who was a once a milliner, truly appreciated this event and it was one of his favorites. There is nobody who covers it with as much gusto and unbridled enthusiasm. He was truly in his element; like a kid in a candy store, photographing with glee (Bill’s longtime The New York Times collaborator, John Kurdewan, described the FLO Awards luncheon as the “Grand Prix of hat making for him”).

More hats

What was great is that Bill could have cared less about celebrity (he famously had to be told who certain celebrities were), and he could have cared less about who was deemed “hip, hot, and happening”. What was important for him was that little ‘something’ which set the person apart, and attracted his eye. It could be the smallest detail that would elude anyone else. He was completely democratic in that he celebrated all ages, genders, ethnicities, races, body types, and styles, from the ultra-classic conservative, and patrician, to the avant-garde and highly experimental. For him, there was validity in it all.

– 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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