Need more proof that things are inching their way back to some normalcy? On Thursday evening, about 300 well-heeled souls (social fixtures, philanthropists, media darlings, business tycoons, fashion designers, art world figures, etc.) ‘Ubered’ up to 2900 Southern Boulevard in The Bronx. The occasion? The New York Botanical Garden’s 2021 Spring Gala in celebration of KUSAMA: COSMIC NATURE. The highly acclaimed exhibition is currently previewing at the Garden after a year-long delay due to COVID. It runs through October 31, 2021, www.nybg.org.
“Dancing through our universe are noble souls whose magnificent forms are saturated with mystery. I invite you to explore the endlessly expanding ode to the beauty of love that is my art”- Yayoi Kusama.
Sponsored by Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame and Hearst with support from De Beers Jewelers, this is NYBG’s most important fundraiser, not to mention the first big gala held in New York since the start of the pandemic. 1.3 million dollars was raised, with the proceeds going to support The New York Botanical Garden and its education and outreach programs.
Of course, things are not exactly back to usual. All guests were asked to bring masks (they proved unnecessary), proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of the event (we checked in our cars before entering the venue). Also, in past years, guests would congregate at many points throughout the venue, and there would be drinks and hors d’oeuvres served before dinner and dancing. That was not the case this time.
Among those who attended were Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Nacho Figuera, Olivia Palermo, Brooke Shields, Alek Wek, Karlie Kloss, Jean Shafiroff, Victor dE Souza, Jacob Bernstein, Zach Weiss, Fe Fendi, Cynthia Rowley, Prabal Gurung, Tina Leung, Cece and Lee Black, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, and Brooke Shields.
In January, Brooke suffered a broken right femur falling from a balance board. She feared not walking again but luckily is recovering well. She wisely paired her vintage Tina Leser dress with flat sandals.
Gala Chairs were Georgina Bloomberg, Kate Davis, Lili Buffett, Whitney Clay, Gillian Hearst, Sharon Jacob, and Holly Lowen.
The evening was a celebration of nature and an homage to Yayoi Kusama, the irreverent 92-year-old artist known for her nature-inspired sculptures and paintings. Unfortunately, the soggy weather was less than ideal for roaming the Garden’s 250-acre landscape, but guests were still able to experience part of the immersive exhibition.
In Kusama’s universe, flowers talk, pumpkins dance, and everything is covered with giant polka dots. Kusama is known for her obsession with repeating dot patterns, and her art encompasses an astonishing variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, film, performance, and immersive installation.
Since 1977 Kusama has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution, and much of her work is marked with obsessiveness and a desire to escape from psychological trauma. There’s something quite poignant about the underlying dark side to what would otherwise seem naively joyful and whimsical.
Naturally, many guests factored the setting, and the theme of the evening, into their choice of dress. Many, like Jennifer Creel in Zimmermann, Alexandra Lind in Oscar de la Renta, Nicky Hilton Rothschild in Oscar de la Renta, and Jean Shafiroff in voluminous Victor dE Souza, wore pretty pastel garden floral frocks. One true head-turner was Tina Leung, who opted for a short frothy Marc Jacobs confection.
The always dapper Chuck Royce paired his white dinner jacket with floral embroidered slippers. I hope he didn’t ruin them. I would imagine more than a few ruined their shoes during the evening. Even though the entrance to the tent was covered, it became so flooded, a worker with a broom was standing there all night trying to rid the path of excess water.
I do not need a reason to “go dotty,” but the celebration of Yayoi’s exhibition was an excellent reason to pull out my vintage black and white polka dot dress. Others similarly inspired were Sarah Gillman, the Chief Financial Officer at The New York Botanical Garden; Sharon Jacob, in a white feather creation with interspersed black dots; Di Mondo, in a red and white polka dot pantsuit (the pants were sequined), and Zach Weiss.
Zach wins my award for “most creative.” Zach told me that he designed his dinner jacket using dotted shower curtain fabric, which he jokingly pointed out was made of “breathable polyester.” NOT! My response, “I hope you are wearing a good deodorant!” That being said, the shower curtain fabric would come in handy on a wet night like this.
But alas, even if you did not arrive wearing polka dots, thanks to polka dot-shaped strobe lights in the dinner tent, you and everyone – and everything else – was covered in them.
Meanwhile, as I have already mentioned, the inclement weather made for challenges all evening. Ubers were not allowed to pick up guests at the entrance to the event. Upon leaving, Stacy Lomman and I had to be transported, via a covered golf cart, to two separate parking lots to find our driver.