New York Botanical Garden’s Spring Gala 2021 in celebration of KUSAMA: COSMIC NATURE

Photo Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Marilyn Kirschner & Sarah Gillman – CFO, NY Botanical Garden
Photo: Stacy Lomman

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.

Brooke Shields in vintage Tina Leser and Alek Wek wearing Saloni
Photo Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Jacob Bernstein, journalist
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Fe Fendi and daughter
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

Gala Chairs were Georgina Bloomberg, Kate Davis, Lili Buffett, Whitney Clay, Gillian Hearst, Sharon Jacob, and Holly Lowen.

Di Mondo in polka dot
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Jennifer Creel and Alexandra Lind
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Madeleine Weeks in Raf Simons
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Jean Shafiroff in a gown by Victor dE Souza
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Chuck Royce
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Piper James & Kit Keenan both in Cynthia Rowley
Photo Stacy Lomman

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 Weiss and Marilyn Kirschner
Photo Stacy Lomman

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.

Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

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.

Photo Stacy Lomman

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.

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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