Over 1200 guests (primarily women) descended upon Central Park’s lush Conservatory Gardens on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the Fortieth Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon hosted by the Women’s Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Central Park Conservancy. This year’s honorees are JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Alexia Leuschen, the Women’s Committee president.
Because of the pandemic, they skipped 2020. In 2021, the event was held over two days, with multiple luncheons spread out across different Central Park locations. This year, it was back to the usual way of doing things, beginning with an insider’s tour of the Conservatory Garden from 11:00 to 11:30 and a lengthy and spirited “cocktail” reception where no cocktails were served but everyone could see and be seen.
This was followed by a sit-down lunch and presentation of the Frederick Law Olmsted Awards under a massive tent. Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships once again provided the delicious meal: chicken paillard Milanese, strawberry shortcake washed down with Whispering Angel Rose, courtesy of Chateau d’Esclans.
Now, if only the weather would be cooperative. It’s been said that “It never rains” at the FLO Awards Luncheon, but it did on Wednesday, and naturally, the organizers were prepared. Arrivals congregated under a tent, and a thoughtful coat check was available. Wathne Ltd. is a longtime sponsor, and each year, they gift each guest with one of their colorful and sturdy umbrellas.
The good news is that it could have been a lot worse. The rain was light, and by the time the lunch ended, there were actually little peeks of sun. The unseasonably cool and damp weather provided to be somewhat of a sartorial challenge, but many guests had planned their outfits in advance and were sticking with it, rain or shine.
While some women shivered in bare mini dresses, a few used the weather as a good excuse to cover up from head to toe in frothy feathers, furs, or a statement-making coat, all of which came in handy yesterday.
The guest list represents a cross-section of society, including significant philanthropists, prominent social figures, businesses, publishing, and real estate tycoons. Among this year’s attendees were Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Alexandra Lebenthal, Fe Fendi, Susan Magrino, Martha Stewart, Ali Wentworth, Christopher Mason, Barbara Tfank, Polina Proshkina, Di Mondo, Eric Javits, Lucia Wong Gordon, R. Couri Hay, Suzanne Newman, Sharon Jacob, Jaimee Gregory, Jean Shafiroff, and designer B. Michael. Mr, Michael created both Jean’s pants ensemble and hat.
What began in 1983 as a small luncheon to honor those who’d contributed to restoring and maintaining the Park has raised over $200 million. This is not only one of the most successful fundraising luncheons in the country, but it is also the most photogenic, with hats taking center stage. Specifically, fabulously eccentric headgear. Good taste sort of goes out the window. It’s all about dressing for the moment and having fun.
For the occasion, I opted for my colorful vintage Pucci cotton blouse and matching wide-legged pants worn with an orange straw hat by Gladys Timez. I threw a neon pink rain slicker over my shoulders just in case of rain. Our senior writer Laurel Marcus wore a Thom Browne pantsuit printed with pastel flowers, accessorized with a colorful floral necklace and yellow fascinator.
While not every guest was wearing a chapeau (or headdress), most did. As usual, many go to great lengths to pay homage to the day and celebrate nature with their choice of headgear and coordinating ensembles that explain all the park-related themes, florals, butterflies, and birds. In some cases, it is hard to tell where the guests start and the lush landscaping ends because they blend in so well.
New York milliners obviously had a field day. KOKIN reports that he was “over over OVER overwhelmed” with orders this season. Suzanne Newman, the couture milliner who has a small jewel of a shop at 13 East 61st Street, believes that after 2 years of Covid restrictions, people were eager to take back their social lives. “This season has rivaled my 2019 pre-Covid season. Along with The Kentucky Derby, Ascot, Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and parties, I have had almost a clean sweep. It has been quite astonishing and unexpected”.
Eric Javits’s hats are ubiquitous in town and country, and they are always popular with the social set. In addition, Eric is kept busy providing the perfect headwear for his sartorially over-the-top companion Di Mondo who arrived at the lunch with his pet rabbit.
The FLO Awards Luncheon is not a ‘fashion’ event. Still, it has 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 it popular. Six years after his passing, it’s still impossible to not think of Bill on this day.
There’s a reason that the cover of the Rizzoli tome, “Bill Cunningham Was There: Spring Flings + Summer Soirees,” written by John Kurdewan and Steven Stolman, shows Bill joyfully aiming his camera at a hat clad subject at a past FLO Awards Luncheon.
Coincidentally, over 100 fans of the late New York Times photojournalist gathered at the Museum of the City of New York (just steps away from the Central Park Conservancy) on Tuesday, April 26th, to hear John Kurdewan, Cunningham’s longtime wingman and co-author Steven Stolman, speak about their book. Even though the official publication date was March 2021, this was their first joint in-person book talk.
Their hour-long conversation, held in the museum’s theater, was introduced by Amy Fine Collins, a frequent habitué of Cunningham’s extraordinary body of work. Her heartfelt recollections brought many to tears.
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