The NYBG Annual Orchid Dinner

Last night, the Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom was the setting for The New York Botanical Garden’s annual Orchid Dinner (nybg.org). Underwritten by Hearst, this enchanting event, now in its 18th year, serves as the critical fundraiser for NYBG’s enviable orchid collection; more than 350 guests raised over $550,000. It is also a precursor to the Orchid Show.

Jeff Leatham

This year’s installation, Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope, opened on February 15h and runs through April 30th. Leatham is a renowned floral designer who serves as the artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris. He was knighted in Paris with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and is also the bestselling author of the book, Jeff Leatham: Visionary Floral Art and Design. Leatham’s calling card is his bold and arresting use of color. He once said that color is the most important aspect of his design and his work. This show is a horticultural spectacle with a “WOW” factor.

NYBG Orchid Show tunnel of lights
Photo by Marlon Co

Kaleidoscope aptly describes the 7,000 colorful orchids of every size and shape, that fill the 30,000 square feet of space within the landmark Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. But this year’s installation is far more than just flowers. When guests arrive, they are greeted with a tunnel filled with kaleidoscopic lights and a 10 foot tall mirrored orchid sculpture with a fountain of water. Leatham created each gallery in a different color to heighten the effect and the experience.

Cocktails
Photo by Laurel Marcus

The evening began at 7 p.m. with cocktails, a sale of “rare and exceptional” orchids (leading orchid experts were present to help those pondering their choices) and a Silent Auction of exclusive orchid themed items. This year’s Gala Chairs were Anne and Russell Byers, Whitney and Jonathan Clay, Sharon and Bill Jacob, Susan and George Matelish, Tina, and Steven R. Swartz. Jeff Leatham served as Honorary Design Chair.

Photo by Laurel Marcus

At 8 p.m., guests made their way into the Grand Ballroom for dinner and dancing. The dinner of coq au vin and chocolate mousse was a salute to Jeff’s obvious French connection. The Grand Ballroom was, as always, transformed into a tropical paradise.

Photo by Laurel Marcus

Each of the glorious tables were punctuated by the resplendent, thoroughly imaginative, and inventive over-scaled orchid centerpieces, the work of 29 leading designers. There is no question that the lavish orchid centerpieces were the stars of the evening.

Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The dress code was cocktail attire. Many opted for New York black including Jeff Leatham, who lives with so much color, he gravitates to its polar opposite when it comes to his sartorial choices. That being said, there were many guests whose colorful attire was obviously inspired by the theme of the evening; the colorful world of orchids.

Leigh Lezark
Photo by Laurel Marcus

Among the standouts was actress Leigh Lezark in an elegant green Grecian inspired pleated gown. Jean Shafiroff opted for a short strapless marigold Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress. The pouf skirt featured a large sculptural flower on one side.

Jean Shafiroff & Marilyn Kirschner
Photo by Laurel Marcus

I channeled the colors of a kaleidoscope with my vintage YSL fuchsia satin trousers and neon yellow cashmere sweater accessorized with lucite necklaces.

Designer Brittany Bromley and her table
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Naturally, many women wore floral printed frocks. Interior designer Brittany Bromley’s long dress was a perfect backdrop for her elegant table. Laurel Marcus, wearing Naeem Khan, blended in perfectly with all the live blooms.

Laurel Marcus
Photo Marilyn Kirschner

Meanwhile, florals are always in fashion’s favor regardless of the season. The fall 2020 runway shows, now underway in Milan, have been filled with a profusion of lush blossoms, some quite extraordinary.

Rodarte Fall 2020 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

One of the most notable examples was right here in New York. At Rodarte’s runway show held at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, models not only wore darkly romantic floral dresses, but many also carried stoles or wore crowns made of live orchids.

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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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