Casita Maria Gala Takes Over the Plaza 

Honorees Mary Snow, Jackie Weld Drake, Carlos Souza & Dayssi Olarte De Kavanos
All photos Lieba Nesis – Click images for full-size views

Casita Maria held its annual gala at the Plaza Hotel on Tuesday, October 16th with cocktails beginning at 7:30 PM. Recently, I have noticed a kind of ennui setting in on the gala scene where fewer people are making the effort to go out due to low levels of enthusiasm and a “been there done that” attitude. However, tonight I observed the opposite with an evening that was exciting, well attended and comprised of the most elegant and enthusiastic crowd I have ever witnessed at this event.

Valesca Hermès & Olivia Palermo

This phenomenon was hard to explain as the cold weather is setting in and there were at least four competing events-one of them being the celebrity-studded “Gods Love We Deliver”. Perhaps it was due to the illustrious honorees which included uber socialites Dayssi Olarte De Kanavos, Mary Snow and Valentino Global Brand Ambassador Carlos Souza.

Anne McNally, Carlos Souza & Nicky Hilton

Souza is one of those dynamic figures who possesses the “it factor”; spending his summers on Valentino’s yacht and counting Anne Hathaway as a good friend.  In fact, it was Carlos who dressed Julia Roberts in the iconic black-and-white Valentino vintage dress she wore to the Oscars in 2001.

Ann Rapp, Roy Kean, Angela Chen & Geoffrey Bradfield

Many in the crowd were inquiring as to the whereabouts of Carolina Herrera who is usually one of the prominent figures at this gala. However, it was obvious dinner chairmen Jacqueline Weld Drake, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia and Carlos Mota went to great lengths to ensure this evening was replete with the best and brightest.

Adrienne Vittadini, Tony Bechara, Susan Gutfreund & Simon Beriro

This is Jacqueline Weld Drake’s 30th year of involvement in this dinner which she often strong-arms her friends into attending. As I entered the packed cocktail hour the impeccably dressed crowd was overflowing with sartorial stars including Olivia Palermo, Nicky Hilton, Amy Fine Collins,

Paul Kanavos, Kalliope Karella & Princess Astrid Von Liechtenstein

Christine Schwarzman, Zani Gugelmann, Jean Shafiroff, Joanna Fisher, Sofia Sanchez De Betak, Anne McNally, Princess Astrid Von Liechtenstein, Kalioppe Karella, Nicole Salmasi, Paola Bacchini, Adrienne Vittadini, Allison Sarofim and hundreds of others.

Jackie Weld Drake & Jean Shafiroff

There was a contagious enthusiasm in the crowd that everyone was discussing. Another outstanding aspect of the dinner is it starts at 7:30 PM; whereas other galas that begin at 5:30 PM lead to exhaustion by the time 8:00 PM arrives. The later hour also enhances the glamour as guests arrive in their fanciest frocks during the nighttime hours.

Brian Fisher, Amy Fine Collins & Joanna Fisher

The origins of Casita Maria can be traced back to the living room of teachers Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan more than 80 years ago who wanted to help Puerto Rican children and families newly arriving in New York. Its mission is to empower youth and their families by welcoming over 1,000 kids to the Bronx and Harlem communities from the age of six until the twelfth grade with more than 9,000 other students benefiting from their communal programs and activities. Illustrious alumni include Tito Puente, Grandmaster Flash, and Salsa musician Benny Bonilla.

 Peter Bavanovic, Christine Schwarzman & William Ivey Long

Aside from attracting a who’s who of New York Society, there were also many creative giants in the room including the enigmatic Mary McFadden, Francisco Costa, and William Ivey Long. Ivey Long is a renowned costume designer who has won six Tony Awards and been nominated for sixteen. Upon graduating Yale in 1975, he worked for couturier Charles James as an unpaid apprentice until James death in 1978. I was astounded to learn the youthful-looking Long is 71-career success might be the secret to a youthful countenance after all.

Zani Gugelmann, Francisco Costa & Allison Sarofim

As the guests headed to the Plaza ballroom for dinner and speeches, Dayssi Kanavos recalled Ambassador John Loeb telling her when she arrived in New York “if you stay long enough you will be honored.” Kanavos graduated from the School of Administration at Cornell and is currently the COO and President of Flag Luxury Group which develops high-end hotels around the world. Dayssi raised a glass to Jacqueline Weld Drake who she said was “the heart and soul” of Casita Maria.

Paola Bacchini, Titina Penzini, Natalia Poniatowski & Nicole Salmasi

Another well-educated honoree, Mary Elizabeth Snow, who graduated Harvard with a BA in Economics thanked her parents who have been married 57 years for participating in the evening. Carlos Souza ended off the program by declaring he only likes short speeches but loved it when education and children were mixed together.

Bettina Zilkha, Michael Gross & Jennifer Creel

This dinner was as painless as could be with the best part saved for last-dancing to the Latino tunes played by Bob Hardwick Sound. A number of guests appeared to be professional Salsa dancers as they wowed the crowd with their expert moves. As I exited the Plaza at 11:30 PM I realized I had left my phone at the hotel – returning to the Plaza for one last hurrah is an experience I always relish.

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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