“The 2024 People’s Ball”

Jean Stone, Marilyn Kirschner, Lana Turner, Amy Fine Collins, Lauren Ezersky, Souleo – All photos Laurel Marcus

Is there another widely publicized event as exclusionary as the Met Gala? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Based on that supposition, a few years ago, The People’s Ball (last night marked its fourth year — held the Sunday night before the Gala) was established at the Brooklyn Public Library as a free annual celebration of fashion, personal style, and inclusivity.

This year, the event had a particular group of honorees – muses of the late great Bill Cunningham to celebrate what would have been the iconic New York Times photographer’s 95th birthday on March 13th.

Jean Stone on the Runway

The muses included Jean Stone (half of the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas), real estate professional Lana Turner, style expert and cable host of the beloved program “Behind the Velvet Ropes” Lauren Ezersky, one of the stars of 2014’s “Advanced Style” documentary and avid bicyclist Tziporah Salamon, arbiter and Owner of the “International Best Dressed List” and journalist Amy Fine Collins, and, of course, Lookonline’s own Marilyn Kirschner.

Marilyn was not only the most photographed by Bill of all the muses—appearing hundreds of times throughout his various columns—but she was one of the very few to whom Bill ever devoted a full 18-photo spread (more on that later).

Amy Fine Collins on the Runway

Co-curated by impresario Souleo, hailed as “an icon to Harlem” by art historian Ruth Millington and “Harlem’s Heart and Soul” by the Daily News, the event entitled “Stand Up/Stand Out” was everything the Met Gala is not. First, the event is free to those who RSVP in advance – no need to be an A-lister in Anna’s good graces and shell out $75G.

Souleo and Lauren Ezersky

Instead of a stairway red carpet, there was an actual raised catwalk (with a few steep scary steps) available to walk, run, or dance on by anyone who wanted to show up and show out. Robert Verdi hosted this part of the event and has kept his gift for Gab. One attendee had her name “Karen” made fun of for obvious reasons – no one wants to be referred to as a “Karen” anymore.

Lana Turner & Souleo

Because I accompanied “Cinderella” to the Ball (aka Ms. Marilyn), I witnessed a few backstage treatment perks. Gracious host Souleo and the BPL not only sent a car and driver to schlep us to and from the Ball (no turning into a couple of mice and a pumpkin, thankfully), but he also greeted us in his cropped T-shirt on this misty night at the doorway.

Lauren & Marilyn being photographed

We were ushered to “changing rooms” behind the makeshift stage (the grand entrance lobby of the library), although no one changed. Shortly after that, Marilyn was whisked off for “portraits” (which I initially misheard as “poured drinks,” which we would have welcomed, lol). Anyway, these were not rush job photos—there was an actual studio set up, and the young photographer took his sweet time.

Woman with Bill hat on head

I meandered around on the second level, getting a bird’s-eye view of the guests’ arrival. Loud club music was pumping, people were dancing and posing for photos, and I was just generally feeling the general spirit of a fun night prevailed. There was some sort of buffet in one room while those who felt like “hams” queued up to walk the runway.

Cool looking pants!

Young and old — from toddlers in tiaras to those with various mobility issues strutted their stuff. At the same time, as I mentioned, Robert Verdi narrated in his usual conversational and humorous manner, adding a fun element to the night. The event was co-hosted by actress Delissa Reynolds, who also narrated.

Marilyn on the Runway

At 8 p.m., it was time for the muses to be introduced and interviewed by Souleo and take their runway spin. They each got one individualized question meant specifically for them.

Lana was asked how Bill’s legacy and events like this inspire all of us to stand out and stand up. She replied that it was important to be true to yourself rather than try to copy anyone else’s style in the way you present to the world. Fittingly, she wore a dress of her own design.

Woman in Princess Dress

Jean was asked how Bill would have liked tonight’s crowd of stylish New Yorkers. She replied that he would have delighted in it and would have been snapping away. She didn’t mention calling everyone “Child” no matter how old you were.

Tziporah Salamon on the Runway

Tziporah was asked how she and Bill connected over their mutual love of style and bikes. She told a story about how her father, in his later years, worked as a tailor at Bergdorf Goodman. “I would come over to see him, and that’s how I ended up meeting Bill in front of Bergdorf’s,” Bill’s usual spot for people-watching and photographing.

Lauren decked out in full Schiaparelli – black keyholed “Grecian Goddess” dress, the gold “toed” platform boots, brooches with eyeballs would have definitely intrigued Bill’s artistic eye and Amy in a Thom Browne floral appliquéd frock had the distinction of being the only one who would attend both The People’s Ball and the Met Gala. Probably the only thing the two events have in common is AFC – once a muse to Geoffrey Beene and now to designer and current CFDA head Thom Browne.

Bill Cunningham’s New York Times “On the Street Column,” Sunday February 22, 2001

As mentioned earlier, Marilyn was not only Bill’s most photographed, but she was also his longest-running muse (from 1972 when Bill was at WWD until June 2016), which was Bill’s last Evening Hours column. When Souleo asked how being photographed by Bill impacted her career or changed her life, she replied that Bill’s 18 picture spread, “The Color of Money (In The Bank,” in February 2001 at the beginning of NYFW, certainly brought her name and face recognition. “People really knew who I was…someone on the subway recognized me,” she laughed. “It really put me on the fashion map.”

Interestingly, in that column Bill featured Marilyn in many colorful ensembles so she decided to echo that theme last night in a Christopher John Rogers flared bottom dress, Kara bag, multicolored vintage bangles and Ranjana Khan feathered peacock earrings.

“While Anna (Wintour) declared, ‘We all dress for Bill, ‘ my contention is that we all dress for ourselves, but Bill upped our game!” I might add that this is becoming a second career for Marilyn—last night marked her sophomore stint as a runway model, the first being on the Batsheva runway during last February’s NYFW. Soon, we can only speak to her through her agent. – LOL!

Latest Comments:

  1. I discovered Dries 15 years ago as I was walking through Barbeys NY in LA. There was this amazing coat…

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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