Hats off to the WA

Spring fling brings out a garden of gorgeous for annual fundraiser


For some, it was the occasion for a rummage through the closet.


“Oh, I just did a little mixing and matching,” demurred Ramona Gomez, who topped a black dress with a black and white floral jacket, a long rope of pearls and a black net hat to conjure up a neutral spring ensemble.


For others, it was a chance to trot out a special piece.


“I bought this in Italy, on the Amalfi Coast, at a shop where they make beautiful hand-made dresses,” explained Edelweiss Brescia, twirling to show off a full-skirted pink and gray striped floral dress, which she topped with a pink fascinator.


Yes, a fascinator – and nary a British royal in sight.


The Women’s Association of NJPAC’s Spring Luncheon and Auction, an annual affair that raises funds for the Arts Center’s educational programs and operational expenses, does a great deal of important work; the WA is the Arts Center’s single largest financial supporter, and the Luncheon is one of its two primary fundraising events.


But it’s also an occasion for quite a lot of fun. And not least because it’s a chance to celebrate spring in high  —  or should we say haute?  —  style.


Hats aren’t de rigueur for the Luncheon, as at Ascot. But they’re not out of place, either.


“I wore this one to the Kentucky Derby, too!” said Lisa Storms, of her pale pink feathered Brenda Waites Bolling hat, paired with a matching St. John suit, as she posed with a group of friends at a social media booth.


“My secretary is from the South, and when her grandmother passed, she got all her hats. She brought three of them into my office, like, two hours ago and even though I’m wearing this ridiculous color, she had a matching hat!” explained Faith Scott, of the Visiting Nurses Association of Northern NJ, whose suit and chapeau were both a cheerful fuchsia.


“I just got this from Amazon,” said Jumi Falusi, of her pink fascinator – the crowning glory of a carefully curated outfit, which included a mint green Ermano Scervino dress topped with a blue and pink print skirt.


Dressing up wasn’t the only treat at the Luncheon; before the sit-down meal on the stage of Prudential Hall, WA members and their guests had the chance to bid on prizes at a silent auction.


Offerings included a powder-blue PUBLIC bike, complete with basket and bell on the handlebar; tickets to Lady Gaga’s world tour; a hand-blown bowl from Newark’s GlassRoots; and a sleek silver Mercedes Benz pedal car that would be the envy of any playground. One lucky bidder picked up a shopping party for 10 at a Stuart Weitzman boutique — complete with shoes, natch.


Those interested were able to bid on their smartphones this year, as they perused the options and nibbled snacks like lobster mango salad served on plantain chips and mushroom “straws” offered up in a martini glass.


After bidding on the auction items displayed among flowers and greenery in the NJPAC lobby, the main event took all 500 guests into Prudential Hall, itself dressed up in floral projections and with its signature crystal orb glowing in a pink spotlight. Tables on the stage were set for a “vegetable power plate” luncheon – the better to make room for a dessert of chocolate coconut tres leches cake.


After performances by NJPAC’s Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens – who wowed guests with powerful performances of Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” – the WA honored Patricia Capawana with the Ronnie Goldberg Award, named for one of the group’s founders.


And after lunch, guest speaker Grace Bonney  —  founder of the design*sponge website and author of the bestseller In the Company of Women —  chattted with a trio of entrepreneurs about navigating successful career paths: Miko Branch, co-founder and CO-CEO of Miss Jessie’s hair products; interior designer Genevieve Gorder; and pastry chef and cookbook author Klancy Miller. The women shared their insights on the risks of financing and building a business, and the importance of honing skills in related areas like pitching, marketing and networking. 


Although the event was a high-spirited nod to the season, the real prize was the funds raised for NJPAC and its Arts Education programs – which range from music classes for preschoolers at Newark’s community centers, to advanced pre-professional training for high school students aiming for admission to conservatories. This year, the Luncheon’s guests raised more than $220,000 for these programs – quite a feather in their caps. 


May 17, 2017