Fashionable fundraising

From the ‘chiffon trenches’ to Newark: Famous design guru addresses WA Luncheon.

On May 7, the largest “cast” ever assembled on Prudential Hall stage – over 560 strong – reveled in the high-spirited salute to sisterhood known as the Women ‘s Association of NJPAC’s Annual Spring Luncheon & Auction.

The WA’s success has long been a story of strength in numbers: Founded 25 years ago by nine women, the group now counts 2,500 members and has raised more than $52 million to support NJPAC’s arts education programming. The silver anniversary celebration was literally one for the record books, generating about $280,000 and exceeding goal.

Raising a glass of sparkling rosé, Deborah Q. Belfatto, Co-Chair of the event with Faith Taylor, declared, “Here’s to 25 years of camaraderie, friendship, driven results, and 52 million dollars raised for NJPAC and arts education – to the WA!”

The party was just getting started. Making a stunning entrance, Vogue fashionista and industry scribe André Leon Talley turned heads with his Dapper Dan’s of Harlem caftan – a luminous mix of bronze and gold brocade and rhinestones – topped with a Glengarry hat. Tap wizard and choreographer Savion Glover, the Arts Center’s Dance Advisor and Board member, shared loving words about his mom, Yvette Glover, recipient of the Ronnie Goldberg Award. Vocalist Alexis Morrast, accompanied by guitarist Joshua Szeimberg, showed NJPAC arts training at its best by opening the festivities with jazzy renditions of “Come Sunday” and “I Can See Clearly Now.” 

As the guest speaker, Talley, the former Vogue fashion editor, protégé to Diana Vreeland, and subject of the 2017 documentary, The Gospel According to André, preached about the value of hard work, faith and humility. “Home for me is a very important place. It’s the foundation of what I am,” he said of his growing-up years in Durham, N.C.

A tastemaker recognized as one of the country’s foremost arbiters of design, Talley described full-circle moments from his life and career, such as a visit to a congregation in Africa that was akin to the rural missionary church near his boyhood home, or the striking similarities between the beloved grandmother who raised him and his “Mrs. Vreeland,” a doyenne of New York City polish and sophistication.

Other anecdotes dwelled on his passion for the printed page, an obsession he shared with designer Karl Lagerfeld; landing a job at Andy Warhol’s Factory for $50 a week; and finding the cupboard bare – save for a can of chocolate syrup – on one dismal Christmas Eve. The stories flowed, the Q&A went into overtime, and Talley generously continued to chat with guests, including a group of Rutgers students seeking advice.

“Never give up. Ever. Study and make your parents proud of you,” he told them. “Always respect where you came from. You’re here because someone nurtured you to be the person you are.”  

Speakers faced a stage that was deliciously transformed into what resembled a massive sherbet dessert of lemon yellow and key lime green (the better to show off the afternoon’s Malibu Torte of mango, pineapple and coconut), with branches of cherry blossoms arranged skyward from the tables.

The luncheon also serves as a creative forum for hundreds of businesswomen who network their contacts and exchange ideas. This year they were offered the opportunity to pose for free head shots.

“There were over 500 women professionals there,” enthused Amy Gideon, President and co-owner of TAG Online in Clifton, after browsing the auction items on display in Prudential Lobby. “As a woman owner of a website design and hosting company, I felt included and at home.”

High-end designer bags, spa packages and handcrafted jewelry always draw brisk bidding at the auction, but guests were equally delighted to pounce on this year’s offbeat items, like a tea party for eight, VIP tickets to The Dr. Oz Show, a child’s Land Rover riding toy, and a gift certificate to cigar school.

Welcoming remarks were delivered by NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber and WA President Marcia Wilson Brown, who remembered longtime WA Board Member Trish Morris-Yamba in a heartfelt, posthumous tribute. The fund-raiser also supported Savion Glover’s upcoming revival of The Tap Dance Kid, the show that put his name on a Broadway marquee at the age of 11; Glover will direct and choreograph for a cast of talented students at NJPAC over the summer.

The luncheon’s presenting sponsor was RWJBarnabas Health and underwriters were Prudential, The MCJ Amelior Foundation and United Airlines.

May 10, 2019