“I’m going to only take a few minutes of your time. So shut up!”
Last night, at the St. Regis rooftop ballroom, Dame Barbara Taylor Bradford took the role of emcee to new levels of Britishness when the post-dinner chatter became too much. Such brusqueness may have raised a few eyebrows at other galas, but she is a Dame, and after all, this was to fight cancer. The room duly obeyed.
The cause was, for the most part, the focus of the American Cancer Society’s inaugural Birthday Bash (in past years, called the “Celebration of Life,” the name change heralding the Society’s 100th birthday next year). The end of the spring gala season seemed to have left some guests a bit tired and chatty, with the auction drawing few bidders. But later requests for straight-up donations to the Society’s Hope Lodge—no VIP Giants tickets included—was heeded by many. And the dance floor was full to the brim when the band played “Staying Alive,” which we presume was in homage to Robin Gibb.
Diana Feldman, the Society’s Chairman of Special Events, did some shushing of her own in her opening remarks, which also featured a not-too-shabby rendition of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday.” It was dedicated to the night’s honorees—designers Nate Berkus and Geoffrey Bradfield—in lieu of Mr. President.
Bradfield, who received the night’s Man of Achievement Award, arrived for cocktails in a bespoke Astor & Black suit. When The Observer asked Bradfield what his acolytes can expect from his book “The 21st Century Palace,” out tomorrow, he grabbed our arm, beaming: “Magic.”
Once called “The Billionaire’s Designer” and coiner of the term “functional opulence,” Bradfield was lauded as a loyal, loving friend by nearly every functionally opulent person the The Observer talked to.
“I met him the day he arrived here from South Africa,” said Debbie Bancroft. “I was introduced to him by a writer for Tatler. He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I had a huge crush on him. I still do.”
Some of his friends even wore all white in his honor. Barbara Tober, another co-chair of the benefit, layered two translucent white necklaces with her all-white pantsuit. One of the necklaces featured a cascade of what she called “wonderful soft stuff” that resembled, in the most elegant of ways, both mushroom caps and jellyfish.
Chiu-Ti Jansen, founder of China Happenings and publisher of the the Observer Media Group’s YUE magazine, also wore white for Bradfield: a sleeveless 1960s costume couture gown, elbow-length satin gloves, and a tiara.
“Everyone says you can only wear white on your wedding, but I’m wearing white in honor of him.”
The event called for “festive attire,” which left some a bit perplexed.
“It’s very difficult to know what ‘festive’ is,” said Barbara de Portago, in mock frustration, to Feldman and Dame Bradford during cocktail hour. “Give me black tie or give me cocktail!”
Jean Shafiroff, another benefit co-chair, interpreted “festive” with a cobalt silk lace gown designed by Victor de Souza, but customized for Shafiroff. “This dress is on the Chic Index,” she said, referring to the site which currently features Shafiroff in 12 separate posts, and pointing out her billowing train and bustle.
Nate Berkus arrived shortly before dinner, fresh on the heels of last week’s announcement of his Target home decor line, due for release this fall. (He immediately signalled for a tequila with soda while snapping photos, eliciting laughter from Bradfield.) Berkus was honored with the night’s Humanitarian Award for his charity work: in particular, for his redesign of one of the rooms in the Society’s Hope Lodge, a free-of-charge residence for cancer patients and families who have to travel to New York for treatment.
And is he a fan of Bradfield’s?
“I am. I think his work is incredibly refined. Design is a funny industry in that some people feel like they can’t like others’ work. I’ve never felt that way.”
Later in the evening, Berkus poked fun at one item he and Bradfield do have in common, despite their divergent design styles.
“Geoffrey, I’m honored to be a co-recipient with you tonight. I’m even more honored that we wear the same suit size, as we were discussing. No decorators over 5′ 8″. That’s just going to be the way it goes.”
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