Tuesday, December 12, 2017

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Wall Street UJA Dinner Raises $29 Million in Record-breaking Sold-Out Extravaganza

Lauren and Honoree Lee Fixel
All photos Lieba Nesis- click images for full size views

The UJA Federation of New York held its annual Wall Street dinner on Monday December 11, 2017 at the Hilton hotel with cocktails beginning at 5 PM. This event gathers "the who's who of Wall Street" with over 2,000 wolves coming together to pay tribute to UJA and to honorees Lee Fixel, and Howard Lutnick. The cocktail party is normally held in the lobby of the Hilton but this year it was in a back room where guests posed for pictures and fraternized excitedly. There was a definite electricity in the air which may have been due to the prosperity Wall Street is currently experiencing.

Allison, Howard and Casey Lutnick

Only at a Jewish event would you be warned in an email that there is no formal meal during the program so "we encourage you to bring in food from the cocktail party." Thankfully, they informed me otherwise I would have been stuck without food or drink for an entire hour-and-a-half - a situation no Jew wants to find themselves in. Even better news was that each seat contained some meat sushi and a cookie so I did not have to go hungry during the program.

John Paulson, Robert Rubin, Eric Goldstein

The dais of this event contained billionaire after billionaire with the front row reserved for the giants of Wall Street including: John Paulson, Robert Kapito, Daniel Och, Jeffrey Aronson, Leon Wagner, Jerry Levin, Jeff Schoenfeld, David Moore, Morris Offit, Robert Rubin, Gary Claar and females Barbara Novick, Alisa Levin, Esta Stecher and Linda Mirels - the most women I can remember.

Alisa Levin

This dinner has no fundraising portion and no singing of the national anthem or Hatikvah. Perhaps, on the Street where time is worth money the anthem is a frivolous pursuit - I suspect there wouldn't be any "kneelers" in the crowd. My invitation also stated the after-party would start at 8 PM and sure enough at 7:57 PM the program concluded - these business guys don't mess around.

Eric Goldstein, Howard Lutnick, Morris Offit

Every year there is one star speaker who wows the crowd and this year it was honoree Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald. Last year Michael Douglas had the crowd mesmerized with his speech on the importance of Judaism to his family, and in 2015 Michael Milken gave a brilliant speech on the history of Wall Street. This year Lutnick described the 9/11 catastrophe and how it transformed his life.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Eric Goldstein

But first Robert Kapito, President of BlackRock, announced this year was the most successful ever raising $29 million and selling out weeks in advance to 2,000 attendees. He also joked it was the best night to get a reservation at a Chinese restaurant since all the Jews were at the Hilton. Kudos to CEO of UJA Eric Goldstein who went from being a partner at Paul Weiss to taking UJA to soaring heights while never aging a day - that is no easy feat.

Left to Right: Daniel Och and Jeffrey Schoenfeld

President of UJA Jeff Schoenfeld recounted all the great work UJA has done this past year including sending 28 airplanes to Puerto Rico full of food and clean water to those in areas severely damaged by the hurricane. Mega philanthropist John Paulson who donated $5 million to The Jerusalem Arts Center this year reiterated UJA's successful year and said they stood on the shoulders of giants Felix Warburg, Ace Greenberg and Gustave Levy. Paulson praised Lutnick for gathering 300 people to the ballroom tonight more than almost any honoree.

John Paulson and Keynote Speaker Robert Rubin

Tonight Howard Lutnick was receiving the Gustave Levy award and Paulson was excited to have former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin as a keynote speaker to bring the memory of Gustave Levy alive. Rubin worked with Levy for ten years at Goldman Sachs starting in 1966 until Gustave died in 1976 and described Levy as a giant with a ferocious work ethic - noting he was often difficult to work with. Gustave was the first Jewish Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and Rubin recalled Nelson Rockefeller eulogizing Levy by declaring at his funeral that nobody would be able to fill his void.

Left to Right: Mark Medin, Anton Levy, Peter Cohen, Howard Lutnick, John Paulson, Danny Danon, Bippy Siegal and Bill Rudin

Rubin concluded by stating that "Gus" cared enormously about civic and community life and that's why organizations such as UJA remain extremely important. Daniel Och, head of Oz Management, then joked that he worked with Rubin at Goldman and he [Och] was at the bottom five while Rubin was at the top 5 and he was therefore honored to be on the same stage as Rubin who Och felt came the closest in greatness to Gustave Levy. Och said the most important thing one could do for UJA or any charity was to devote time.

Left to Right: Edie Lutnick, Lance Korman and Anthony and Amanda Orso

David Moore, head of Moore Holdings presented Lee Fixel, Partner at Tiger Management, with the Alan Greenberg Young Leadership Award calling Fixel one of the great young philanthropists in the United States. Fixel joked that he was allotted ten minutes to speak by UJA but in the spirit of philanthropy was donating half his time to Howard Lutnick.

Left to Right Adam Doneger, Jason Doneger, Jordan Barrow and Ari Spar

Before Lutnick spoke a video was shown of The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, calling Lutnick the most brilliant businessman and the finest friend she knows - I hope the royal family didn't hear that. I must admit Ferguson seemed a bit out of place at a UJA Wall Street dinner but who doesn't love a red-headed royal.

Left to Right Ken Lefkowitz, Eric Goldstein and Stephen Merkel

Paulson presented Lutnick with the Gustave Levy award and commented that Lutnick should think of this evening as an adult bar mitzvah. Lutnick recalled his recent trip to Israel with UJA which Paulson encouraged by giving him a hug and how that led him to being honored this evening. Lutnick gave a highly personal speech describing the death of both his parents within a short time frame when he was 16.

Left to Right Steve Williams and Jeff Day

While he acknowledged that many people encounter tragedy he recalled his father dying at the hands of a nurse who made a mistake with his chemotherapy shot and his mother dying of breast cancer shortly before with no uncles or aunts wanting to help his family in this sticky situation. Lutnick was in his first year of Haverford College at the time and dropped out after one week since he could no longer afford tuition and felt he had to take care of his brother. He recalled Haverford calling him on the phone a month later and asking him to come back for free.

Jerry Levin and Linda Mirels

"I ended up having the life I had because they were being good human beings and they were doing it for themselves" remarked Lutnick. Fast forward more than twenty-five years later to September 11th 2001 where Lutnick was presented with the challenge of a lifetime when he narrowly escaped death by bringing his son to school while most of his co-workers were dying in the World Trade Center.

Jeff Aronson and David Moore

Lutnick said he wasn't going to allow himself to not be a good human being and set out to take care of the families because he wanted to break the chain of what had happened to him when he was a teenager. "We started with 960 New York based employees and we lost 658", Lutnick lugubriously recalled with the death of his 36-year old brother Gary and best friend Doug being one of the hundreds of colleagues who perished. "On January 2002 Cantor had 150 employees and now we have 4,000 in New York and 12,000 around the world" Lutnick proudly stated. He also spoke of his pact with Cantor employees to give 25% of their paycheck in the first five years of 9/11 to the families of Cantor Fitzgerald. "The news media said 25% of nothing is nothing but they should have known better," said Lutnick who has since raised $180 million for the families and more than $303 million for charity. Lutnick also holds a "charity day" every September 11th where all the proceeds of that day, which total about $12 million, are donated to charity.

Leon Wagner

An especially moving part of his speech was when he spoke about a mother who took her kids to Disneyland three weeks after being widowed in 9/11 and how mothers caring for their young children walk loftily above ground. Lutnick encouraged the audience to catch the opportunity to change someone's life. After receiving a standing ovation, Lutnick posed for pictures with his beautiful wife Allison and left the event with a triumphant smile.

The closing bell party contained gambling, music and more food - the best food of all however, was the "food for thought" this epic dinner provided.

- Lieba Nesis

Thursday, December 07, 2017

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

The Central Park Conservancy's Belvedere Ball

Honoree Doug Blonsky and wife Mai Allan
All photos Lieba Nesis - click images for full size views

The Central Park Conservancy held its annual Belvedere Ball in a tent in the middle of the Park at 72nd and 5th Ave. on Wednesday December 6, 2017 with cocktails beginning at 7 PM. The Conservancy, founded in 1980, is a private, nonprofit organization that manages Central Park under a contract with the City of New York and NYC Parks. The Founders of the Conservancy include Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Richard Gilder, Gordon Davis and Bill Beinecke.

Michael Gross, Barbara Hodes and Barbara Schumacher

With contributions from residents, corporations and foundations the Conservancy contributes 75 percent of the Park's $65 million annual operating budget and is responsible for the basic care of the 843-acre park. The Conservancy arose out of necessity during the Park's rapid decline in the 1970's where some were questioning whether to give it over to the National Park Service.

Malaak Compton Rock, Erana Stennett and Yolanda Ferrel

Tonight the over 550-person crowd came to pay homage to President and CEO Douglas Blonsky who has led the Conservancy as CEO since 2004 and has spent a total of 33 years working in Central Park. Blonsky even met his current wife, Mai Allan, when she was working as a city landscape architect in the Park and they are celebrating their 30th anniversary this May.

Left to Right: Marianna Olszewski, Stephanie Hessler, Suzie Aijala, Katherine Birch and Alexia Leuschen

Blonsky is a legend amongst the Conservancy crowd as he worked his way up from landscape architect to CEO and President. Blonsky announced this past June that he would be stepping down as President after instituting unique programs such as the zone management system which identifies 49 zones in Central Park based on topography and use and appoints a manager to each. Blonsky was given a standing ovation as he described the Park in the 70's as one of the most dangerous places in NYC with graffiti covering its walls and no trees to be seen.

Left to Right: Katy Knox, Jeff Krupa, Connie Verducci and Liz and Jeff Peek

In the early 1980's there were 12 million visitors to the Park with about 1,000 crimes a year whereas now there are over 42 million visitors annually with fewer than 100 crimes a year. Kudos to Blonsky who has transformed this historic space to unimaginable heights after 30 plus years of 24/7 workdays-who can blame him for retiring.

Left to Right: Catherine Foster, Norman Selby, Adam and Lorraine Weinberg

He correctly noted that Central Park has become one of the safest and most beautiful parks in the world because of the people in the room tonight. He concluded his speech by remarking that every day the Park must get better. "The Park is all about the guy on the bench reading the paper and now it's my turn to be that guy," joked Blonsky, alluding to his imminent retirement.

Left to Right: Adrian Benepe, Sara Cedar Millar, John Reddick, Charlotte Glasser and Betsy Barlow Rogers

When I asked Blonsky what his favorite time of year in the Park was he said it was the winter, "where you can view everything without the leaves intruding just the undulating hills and valleys which are a masterpiece of design." He noted that the entire Park was man-made and when he first arrived it was arid and barren.

Gillian Miniter and Sharon Jacob

He has since raised $1 Billion towards its restoration including a $100 million gift from the Paulson Family Foundation. The most romantic part for Blonsky is walking through the Woodlands of the Park where he said in just two minutes you feel as though you are in the Adirondacks. Blonsky reminisced about the Great Lawn which used to be called the "Great Dust Bowl" and is now one of the most luscious lawns in the World.

Left to Right: Ken and Maria Fishel with Robert Hantma

When I asked if there were any talks of erecting an Amusement Park he looked horrified at the thought of ruining the pristine nature of the greenery. He was now focused on training and teaching other parks all over the world through the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks which he established to provide parks around the world with a center for learning world-class urban park management and stewardship practices.

Genevieve Brown, Karen Tompkins and Fe Fendi

For Blonsky the speaking portion of the evening was his least favorite as he prefers to "just sit and hang out" with the 550 people who joined him this evening. While the entire socialite universe seems to be at Art Basel there were still plenty of illustrious attendees joining Blonsky tonight including: Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Jeff and Liz Peek, Alexandra Lebenthal and Jay Diamond and Maria and Ken Fishel. The evening's event chairs were: Shelley and Michael Carr, Kitty and Tom Kempner, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter and Jenny and John Paulson - I didn't see the Paulsons at the event.

Laura and Michael Fisch, Tom Kempner

The tented cocktail party was followed by a delightful dinner of pot pie and brownies. Chairman of the Board of Trustees Tom Kempner announced that more than $2 million had been raised this evening and thanked Northern Trust for sponsoring the event for the past four years. There was even a sponsor for the tent which was the organization "Pencils of Promise." At 10:30 PM the DJ began to spin music as the younger crowd entered to dance with the older patrons and enjoy the delicious desserts. This evening was paradigmatic of the oasis known as Central Park-a joyful amalgam of all the great promise that awaits in the City of New York.

- Lieba Nesis

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

New York Fashion Cool-Aid® by Laurel Marcus

Museum at FIT Gets Body Conscious

Martin Margiela linen tunic 1997, Belgium and 18th Century Dress Forms
Photos by Laurel Marcus
Click images for full size views

"The Body: Fashion and Physique" at the Museum at FIT (through May 5, 2018) examines how throughout history women's figures figure into the prevailing fashion norms. It also demonstrates how early fashion plates, illustrations and cartoons sought to distort the body, right up to and including today's press who often focus on mocking, stigmatizing, and body shaming women. "Fashion silhouettes change like a pendulum and the proportions change," said Curator Emma McClendon as she pointed out a platform of various sized early stays now called corsets. "We get the idea from 'Gone with the Wind' that all women were cinching themselves in so tightly in order to get that 18" waist that Scarlett complains about not being able to achieve after having children. Many women left themselves an inch or left the corsets open."

Curator Emma McClendon

As you enter the space there are a few 18th century dress forms alongside a Martin Margiela linen tunic (1997) which mimics the dress form. This promotes the concept that the press disseminates the ideal fashionable proportion -- here Margiela built his into the garment itself however there is a noticeable size differential from the earlier version. Across the aisle an opening video plays -- produced by members of an advisory panel mostly composed of those involved in plus-size fashion convened for the purpose of this exhibition.

Contemporary designs featuring Roberto Cavalli; LaQuan Smith; Christian Siriano; Chromat

Designer Christian Siriano and model advocate Sara Ziff are two who are featured dropping this hot potato issue firmly in the fashion industry's lap. Siriano who last year made a gown to fit SNL's Leslie Jones after she groused that there were no designers willing to do so ( on display here), calls out major designers such as Gucci for not offering clothing up to size 26! (I seriously question how many women of that size would actually want to dress in Gucci, let alone how financially viable that would be). The "lack of diversity" argument on most high-end label catwalks where one only sees "thin white women" cuts to the intersectionality of size and race -- a favorite cause of progressives today as well as the "food for thought" that McClendon is hoping to foster.

18th Century Proportions and Undergarments

Back to the fashion history lesson: in the early 19th century shoulders were accentuated to minimize the waist. While corsets were once the domain of the elite they became more accessible due to the Industrial Revolution readily available through mail order in sizes up to a 36" waist. Examples here include an example of a corset for a pregnant woman,(who didn't go out in public at a certain point), as well as for a young girl whose version looks more like an undershirt with fastenings. Women's bodies were thought to be weak -- corsets gave them support and structure rather than being primarily for compression.

Dress circa 1905 which emphasized the bust; 1910 uncorseted Liberty of London velvet dress; 1913 uncorseted Paul Poiret-style dress; early girdle with elastic sides

By the late 1800's, proportions of the skirt had changed to accommodate even larger crinolines making waists look small by comparison. Fullness in the back was supplied by bustles as a more voluptuous backside was in style. A medical book on display indicates that there were thought to be risks and potential health hazards to squishing internal organs and that corsets could cause scoliosis, which they actually help.

Confinement gown, Corsets for Pregnant Women and Child, Bustles and Crinolines

Going into the 20th century the corset was replaced by the girdle. These were made of elastic or rubber allowing for more flexibility and mobility while still having compression, similar to today's waist trainers. Under the rubber girdle is a 1934 advertisement which touts the garments ability to help "melt" away unwanted fat with "a gentle massage-like-action." A drawing entitled "Le Vrai et Le Faux Chic" (the real and the fake chic) emphasizes that only young, lean bodies could be chic; old, fat or scrawny women were portrayed as ridiculous. Fashion illustrations showing women's heads bigger than their waists was akin to today's Photoshop, according to McClendon.

1920's styles and Stout Wear; rubber girdle; 1930's silk crepe dress; House of Paquin gown c. 1935

By the 1920's women led more active lifestyles -- it was the age of the Suffragette with "changing expectations in the status quo," remarked McClendon. A few plus size offerings are shown here, then known as "Stout Wear." "These fashions obscure and negate the body. Every few decades you see plus sizes emerge such as in the '20s and the '80s including Vogue running a 'Fashion Plus' edition which was separate from its regular pages. We need to change the fashion system and continue the broadening of what we think of as the ideal body." Yes, she actually used the word 'broadening' (no pun intended).

Christian Dior 1951 "New Look" Ivory silk evening gown & petticoat
Photo: Courtesy FIT 

Also broadening were the 1940's shoulders in a more masculine silhouette, however one was expected to wear a compression undergarment to control "indecent" jiggle. Dior debuted the "New Look" in 1947 which really took hold by the early 1950's. The nipped in hourglass dresses came complete with a boned understructure and tulle petticoats.

1960's Twiggy dress; Rudi Gernreich, Halston, Danskin, and Norma Kamali

By the 1960's undergarments were a dirty word -- Rudi Gernreich introduced the "No-Bra" Bra and compression garments were eschewed. A lifestyle change including working out and eating lighter were suggested to attain a svelte body. The 1960's platform here features a mod floral shift look from Twiggy's inexpensive line and a Rudi Gernreich LBD (1968) with clear plastic sides, prohibiting the use of under garments.

1980s featuring Issey Miyake; Perry Ellis; Thierry Mugler; Donna Karan, Comme des Garcons

The 1970's platform includes a Halston jumpsuit with totally cutout sides, as well as a Danskin unitard worn for dance and aerobics. Norma Kamali's late '70s jersey jumpsuit bridged active lifestyle ready-to-wear, comfort and fitness of which she is a longtime proponent. The '80s were also about fitness as seen here in a video loop of Jane Fonda's exercises, and Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical." This decade had something for everyone: both oversized silhouettes from Issey Miyake and other Japanese designers as well as a relaxed look from American designer Perry Ellis is shown alongside equally popular slim fitting garments such as Thierry Mugler's velvet dress and experimental looks from 1990's such as Rei Kawakubo's famed Lumps and Bumps collection.

Kate Moss and "Headless Fatty"

The '90s were all about grunge, and the waif-like Kate Moss was the body ideal clad in completely unstructured slip dresses. Going present day, contemporary fashions including a sheer lace "naked dress" from LaQuan Smith, worn in 2015 by a newly pregnant Kim K., demonstrating how far we have come from earlier modesty. In front of this platform an iPad illustrates how the fashion press tout their comparisons of celebrity bodies in "Who Wore It Best" (in fairness I think it's also about how they style the looks, not just about their physique). Then there's the popular press gimmick known as the "Headless Fatty," which "takes away their dignity with a fat stigma," remarks McClendon. (Actually it reminds me of a more extreme edition of Glamour's "Don'ts"). On the wall is a video demonstrating how a model is photoshopped into having the ideal face and body.

Chromat; Christian Siriano for Lane Bryant; Lucy Jones and Grace Jun

The last platform displays a Chromat ensemble for a fuller figure with spandex and plastic boning, as well as Leslie Jones's red Siriano custom gown and finally a few of Lucy Jones and Grace Jun designs for the disabled. While we examine what fashion imagery hath wrought as well as learn to embrace the diverse bodies and the stages that women go through as they mature, you'll find me in the gym.

- Laurel Marcus