Sunday, December 31, 2017

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

"Wrapping Up a Year of Fund-Raising" - by The New York Times:

Photo credit: Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times
Click image for full size view

The New York Times ran a photo spread in the today's Sunday Styles section of 22 photos highlighting New York fund raising events of 2017 and some of the people involved in those causes. Above is a photo from The New York Botanical Garden 19th annual Winter Wonderland Ball at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory on Dec. 15. Guests included two of editors Laurel Marcus, left, and Marilyn Kirschner on the right.

See all the pictures from the photo spread here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Cheap Thrills: Holiday Edition

If you’ve been reading my ongoing “Cheap Thrills” column, you already know the drill. For those who may be checking this out for the first time, read on.

High fashion undeniably comes with astronomically high prices. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t bargains to be found. And who amongst us doesn’t love a bargain? Once again, I have reprised my "Cheap Thrills" column; selecting a number of items in the market, I show their high priced version along with their (far) less expensive doppelganger (in most cases, they are a fraction of the cost of the originals).

Will the quality, workmanship, fabrication, and detailing of the latter be on par with the former? Probably not, but then again, there are times when it is and in many cases, the differences are miniscule, barely discernable, discernible only to those with the most well trained eye, and not enough of a negative to outweigh the positive (the price tag). In some cases, I actually prefer the less expensive version and not just because of the price but by virtue of its design.

The fact that most of the inexpensive pieces are from Zara is unintentional but given how in sync they are with the pulse of fashion, and how successful they are with creating affordable fashion, it shouldn’t be that surprising. Is it any wonder that Amancio Ortega, the founder and owner, has been named the third richest person in the world?

Click images for full size views:

Left: Maximillian striped Saga mink fur coat, $3850 More info/purchase Right: Zara faux fur with multi-color stripes, $129  More info/purchase

Left: Azzedine Alaia 1991 leopard printed calf hair bolero jacket, $7500 More info/purchase Right: Vintage 70’s faux leopard cropped bolero jacket, $175 More info/purchase

Left: Balenciaga shearling scarf, $2795  More info/purchaseZara faux fur stole, $89.90 Right: More info/purchase

Left: Norma Kamali black fringed pants, $695  More info/purchase Right: Zara fringed trousers, $89.90 More info/purchase

Left: Norma Kamali 1980’s black fringed jacket, $550  More info/purchase Right: Zara black fringed jacket, $89.90 More info/purchase

Left: Givenchy embellished black mink tailcoat,  $15,000 More info/purchase Right: Zara bejeweled faux mink jacket, $149   More info/purchase

Left: Moncler short red puffer jacket, $1590  More info/purchase Right: American Eagle short red puffer jacket, reduced from $99.95 - $27.99  More info/purchase

Left: Louis Vuitton Speedy 30, $2800 More info/purchase  Right: Loqui Store Botticelli Birth of Venus bag, $12.95 More info/purchase

Left: Alexander McQueen metallic textured sneakers, $287.50 (reduced from $575),  More info/purchase  Right: Zara contrasting sneakers, $55.90  More info/purchase

Left: Moncler Gaura shiny black puffer jacket, $1735  More info/purchase Right: Zara black vinyl quilted jacket, $89.90 More info/purchase

Left: Azzedine Alaia leopard printed pony hair tote bag, $1090  More info/purchase Right: Vintage faux leopard tote with cut out handle, $128 More info/purchase

Left: Ranjana Khan raffia hoop earrings, $207 (reduced from $305)  More info/purchase Right: All Things Mochi Dream Catcher earrings, $57 (reduced from $125) More info/purchase

Needless to say, many of these items would make for a perfect gift, particularly the inexpensive offerings which be considered as perfect stocking stuffers.

- Marilyn Kirschner

Saturday, December 16, 2017

New York Fashion Cool-Aid® by Laurel Marcus

NYBG Winter Wonderland Ball Gets Mother Nature Onboard

The Exhibition
All photos Laurel Marcus
Click image for full size views

On a snowy, snowy Friday night in a borough far, far away a wondrous gala was held. The 19th annual New York Botanical Garden Winter Wonderland Ball featuring the Holiday Train Show never fails to enchant -- which became my mantra as it took steel nerves to get there in the thematic yet treacherous weather.

Women in Etro

The beautiful scenery of greenery, lights, and locomotion always includes miniature replicas of New York landmarks from all five boroughs and helps to get one in the festive mood required for the season. This year's sponsors were Etro, Saks Fifth Avenue and Remy Martin -- the Etro clad attendees were easy to spot as the Italian brand has a very recognizable intricately printed aesthetic.

Celebrity Stylist Micaela Erlanger

Another dress theme was sparkle aplenty as attendees such as Hollywood stylist Micaela Erlanger, philanthropist Jean Shafiroff and others wore silver fairy dust in the form of tinsel and even mirror shards. Designer Victor DE Souza who created Jean's dress wanted it to look like she had walked through a mirror which broke in pieces on her gown. No matter the intent, the result was showstopping with matching "broken mirror" gloves and crystal earrings to accessorize.

Philanthropist Jean Shafiroff & designer Victor DE Souza

Interestingly, there were very few ball gowns compared to years past, with most guests opting for something on the long and slinky side -- no doubt having something to do with the increasingly younger crowd featuring many Millennial children of prominent social New York families.

Elizabeth Kurpis & Ariana Rockefeller

Prominent guests including those involved in chairing the event included Georgina Bloomberg, Natalie and James Bloomingdale, Ariana Rockefeller, Christina Greeven Cuomo, Nina Agdal, Elizabeth Kurpis, Mia Moretti, Timo Weiland, and Peter Brant Jr.

Charlotte Diamond & Alexandra Lebenthal with Marilyn Kirschner

It was a family affair for Chairman of the Board Maureen Chilton whose husband Richard and daughters Sarah and Charlotte attended as well as for Honorary Chair Alexandra Lebenthal accompanied by husband Jay Diamond, daughter Charlotte Diamond (who currently attends Princeton University and wants to work at Vogue), and son Ben.

Lookonline editor-in-chief Marilyn Kirschner

Our own Marilyn Kirschner garnered perhaps the most attention in her statement making Alice + Olivia sequin applique ball gown skirt featuring colorful dancing bears from last year's Grateful Dead collection. My husband actually referred to it as a "chick magnet" since so many stylish young women including Mia Moretti (a good friend of A+O designer Stacey Bendet) and two fashionable attendees from Moda Operandi stopped to comment. Marilyn is a true genius in accessorizing opting for a Club Monaco white fabric neckpiece and a white leather belt to draw in the waist of her skirt.

Laurel Marcus in Ralph Lauren Collection

For once, I opted for sleek simplicity in a "Morticia goes sexy" business in the front, party in the back Ralph Lauren Collection (season unknown) silk, satin gown with jet beaded sleeves and a slight train -- from Roundabout Consignment on Madison and my favorite stylist Patrick Jones Roth.

Vintage clothing curator Kate Krone in Chanel

On a sad note, this was the second year that Bill Cunningham was not there to document the fashion; a fact that has somewhat dampened the spirit and decreased attendance at many New York soirees. I remember well the palm frond that Bill told me to pull down on in 2015 on what would be his last trek (fittingly he would arrive on the train) to this event. When you heard his trademark "call the cat" whispering noise indicating that he wanted you to pose for him, it was a thrill like no other.

Unfortunately those images of me were never used -- the third time that I failed to make the final cut (after once being included due to a unique headpiece) but of course, it was truly an honor just to be nominated and picked out of the crowd of party-goers. Of course, everyone made an effort to dress for Bill and vie for his attention which also made things amusing.

Tonight the cocktail hour held in the "glistening dome of the Palms of the World Gallery" seemed to kick off a bit more slowly as traffic and weather snarls may have delayed many. By 9 p.m. guests began to file down the long (cold) tented hallway to the large dinner tent which looked festively decorated with blue lighting.

The dinner

Once there guests posed, dined and danced the night away, or at least until midnight. Funds raised support the world-renowned NYBG Children's Education Program and the Everett Children's Adventure Garden, a 12-acre indoor-outdoor facility featuring themed galleries and interactive exhibits.

- Laurel Marcus

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wednesdays at Michael's by Diane Clehane

PBS Masterpiece’s Rebecca Eaton on Highbrow Hits Downton Abbey & Victoria

Diane Clehane and Rebecca Eaton

They were ‘Lunching’ like it was 1999 today at Michael’s. The place was packed with wall-to-wall bold faced names, familiar faces and, of course, the usual suspects, all dining and dishing at decibel levels that make my task of chronicling the weekly Wednesday scene challenging to say the least. But, no matter. It’s always been a labor of love. And, I know you’re dying to hear who was there ho-ho-ho-ing in hopes of forgetting the sideshow attractions that have become our 24/7 news cycle if only in the time it takes to pick at a Cobb salad and sip some chardonnay. Come on, it’s the holidays!

The dining room was festooned in holiday greenery which gave it an even clubbier feel than usual. People were table hopping and air-kissing like mad. The always genial Michael McCarty made the rounds as he does asking in his characteristic booming way, “Are we having a good time here?” Today, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’ Among the revelers: Galvanized Media’s founder David Zinczenko and ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong celebrating Dave’s birthday (Cheers!), Penske Media’s vice chair Gerry Byrne and’s Bonnie Fuller presiding over a table full of flacks and scribes at their monthly Table One schmooze fest and local news gals past and present Rosanna Scotto (Looking fabulous!), Janice Huff, Jane Hanson and Perri Peltz. A little birdie told me Jared’s sister (Do you really have to ask ‘Jared who?’) Nicole Meyer was also there.

But now, for the real reason I was there --- I was joined by Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of PBS Masterpiece and the woman responsible for bringing Downton Abbey, the most-watched drama in PBS history, to this side of the Atlantic. With Rebecca at the helm, Masterpiece has won 62 Primetime Emmy Awards®, 16 Peabody Awards, six Golden Globes®, and two Academy Award nominations. She was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2011 and has earned the official recognition of Queen Elizabeth II — with an honorary OBE (Order of the British Empire). Her memoir, MAKING MASTERPIECE: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS, was published by Viking in 2013. Surely, you can understand my excitement. I’ve been trying to ‘Lunch’ with her since Downton’s heyday, so I was thrilled that Boston-based Rebecca (the home of the mothership, WGBH) could squeeze in a chat as her last stop on a whirlwind few days in town with the cast and creator of another Masterpiece megahit, Victoria. (Much more on that later)

Rebecca arrived at high noon and within five minutes I felt like I’d known her forever. The Vassar grad who was born in Boston and raised in California had plenty of tales to tell. (Some of the juiciest ones are off the record, sorry) I barely knew where to begin. This is the woman who has provided me with one hour of civility on Sunday nights when, at 9 pm, I can tune into Masterpiece and forget the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. Downton was and is a phenomenon in a class by itself (“We were struck by lightning”), but I told Rebecca I am also completely obsessed with Poldark which stars Aidan Turner (an Irishman whose on-screen’s brooding Brit smolders) as a post-Revolutionary War solider turned local hero who returns to Cornwall and has his life upended by various travails. It’s a remake of the popular seventies BBC production and it’s terrific. Rebecca also brought  American audiences Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (which starred The Crown’s Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn) Sherlock, Grantchester, Prime Suspect, Wallander, Cranford, Little Dorrit, and The Complete Jane Austen. Basically every show I watch or have watched religiously for the past decade.

And speaking of decades, it was just about ten years ago when Rebecca, having been at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! since 1985, embarked on a re-branding effort having come to the realization that it was time for some new ideas. “Corporate underwriting was changing dramatically,” she said as she sipped her pumpkin soup. Mobil (which then became ExxonMobil) had ended its long run as underwriters in the early aughts. “They weren’t interested in philanthropy, they wanted to look cool,” said Rebecca. “And I was going to be the captain on whose watch the ship goes down.” She and the series’ senior producers Susanne Simpson and Steven Ashley knew that the one constant amid the changing climate was the fans. “When I went to events, people would come up to me with tears in their eyes” profusely grateful for something to watch of real quality.

So, “over my dead body” Rebecca hired brand consultant Bob Knapp (“I think branding is snake oil”) and told him to do whatever a brand consultant does and come back with “do-able ideas” not pie in the sky thinking. “I had seventy-five cents [to spend].” The resulting makeover in 2008 included dropping ‘Theatre’ from the series’ title, streamlining its look and hiring Laura Linney as host. “I wanted people to know that ‘anglophile’ wasn’t a dirty word and they could understand the British accents [of the actors].”

Part of the rebranding effort also included an extensive social media presence to get the word out at a time when Facebook and Twitter were exploding. It all proved perfectly timed for the premiere of Sherlock that November and Downton the following January. “It blew the doors off.” I’ll say. The incredible viewer response to Downton resulted in previously unheard of ratings, plenty of award show love, a place in the zeitgeist – and a ripple effect that was more like a tidal wave. “It was a rising tide that lifted all boats.” Suddenly, younger viewers discovered Masterpiece in droves and the core older viewers were watching more programming than ever.

All of which was music to the ears of Viking Cruises (“a big fish”) that wanted to hitch their yachts to PBS Masterpiece’s rising star. They remain series’ sponsor today. “It’s a great partnership,” enthused Rebecca. “Eighty percent of their clients are the same demo.” I told her I knew they’d really struck a bull’s eye when Ralph Lauren started as a sponsor in September 2012. The designer’s well-known obsession with British country life made his affiliation with Downton fit as perfectly as one of his custom made suits. Remember when he used the show’s distinctive soundtrack for one of his shows that featured plenty of looks that Lady Mary could have worn? It all started when he saw his first episode. “Ralph contacted us,” Rebecca told me. “He was going to Jamaica over Christmas and someone in his family gave him the DVDs to watch.”

By the time Downton wrapped, said Rebecca, the audience had grown “astronomically” and she found that viewers “stayed for other shows.”  The local PBS stations also benefited from the bounce and saw an increase in their underwriting. “It was a game changer and Masterpiece was on a fast track.”

Masterpiece’s renaissance coincided with the height of the era of the ‘quality drama’ that included Mad Men and Breaking Bad which helped to create even more buzz. “It was a confluence of events,” said Rebecca, who added that streaming the show on Masterpiece’s website brought in lots of new viewers. If you love any of their shows, the series’ site is a treasure trove of content with videos and podcasts that offer viewers in-depth looks at the shows and conversations with the actors.

Last night, fans turned out in droves wearing their tiaras and period costumes for a special screening of  Victoria’s season two premiere and a panel discussion with Rebecca, series creator Daisy Goodwin and the show’s stars Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell. Damien Timmer, joint-managing director of Mammoth Screen, which produces the series was also there because he’d lost his passport. “Jenna [who plays Queen Victoria] carries the whole show. She’s in almost every scene. Her performance is so much about her expressions which is so hard to do.” I was thrilled to learn ‘Lord M,’ played by Rufus Sewell, will return this season having had to gently untangle himself from the simmering mutual attraction between the young Queen and the much older prime minister. The chemistry between the actors is off the charts.

Fans of the show have created countless tributes to the star-crossed couple on YouTube (Yes, I’ve watched most of them) featuring the gorgeous and tender scene where ‘Lord M’ tells the besotted Victoria she must “keep her heart intact because I have no use for it, you see,” (but he was just fibbing) because he was like the birds – the rooks – that flew just above them – he could not return her feelings. “Like a rook, I mate for life,” he told her using the excuse of his deceased wife to turn her away.

Rebecca told me that when Jenna and Rufus shot that scene it was early on in the production and they hadn’t known each other at all. But something clicked. “They kind of just looked at each other and saw that they both understood they were going to play the scene the same way. Trust me, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon couldn’t do it any better.

This season, promised Rebecca, viewers will see a lot more of Tom Hughes, who plays Prince Albert, the real love of Victoria’s life. The actor had to learn to ride for the role and master a German accent (he’s British, of course). “There’s some information that’s shared [about Albert] that deeply affects him. Tom gets to really strut his stuff.”

As it enters its second season on January 14th, the show is another hit that found its way to PBS because of Rebecca’s unfailing instincts about what the viewers will want to watch. “About four years ago, ITV floated the idea of a series about [Queen] Victoria and we said, ‘Yes, send the script.’ Then we got another [pitch] from the BBC.” It was “a tense few weeks’ deciding which one to bring to PBS,” said Rebecca. She was later told by the ITV executives that it was Masterpiece’s interest that got the greenlight for the series.

The upcoming slate of show’s includes a sequel to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (“We are ready and waiting”), Little Women produced by Colin Callendar  premiering on Mother’s Day with a cast that includes Johan Hauer-King (“Keep your eye on him!”) and Angela Lansbury and The Child in Time adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel starring and co-produced by Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s also Press, about two competing newspapers in London, coming in 2019.

As we finished up lunch so Rebecca could make her plane back to Boston, I asked her how it felt to have Masterpiece thriving after all these years at such a competitive time in television.“It’s very gratifying,” she said. “I’ve spent most of my career at PBS. It has been my life’s work. I’m from the generation that came of age in the sixties. We wanted to change the world and make it better.”

Scene and Heard Around the Room

Gerry Byrne and Bonnie Fuller hosting a crowd on Table One that included Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil, 42 West’s Scott Feinstein and Marshall CohenMickey Ateyeh, Betsy Perry, Brenda Vaccaro and Joan Jakobson on Two … The boot is back! David Zinczenko and Joe Armstrong on Three … Kathie Lee Gifford, Eva Mohr, Valerie Simpson (Yes, from Ashford and Simpson!) and Kate Edelson on Four … Allen & Company’s Stan Shuman at his regular perch, Table Five.

Moving On … New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and Jeff Hirsch on Table Eight .. Jill Brooke on Seven … Producer Beverly Camhe on 10… Gerry Laybourne on 11… PR pros Lisa Linden, CEO of LAK PR, with Chris Heywood of NYC & Company on Table 17 … Joan Gelman on 20.

More Faces in the Crowd ... Joan Hamburg, Suzanne Dawson, Cathie Black (long time no see!) and Andy Plesser spotted at different tables in the dining room … Haspel’s Laurie Aronson Haspel and her husband Mark Haspel were there, too. They’re the folks credited with creating the seersucker suit. Gregory Peck wore one in To Kill A Mockingbird. Just thought you’d like to know.

Happy Birthday to Michael’s GM Steve Millington!

See you next Wednesday!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

"Ripple of Hope" Awards Draws Dozens of Celebrities to The Hilton

Left to Right: Honoree Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Kennedy, Joseph Fichera, Jean Shafiroff and Ethel Kennedy
All photos Lieba Nesis - click images for full size views

The Robert Kennedy Human Rights Organization celebrated 50 years at its annual "Ripple of Hope" awards dinner at the Hilton on Wednesday December 13, 2017 with cocktails beginning at 5:30 PM. Last year the dinner had a funereal atmosphere as the liberal crowd was still trying to come to grips with the outcome of the presidential election. This year there was certainly some angst but the crowd was reinvigorated by the defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama election.

Peter Frampton

The Hilton has become an increasingly popular venue for large 1,000 person dinners such as this. However, this midtown hot spot can take hours to get to during the Christmas season. As my taxi stood on the same block for twenty minutes I found myself walking in the cold for a good six avenue blocks - I needed to vent a little.

Tony Bennett

The turnout this evening was truly miraculous with celebrities: Tony Bennett, Usher, Gloria Steinem, Lena Olin, Alfre Woodward, Peter Frampton, Whoopi Goldberg, Keegan Michael Key, Danny Glover, Van Jones, Chris Matthews, host Alec Baldwin and honoree Harry Belafonte gracing the event with enthusiasm.

Alec and Hilaria Baldwin

The attendee who received the most attention was anthem kneeler Colin Kaepernick whose wild hairdo and significant height made him easy to spot. Everyone wanted a picture with Colin and he was more than happy to oblige. Alec Baldwin was a rather docile emcee; whereas last year he had the crowd in stitches with his Donald Trump impersonation this year he kept it pretty tame except for remarking numerous times that Fox News had a bulletin that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence were dating - something I have still not confirmed. Alec's wife Hilaria is pregnant and she sat with Hope Smith - wife of Chairman of the Board Robert Smith.

Actress Lena Olin

The center table contained all the glitterati and was comprised of about fifty people with Harry Belafonte in the corner with Ethel Kennedy screaming that my purse was open - he seemed horrified at this happenstance.

Colin Kaepernick

Alec Baldwin enumerated the list of prominent attendees and then asked guests to tweet pledge their donations which would appear on screen-he meant text pledge. Last year there was a live auction where he offered to do a Trump impersonation but this year a silent auction was held.

Jean Shafiroff and Kerry Kennedy

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert Kennedy Human Rights organization then spoke about the horrible situation at Riker's where 1,200 teenagers are left to flounder in cages because they cannot afford to post bail. She spoke emphatically about getting rid of pretrial incarceration, cash bail and ending violence against women in these perplexing times. One of those teenagers left in Riker's, Pedro Hernandez, who was wrongfully accused of attempted murder spoke eloquently about how the Robert Kennedy organization saved him from incarceration.

Left to Right: Jeffrey Sachs, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, Alex Ogilvy and Matt McCambridge

The highlight of the evening was the speech of Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya who recalled viewing a defunct yogurt factory in 2005 and deciding to buy the factory after its 50 workers were laid off. Ulukaya spoke to his lawyer Mario who tried to discourage the broke Ulukaya who knew nothing about yogurt. Ululkaya decided to purchase the factory anyway and after two years of perfecting his recipe he started Chobani yogurt which now has over $1 billion in sales and employs over 2,000 people.

Chris Matthews

Ulukaya had the crowd in stitches as he recalled his first cup of Greek yogurt being sold to a Jewish deli while currently being honored by the Irish Kennedy clan, "what could be more American than that" he joked. Thirty percent of the Chobani workforce is made up of immigrants and refugees and the company recently distributed ten percent of its ownership stake to employees. Ulukaya said it was time for Americans to stop fighting one another and start rooting for each other - a much appreciated sentiment.

Honoree and CEO of Johnson and Johnson Alex Gorsky

After receiving a standing ovation, honoree Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson was called to the stage to receive his Ripple of Hope award. Gorky delivered a lengthy speech on the progress being made in the pharmaceutical industry which was currently testing an HIV vaccine and was proud to receive his award on behalf of his 135,000 employees. Robert Kennedy has been a hero to Gorsky since he was in High School where he wrote a paper on his impact.

D'Brickashaw and Kirsten Ferguson

Gorsky an employee at Johnson & Johnson for 30 years who is in impeccable health told me he exercises one hour every single day and eats a small meal every three to five hours. He was hopeful that cures would be found for cancer and HIV but said prevention of disease was the best antidote. He was also excited about the advances in personalized medicine which was moving things from the treatment stage to concrete cures.

Gina Belafonte and Roland Martin

Whoopi Goldberg introduced Harry Belafonte with a couple of lapses in her speech which had her claiming she had two or three things on her brain at the same time. A video was then shown documenting Belafonte's activism in the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert and Hope Smith

When Ethel Kennedy presented Belafonte with the award he spoke from his seat remarking that, "the best of us is still in front of us" and thanked Bobby Kennedy for leaving his beautiful family Ethel and Kerry.

Actress Alfre Woodward

We were then treated to the smash hit 1985 song "We Are The World" which Belafonte organized and which Usher and Gloria Reuben helped sing this evening while celebrities joined hands on stage. Alec Baldwin told the crowd to save next December 12th when Bill Gates, Barack Obama and David Zaslav would be honored by the Robert Kennedy foundation - that sounds awesome. At 10:30 PM the crowd headed to the dessert table to enjoy the petit fours and socialize.

Patrick Kennedy

On my way out I bumped into Gloria Steinem who complimented my pants and remarked that everything is important -- even fashion.

- Lieba Nesis

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