Haute Thoughts by Heidi Dillon: Isabel Toledo Luncheon

Honestly, there’s nothing I despise more than getting get dressed up and going to a ladies luncheon. In Dallas (where I live), they are always the same – the same socialites wearing the same Chanel and Escada suits (the ubiquitous uniform of “ladies who lunch” from Dallas to Dubai) the same awful hotel ballroom and the same inane conversation and inedible food. My prejudices, however, dramatically changed when I attended the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT’s luncheon to honor Cuban designer Isabel Toledo with the “Artistry of Fashion Award”. The event was held at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza where the 360 degree views of Manhattan are breathtaking and Simon Doonan, the witty Barney’s Creative Director, served as emcee. Being a celebrity-studded New York event, the paparrazi was out in full force snapping pictures of the cream-of-the-crop fashion and social set. Andre Leon Tally was there looking handsome and slim and I ran into Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European Editor at Large, who said, “As I live and breathe! How lovely to see you. I absolutely love your frock!” (note: said frock was fresh from the Bottega store. Love Tomas Maier).

Simon, in his inimitable style, got things going by introducing Joey Arias who is a singer/performance artist/drag queen/crooner/vocal style impersonator and former Fiorucci employee, which is where he first met Isabel who was selling her line to the legendary retailer in the 1980’s. Joey appeared on stage in a black suite but the jacket soon came off to reveal a body suite with sheer sleeves and princess neckline. He sang a customized rendition of Billy Holiday’s “You’ve Changed.”.It was great and loaded with they type of language that you don’t hear in “polite” Dallas society. (Remind me to tell you the story about when I chaired the Salvation Army Fashion Show and Luncheon and put a drag queen on the runway). After Joey’s mesmerizing performance, Simon came back and pointed out that Isabel has been exploring lace forever and this season it’s suddenly a big deal.


We also learned some interesting details about her life, for example, her mother was a member of the Cuban all women’s baseball team and Isabel has 18 sisters and she began sewing when she was 9. Andrea Leon Tally presented the award to Isabel and said that “she personally vets every seam of every dress before it is shipped. She makes clothes that women want to wear.” When Isabel received her award, she was visibly moved and spoke from her heart. She said that “clothing affects the way the time looks”. She learned from Diana Vreeland the importance of being able to shape history and realizes that she is affecting her time and is making a difference. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she ended her speech with “I’ve never thanked Ruben in public — and I can’t”

Meanwhile, the goings on at my table were just as interesting as those on stage. I sat with former interior/textile designer and fashion icon Iris Apfel (I recommend that you purchase her book, Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel) who, in her mid 80’s, was the chicest woman in the room and still going strong.

Rosemary Ponzo, another “rare bird”, joined us. She is a stylist/designer and has personally groomed Mayor Michael Bloomberg (whatever that means!) Ruben Toledo hand painted all of the place mats and we were able to take them home. People got pretty aggressive about it and there was a lot of scrambling for the unclaimed ones. A welcome change from most luncheons, the food was delicious (Cuban style sea bass with coconut rice and black beans) and I cleaned my plate. Leaving Rockefeller Place, I was accosted by a lone paparazzo, some old guy who obviously didn’t have the press credentials to get into the luncheon. He asked me to hold up my Ruben Toledo placemat and he snapped away. Maybe Dallas is a better place for me. At least there I’m more well-known than a placemat.


Originally published September 25, 2008 by Snob Essentials