Art Forum correspondent Linda Yablonsky, Giant magazine editor-in-chief Emil Wilbekin and rapper Lupe Fiasco joined more than two dozen art and fashion world luminaries at chef Marcus Samuelsson‘s Aquavit restaurant in Midtown on Thursday, April 16, for a cocktail reception and dinner in support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS’ (RED) campaign, hosted by sneaker giant Converse.
Thelma Golden, chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, gave an ecstatic greeting to arriving Kim Hastreiter of Paper magazine (understandably, since Ms. Hastreiter was responsible for introducing Ms. Golden to clothing designer Duro Olowu, the man she would eventually marry). Ms. Hastreiter stood modestly by as Ms. Golden returned the favor by singing the praises of Ms. Hastreiter’s pop-culture mag.
“I adore Marcus Samuelsson … and I love Converse, so when Converse said come to a dinner for (RED), which is a great thing, with Marcus, who’s brilliant, I was kind of like, no-brainer,” Ms. Hastreiter told the Daily Transom. She added that her only reservation was about the possibility of dining on raw lamb, a staple of the African cuisine scheduled to be served. “I guess they aren’t Swedish meatballs,” she said, referring to the Ethiopian-born chef’s expertise in Swedish cooking. “They’re African meatballs.”
A row of 13 pedestals, each bearing the prototype of a Converse sneaker designed by an artist or celebrity, notably including one by U2 guitarist The Edge, lined the back wall of the restaurant. Eventually, the fancy footwear will be sold in stores, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Global Fund.
Artist Terence Koh‘s design stood out for its white-on-white minimalsm, reflecting the current vogue for simplicity in sneaker design. Fashion duo Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai of Vena Cava, looking resplendent in dresses of their own design, took an altogether different approach, creating a sneaker made to appear as though it were drawn with a pen. “I always customized my sneakers by drawing on them when I was younger,” said Ms. Buhai, standing in front of the Vena Cava display.
It seemed, in fact, that everyone in attendance had gone through a Converse phase at some point during their youth. “There’s something timeless about them,” said Chioma Nnadi, fashion director of Fader magazine. “You can wear them with anything. Everybody has their own way of wearing them … I like to wear my leather ones, silver and leather.”
Susan Smith Ellis, CEO of (RED), offered some perspective on the evening’s perhaps understandably relentless product-pushing: “If Converse can make a profit where they get a part of it, and they give a piece to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, [those companies] will stay at it, because young people find (RED) products attractive.” She added, “We’ve raised $130 million in two years, and that’s had an impact on four and half million people in Africa.”