Glamorous guests began flooding the lobby of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center around 11:30 last Tuesday. They had congregated on the occasion of the highly anticipated Couture Council luncheon, this year honoring the well-tanned legend of women’s fashion, Valentino Garavani. A row of waiters in daper white tails held trays of white wine and water, refreshingly accented with neat wedges of lime, for parched fashion patrons, who slowly made their made their way up the staircase in couture gowns and soaring heels.
Within half an hour, the crowd had grown to an enormous congregation of high-society movers and shakers, all giddy with excitement. Guests kissed each other on the cheek twice à la française, apparently trying to channel the romance of Paris on the soggy New York afternoon.
The guest list was an impressive catalog of New York’s philanthropic and social elite. Lizzie Tisch, Cece Cord, Beth DeWoody, Karen LeFrak, Chiu-Ti Jansen, Anne Bass and Sharon Bush rubbed shoulders with the fashion icons like Iris Apfel, Diane von Furstenberg, Tamara Mellon and, of course, Valentino himself.
We spotted Kobe Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, across the room. Mr. Bryant, who lived in Italy as a child, wore an Italian suit, a sharp Dolce & Gabanna ensemble, while Mrs. Bryant looked particularly festive in her red, ruffled Valentino number. We asked Mr. Bryant how it feels to be a fashion-conscious athlete. “I mean it’s a good feeling. You always try to represent yourself well when you’re out and about,” he said, quickly walking up the stairs to find his seat.
Meanwhile, jewelry designer Judith Ripka was chatting with guests and dutifully informing them of her new book. “Its about the hardworking life, where I am this moment,” Ms. Ripka told The Observer of the tome. Flashing some of her own pieces, Ms. Ripka’s bejeweled neck, collar, fingers and wrists twinkled exhuberantly as nearby flashbulbs snapped photos of arriving guests. “Coming here today is so good for business because Valentino is so exciting and he made the couture business happen,” she said. As we attempted to parse this, Ms. Ripka flagged down the first lady of Fashion Week herself, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. “Stephanie’s amazing, as I’m sure you know,” said Ms. Ripka by way of introduction.
Ms. Winston Wolkoff towered above other attendees, in her heels and pink Michael Kors pantsuit, giving Mr. Bryant a run for his money in the height department. Although appearing composed and immaculately groomed, Ms. Winston Wolkoff admitted she had been working round the clock to prepare for Fashion Week. “It’s been crazy. It’s wonderful. It’s busy. It’s exciting,” she told The Observer of the planning. “A lot of heavy lifting.” Naturally, she was being figurative but we amused ourselves imagining the Fashion Week big boss lugging garment bags and carrying shoe racks around Lincoln Center. Ms. Winton Wolkoff had been busy, however, working to make Fashion Week less exclusive and more accessible to fashionistas from all walks of life. “It’s just exploring all these different ways of opening it up and getting rid of those red velvet ropes a little bit,” she said before disappearing into a crowd of admiring society ladies.
We approached Valentino, who looked like he had already had a full week (and Fashion Week hadn’t even begun). We inquired about the rumors circulating that a Broadway show based on his life is in the works. “They speak about it, yes, but I don’t know what’s going on,” he said with a signature arched eyebrow. And which shows he was planning on attending? “I’m going to see Spiderwoman,” he said, apparently misunderstanding both our question and the superhero’s gender. Asked which designers he was most looking forward to seeing, Mr. Valentino gave a shrug. “Many of them,” he said with a wry smile. “Darling, I don’t want to answer anymore,” he said, apparently wearied by the numerous interviews he had given and photos for which he had posed over the past hour.
Anna Wintour doffed her ever-present dark glasses and amiably greeted guests eye to eye.
Daphne Guinness was seated just one table over, her black and white locks arranged in a beehive that managed to invoke, in the perfect marriage, Cruella de Vil and Amy Winehouse. Despite the imposing tresses, Ms. Guinness was perfectly charming. Wearing a pair of heeless, platform Mary Janes, we asked if her feet were hurting her. “Stilettos give me blisters. I wouldn’t wear shoes if they weren’t comfortable,” she said. “These are really comfortable because you can go down and up, you have the reverse stretch,” she explained, deftly stretching her calves in the six-inch shoes. Asked about Fashion Week, Ms. Guinness gave an honest, if surprising answer. “I don’t really know much about Fashion Week, except for the fact that I know nothing about it,” she told The Observer. “It used to be full of friends and stuff, especially Alexander’s shows,” mentioning her late friend Alexander McQueen. “But it’s become very kind of full of … I don’t know, celebrities and all that,” she explained. Perhaps not a fan of this year’s democratized program, Ms. Guinness said she planned to attend only the shows of close friends this year.
Guests were finally seated and treated to a three-course meal, although in true fashion-world form there were a great many untouched desserts. Brief speeches were given by people involved in the Couture Council and Fashion Institute of Technology, and Ms. Wintour introduced Valentino, who received not one but two standing ovations. He expressed his gratitude for the award through his thick Italian accent. “This is a very important award … I am very flattered and grateful,” the designer said in his acceptance speech.
Shortly after, guests readied their umbrellas as they walked down the grand marble staircase and out into the wet summer afternoon.