Our city was under siege—and all we wanted was a glass of Champagne.
Just before noon last Tuesday, we traipsed into the Pierre Hotel for Fashion 4 Development’s Second Annual First Ladies’ Luncheon. Before nearly everyone threatened or warned of nuclear war, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showcased his artistic inclinations, we joined the wives of the U.N.’s leading men as they paraded into the ballroom of Taj Resorts and Palaces of India’s U.S. flagship on East 61st.
In a world rife with crisis—the Middle East and Africa were among the week’s major talking points—we had but one imminent concern: we had missed the better part of a cocktail reception.
And it seemed we weren’t alone in not being particularly focused on the state of international affairs.
“I was a little bit nervous of what to wear,” said Madame Yoo Soon-taek, wife of the UN Secretary-General, leaning toward Martha Stewart. “I wanted to ask my husband what to wear, but he is so busy.”
We shared her worry. It most certainly was no Fashion Week.
F4D co-founder Evie Evangelou soon took to the stage to move the program along—Madame Oktiniwati Ulfadariah Hatta Rajasa, chairperson and founder of CitaTenun Indonesia, was accorded a Women’s Champion Award for her generous work, and Franca Sozzani, Editor of Vogue Italia, was the recipient of the Fashion and Humanity Award. Her Excellency Toyin Saraki of Nigeria was also among the honorees, accepting an F4D Angel Award. At the podium, she spoke of how she lost one of her twins during childbirth, which in turn inspired her to fight for pediatric and maternal health care—a tragic tale she decorated with details of her lavish lifestyle. Before she could go on much longer about her couture dress and jet-setting, we made haste for the door—we were nearly late for our next event, and security was never pleasant at these affairs.
With the help of a cab, we shimmied past roadblocks toward the Museum of Modern Art, where we entered a storm of Secret Service agents and frenzied publicists, circling a sea of dignitaries. We had arrived at the Every Woman Every Child dinner, for The Big Push initiative, hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Not yet prepared to decipher the efficacy rates of antiretroviral prophylaxis or how to better disseminate information in developing nation-states, we decided to beeline it for the bar, where we found a familiar face: Ms. Sozzani. Alone with her in the MoMA garden, we saw this as a grand opportunity to cozy up and ask the important questions.
How is it even possible that you’re here right now, since Milan fashion week just ended? What about Paris? How can she save the world and couture simultaneously?
“Paris starts on Thursday, so I’ll leave tomorrow and I’ll arrive for Balenciaga,” she assured us.
The president of Liberia, the prime ministers of Thailand and Norway: speaker after speaker reported the many accomplishments realized thus far.
“This is an event where you bring many of the world’s leaders together,” Christoph Benn, a director at the Global Fund, told The Observer during the marathon of podium addresses. “It’s very significant that they come here to talk about the health of women and children and what they can do.”
Of course, many challenges lie ahead: “In 2015, we have the target year for the millennium development goals,” explained Dr. Benn. “We have not much time left to achieve that. That’s why we’re talking about the big push.”
We bumped into Jonathan Klein, CEO of Getty Images, who echoed this sentiment.
“We work with Congress to make sure that the U.S. fulfills its commitment to pay one-third of the Global Fund, because everybody else has agreed.”
Is the U.S. playing its part?
“I think it’s an investment in global development, in global health,” Mr. Klein responded, eyeing his nearby image-monger. We were distracted by a nearby stash of crostini with olives and a fresh glass of vino, and when we turned back around, he was nowhere to be found, unseen among security guards rushing to and fro, memos and mobile phones in hand, and aides pacing up and down the tables badgering their bosses.
We shrugged and gulped down our refill.
We drifted off, momentarily shaken back awake when Shaquille O’Neal, welcomed to the stage by the director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, hugged her, and then to the shock and ultimately utter amusement of everyone, hoisted her high up in his arms. But soon the speeches continued, and we made for more wine.
“This is a chance for us to get together and see what we’ve done … and prepare for the future,” Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, minister of health for Ethiopia told us during a pause for air back in the MoMA courtyard.
“I think this sort of forum can really help you have some sort of soul searching. It can also help you to mobilize resources and renew commitment of all partners.”
We nodded—we do enjoy a good social gathering.
“At the United Nations General Assembly, that’s where the GA members meet. Only they have a seat,” Dr. Benn reasoned, joining us again. “But here, at the dinner, that’s where they all meet … Everyone has a seat.”
And everyone knows your name.