Parsons Honors Tory Burch, Lauren Santo Domingo, Celebrates Inclusivity

NEW YORK Community repeatedly took center stage at Monday night’s Parsons Benefit at The Glasshouse.

From the inclusivity-minded honorees to the pass-the-plate, family-style appetizers (a bit of a head scratcher in the age of COVID-19), the 73rd annual event repeatedly played up the ‘we’ factor. Brad Goreski acted as emcee, and welcomed a few hundred supporters who included Wes Gordon, Fernando Garcia, Donna Karan, Steve Madden’s Liz Rodbell, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Gena Smith, IMG’s Ivan Bart, Kering’s Laurent Claquin, stylist Kate Young, Julie Gilhart, Morty Singer, Kay Unger and Trey Laird. Rodbell, who is chair of Parsons’ board of governors, and Smith co-chaired the event.

En route to the seated dinner, Karan explained why the annual gathering is one event she never misses. “Why? A, because I sit on the board. Two because I was a student, since I was 18. I love this man more than anything, [gesturing toward Parsons’ Joel Towers]. I love to see where the kids are going and what they’re doing [especially with] the graduate program, which I started years ago. I felt the school needed a graduate program, but now it’s grown so amazingly.”

Accepting the Parsons Table award from Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Samira Nasr, Burch turned the tables to praise her friend as “a true inspiration, who is breaking boundaries.” After “happily” accepting the award on behalf of everyone at Tory Burch, the designer said, “We simply have the best team in the world and it’s no coincidence that many of them went to Parsons,” including several staffers who first joined her in 2004.

Donna Karan attends the 73rd Annual Parsons Benefit.
Courtesy/Getty Images for The New School

Her gratitude extended to Parsons’ president Dwight McBride, executive Dean Rachel Schreiber and their faculty, fellow honorees, her mother, brothers, stepdaughters “Pookie” and “Izzie” and her sons. “Two of my boys are here. They have always been exceptionally supportive. In fact, I never got the feeling that you wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom,” Burch said.

Thanking her husband, Pierre-Yves Roussel, Burch said she “basically bullied him” into being the company’s chief executive officer in 2018. “Everyone always asks me if it was difficult to give up the CEO role after 14 years. Without any hesitation, I have to say it was the easiest and best decision that I’ve ever made,” Burch said.

The designer also clued in the crowd to how the work of a Parsons alum, Claire McCardell, has been a source of inspiration. “In the 1940s, she said something radical for the time. She said, ‘Dress for yourself — not for anyone else,’” Burch said. “She was the first designer to truly empower women through her clothing.”

Addressing some of the barriers to women’s equality, including those working mothers face in business, Burch noted how despite the fact that 50 percent of entrepreneurs are women, only three percent of them have access to venture capital. Stereotypes, biases, limited child care and family support are other factors, Burch said. “The irony is that women are actually the best investment. Women’s equality is the evolution of humanity. As long as women are being held back, we are all being held back. The fact that we are still talking about this in 2022 is an indicator that we have a very long way to go. Women’s equality should be a given, not a favor.”

Another honoree, the Ford Foundation’s president Darren Walker, was also both reflective and forward-thinking. “Looking around this room, I’m reminded why a little boy who began his life on a dirt road in a small town in Texas in a little shotgun shack, dreamed that one day he might come to New York…he dreamed it because New York was an imaginary place where extraordinary, remarkable, talented and creative people lived,” he said. “New York without institutions like Parsons would be just another large soulless city.”

Emphasizing the importance of philanthropy, Walker recalled how Martin Luther King said in 1968, shortly before he was assassinated, “‘Philanthropy is commendable but it should not allow philanthropists to overlook the economic injustice that makes philanthropy necessary,’” he said, adding there is a need “to make the system better – more inclusive and more participatory.”

In the wake of the pandemic, the Ford Foundation became the first nonprofit in the U.S. to issue a $1 billion designated social bond in the domestic capital markets to help stabilize nonprofits.

Christie’s Lydia Fenet was a bit of a scene stealer during the gala’s live auction, using her wit to slice and dice bidders and volley them off of each other for such prized experiences as seats at Valentino’s upcoming couture show in Italy. Later, Harry Santa-Olalla took to the stage to urge attendees to pitch in with the scholarship drive. In total, the event raised nearly $2.6 million, according to organizers. That was a slight decline compared to the $3 million raised at last year’s event — perhaps indicative of the shaky economy.

In handing over an award to Moda Operandi’s cofounder and chief brand officer Lauren Santo Domingo, YouTube’s Derek Blasberg described her as “one of the chicest women in New York, a loyal friend,” his mentor, muse and “also a fierce and outspoken Democrat. If you don’t believe me, just check out her Twitter…”

Looking to give everyone access to designers in the showroom and on the runway, Santo Domingo said, “Some call it disruptive but my husband liked to joke that I created Moda Operandi so that I could shop exactly the way that I wanted to. And he’s not wrong.”

Thanking the team at Moda, “who has gotten us to where we are, and to those of you, who are going to take us even further,” Santo Domingo gave added thanks to all of the attendees, “the industry stakeholders. We are all working together to create a fashion industry that is inclusive and sustainable.”

Designs from the Parsons fashion show.

A runway look from the Parsons fashion show.
Courtesy of Parsons

One of her fellow honorees, the visual artist Kehinde Wiley, was praised for creating work that challenges white-centered art history while also celebrating contemporary Black life and culture. Wiley, who was unable to attend the gala, gained global fame after painting the official presidential portrait of Barack Obama, making Wiley the first African American artist to paint a presidential portrait. Obama once said that he was always struck by how Wiley’s portraits “was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power and privilege.”

Designs from the Parsons fashion show.

Designs from the Parsons fashion show.
Courtesy of Parsons

Guests, who lent an ear to a musical performance earlier by Parsons College of Performing Arts students earlier in the program, also caught a fashion show by Parsons MFA alumni from 2020 and 2021. Before bidding the crowd goodnight, Rodbell, informed them how the funds raised will support scholarships to help Parsons students to continue “to create, innovate and lead us with their problem solving solutions.”

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