When Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing was a boy, he insisted his mother find babysitters, “who looked like Stevie Nicks.” The models he sent down the runway at the 34th Annual Ballet Auxiliary Fashion Show would have passed his prepubescent casting call, after all. Had they been alive in his hometown of Seattle in the the slouchy 70’s, they could have let their freak fringe fly and their tresses tumble, just as they did strutting down Downing’s carefully curated couture-casual runway. His four fashion ‘stories’ for Spring, all culled from Neiman’s San Francisco store, offered for real-time relevance combined with instant gratification; to heck with a special order, if you wanted to buy it you could pick it up at Neiman’s that afternoon. The stories were about 70’s Boho (Hello, Stevie! Hi, Joni!), shades of white, mix don’t match, and that perennial sequin showstopper, Studio 54 (Love ya Jerry! Bisous Bianca!) The 400+ ladies and a few intrepid lads who made the scene at the Fairmont luncheon to benefit the Ballet were taking it all in, deciding if they were daring enough to drape a leather jacket over a ball gown (a Downing staple) or to mix pattern on pattern on pattern with technicolor abandon (a Downing dare.) Even if most looks represented a walk on the wild side, the inherent ideas were accessible as well as original. Downing said he hears his mother chirping, “pretty, not peculiar!” as he drapes on one more necklace and adds another accessory to excess. And because his daring stops just before it becomes derivative, women adore his runway-to-retail tutorials, and his attention to them.
The Ballet Auxiliary audience arrived to engage, wearing their own carefully considered versions of pretty not peculiar. “I tried on everything in my closet!” was the greeting of the morning, but the results were appealing and elegant. Guests arrived dressed to the elevens, which is precisely when the cocktails and champagne started flowing. A lengthy happy hour allowed for snags and stragglers to air-kiss before the sit-down luncheon of seared scallop, salmon, and sweets began, followed by a live auction of peak travel experiences in Shanghai, Monaco, Kenya, New York, and dear old SF, and a choice raffle as well. When the lights dimmed, Fashion Show Chair Ave Seltsam acknowledged the benefactors and sponsors, and Luncheon Chair Patricial Ferrin Loucks and Auction Chair Michelle Gilman took a bow before the high-energy show of Ken and his dolls began. As each story appeared, Downing appeared to provide context and a little provocation, challenging his audience to see references to the past with a modern métier. Posing for photo ops with his posse, he affirmed his affection for San Francisco women’s desire for distinctive style. “You can go your own way,” he smiled, sweetly. And so they did.
And everyone was beautiful at the ballet: Honorary Chair Suzy Kellems Dominik, Ballet Auxiliary President Marie Hurabiell, Neiman Marcus VP and SF GM Alan Morrell, Neiman’s powerhouse PR Terri Murphy Mino, Ballet Executive Director Glenn McCoy, Committee Members including Betsy Linder, Bianca Aguirre, L’Ann Bingham, Maria Ralph, Stephanie Russell, Kathleen Coffino, Christine DeSanze, Gane Gazzola, Deborah Taylor, Melissa Poer, Kimberly Hopper, Rondra Mahendroo, and Dara Rosenfeld, Benefactors Jacqueline Erdman, OJ Shansby, Jennifer Walske in up-to-the-minute pink shorts, Dede Wilsey, Jennifer Lee, Yurie Pascarella, Sarah Somberg, Eve Wertsch, Paula Carano, Amy Burnett, Jane Gazzola, Dr. Katalin Kadar Lynn, Sharon Meresman, Jan Newman, Nancy Rutsch, Stephanie Skinner, Judy Timken, Beatrice Wood, Jan Newman, and Miles Archer Woodlief, Benefactors Carol Benz, Mari Pozzi, Downing’s fashion-forward friend Christine Suppes, Betsy Vobach, Rosemary Baker, Shelley Gordon, Karen Kubin, Laura Miller, Suzanne Thornton, Amy Wender-Hoch, and Patricia Rock. Also in attendance: Her Excellency Maguy Maccario Doyle, Ambassador of Monaco, and Thomas Horn, Conorary Consul of Monaco, Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, author Pamela Fiori, Phoebe Cowles, Riccardo Benevides, Laura Miller, Navid Armstrong, Natalia Urritia, Courtney Dallaire, Komal Shah, Isly designer Sobia Shaikh, Victor Vargas, everyone’s favorite fashion plate Sonia Molodetskaya, superstylist Mary Golzalves Kinney, Lorna Meyer Calas, adorable Sarah Somberg, who stole the show with her high five with the runway model wearing the same fab frock, Saks Fifth Avenue GM and class act Robert Arnold-Kraft, Saks’ Ryan Williams, Wilkes Bashford’s GM Jeff Garelick and Sheree Chambers, Nadine Weil, Chloe Harris Hennen, Liyann Woo, Stephanie Marver, Barbara Brown, Pernella Somerville, Linda delRio, Lisa Podos, Robert Atkinson, the supporting team of Jim, Sarah and Joey Seltsam, Pamela Joyner, Tony Bravo, Vicki Winston, Maggie Koening, Stephanie Murillo, Pam Baer, and a corps of other beautiful balletomanes.