Oldtimers recently recalled the first Mad Hatter’s Tea at the Dallas Arboretum way back when. The very prim and proper party was held on the terrace of the Dallas Arboretum’s Camp House with a regatta of sailboats parading on White Rock and a mini-symphony playing nearby. Even Stanley Marcus was present to add to the class and elegance of the day. It was an occasion when sipping, chatting and enjoying the lake’s breeze was a stellar way to support the Arboretum.
Ah, but that was many, many years ago. Since then the Arboretum fundraiser has been moved to the Ginsburg Plaza and Rosine Hall on the other side of the DeGolyer Estate. The regatta has been replaced with an indoor fashion show. A seated luncheon is served instead of a simple tea. And in keeping with the Mad Hatter’s theme, a touch of unpredictableness has been provided thanks to the addition of a hat contest.
In recent years, some felt that the competition and creativity had gotten a wee bit over the top, so to speak. There was actual talk of some judges hijacking other judge’s decisions. Classic looks were being upstaged by chapeaus that would have impressed Tim Burton. The live auction had gotten a bit saucy. But, heck, that was part of the charm and giggle-factor of the day.
This year under the leadership of Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum President Bettina Hennessy and Event Chair Lisa Loy Laughlin, a calming down was in place. Why, the vary theme “A Serenade to Style” seemed reminiscent of that first tea.
Even Mother Nature appeared to be in an obliging mood as she got her testiness out of the way the previous weekend for the Final Four. On Thursday, April 10, the sun was shining and it seemed so perfect for adorable spring sundresses. The luncheon tables were set up in open tents with marvelous centerpieces that featured motorized butterflies. Lisa laughed about the area birds that had been fooled by the fluttering critters and had tried to snatch them up.
Ah, but a touch of Mad Hatter still prevailed. As guests arrived, a sweep of breeze developed into gusts of wind, forcing the guests to clutch their hats. Just as one woman got out of her car, her hat whooshed away across the driveway only to be run over by another vehicle.
Once inside the plaza, the division of styles was obvious.
There were the classic beauties like
- Wide brimmers — Honorary Chair Gina Ginsburg’s elegant sun hat smacking of Chanel, Lynn Dealey and Adrienne Pedigo in white with black hats with bouquets of flowers, Carmen Godwin and Sharla Bush in very similar flirty, floppy white hats (Sharla added an arrangement of flowers as an added touch), Bettina’s going understated in a beige and white classic, Vicki Ingram’s hat from Neiman Marcus, Judy Birchfield’s and daughter Belinda Birchfield’s matching jeweled and flowered hats and Yvonne Crum’s purple hat from Mockingbird Florist.
- Fascinators —Lisa’s (“I went online”) Kate Middleton inspiration, Susan Cooper’s two hats-in-one, Marisa Howard’s black and white with a huge pink peony, Elva Furstenberg’s turquoise feathered hat by Cressida of London and Sharon Gleeson (“I bought mine at the store”).
And then there were the more whimsical like
Faye Briggs’ glittering and colorful feast of cupcakes, teacups and a beaded white rabbit that weighed more than the diminutive philanthropist. Daughter Pebble McKenzie, who will be getting married in September, went the opposite extreme with a pale pink-and-white cloche.
- Clare Chaney’s Carmen Miranda with bananas, grapes and pineapple,
- Terry Irby’s nearly 100 tulips and butterflies
- Kunthear Mam-Douglas’s own creation that boasted a yellow rose theme
- Jennifer Joyce’s topper promoting her company-sponsored table — “Fidelity”
- LeeAnne Locken’s being encased in a rainbow of faux flowers. There were times, when the wind picked up, that it appeared that LeeAnne would be kiting over White Rock. She admitted that at times outdoors she thought was going to be the “Flying Nun” but then “hunkered down.”
- Joani White with a fishbowl inside a birdcage. The goldfish was so embarrassed that s/he swam at the bottom of the bowl.
- Anne Stodghill’s true tribute to Alice in Wonderland that nearly took off with a gust of wind
But the two that created the most talk belonged to Jill Rowlett and Steve Kemble.
In the days leading up to the event, Steve had advised friends via Facebook that he would be “missing” this year. No one could believe that the sassy Mad Hatter vet would not attend the event. Well, he did show up, only he was indeed missing. With his head inside a Texas-sized milk carton, his face peered out of an opening under “Missing.” On the side of the carton was “Arboretum Dairy Farm.” But even Steve was surprised at his brilliance when someone noted that the DeGolyer estate had indeed been the site of a 44-acre dairy farm before being purchased by the family in the late 1930’s.
Then there was Jill Rowlett and her frogs. Some might not have noticed her Kathrine Baumann purse. The reason? That ginormous Kermit with banjo that was on top of her head. Due to the commotion of guests and photographers trying to get to her, most weren’t able to hear Kermy’s playing his favorite tune.
According to Jill, “My hat was made again this year by Nicolas Villalba. I have many Muppet figures of every shape and material since our autistic son, Michael, loves them so. They are his friends. He even speaks in phrases from the videos! Starting with the song ‘The Rainbow Connection,” and a table full of Kermit’s, this hat grew….and grew. It’s as though Nicolas takes an idea, gives it steroids, and finds a way to build it perfectly! From my running water fountain hat last Mad Hatters to Kermit singing Rainbow Connection, he can include movement and sound if my neck can stand it! Kermit had a speaker connected through blue tooth to my phone playing Rainbow Connection.
“It was great fun and an honor to pay tribute to Michael’s best friend!”
As guests took their places in Rosine Hall for the fashion show of Diane von Furstenberg, Escada and Lela Rose designs, some “outstanding” hats created a slight problem. One gal bent over the shoulder of Shane Walker‘s very top topper and asked him if he could remove the standout creation. It was blocking the view of those behind him.
Emcee Jocelyn White explained that she was going to handle the duties alone. Seems that announced co-emcee Ron Corning was unable to participate, due to circumstances beyond his control. Joce admitted that he was going to be very missed. . . especially when it was time for the live auction.
Then Jocelyn explained that when Lisa and Bettina “were planning this year’s wonderful day for you, they wanted to find a voice for their feelings about the magnificence of these three-and-half acres (A Woman’s Garden). This is truly sanctuary, serenity that all of you with your dollars and participation are helping to sustain. So, let’s reflect on all this glory around us with these gentle words sung by the lovely Nereida Garcia, who is a soprano who has performed in the United States, the United Kingdom and all across Mexico.”
The fashion production by Jan Strimple commenced almost flawlessly. One little model had shoe issues. Seems the stilettos were a tad too big for her feet and, halfway down the runway, she had to adjust her right shoe. Alas, by the end of the runway, she was forced to stoop down and fix the other heel. For her efforts, she got applause of appreciation. Who in the audience didn’t sympathize with her?
Then it was time for the live auction of seven items that had been collected by Jocelyn’s goddaughter Jacque Kennedy. Being a trooper, Joce worked to get the bidding up. She got so involved in the action that she ended up providing the winning bid of $1,000 for a private garden consultation by Michael Shoup of antique Rose Emporium.
- Heidi Dillon — My Favorite Things: Chic Couture,
- Michael Faircloth — The Yellow Rose of Texas: Most Elegant,
- Patti Flowers — Most Creative Use of Botanicals,
- Sam Ratcliffe — Do Re Mi: Most Creative Use of Natural Materials,
- Gary Riggs — Over the Rainbow: Most Colorfully Flamboyant,
- Clarice Tinsley — Tip Toe Through the Tulips: Most Whimsical,
- Maxine Trowbridge — Best of Show: Integrity of Design and
- Janine Turner had to bow out due to a personal situation, so Clarice picked up an additional category —Edelweiss: A Vintage Look
In the past, categories had been announced ahead of time to allow guests and, in some cases, their hat designers to focus their creations. However, this event ain’t called Mad Hatter’s for nothing. By the time the judges were on stage to announce the winners, some had been adjusted and/or added. Instead of seven categories, there were eight. And then at the very end of the presentation, Jocelyn announced that she had added an additional category: Gentlemen Only.
The day’s winners were
- Over the Rainbow: Most Colorfully Flamboyant — Faye Briggs
- My Favorite Things: Chic Couture — Jewel Williams
- The Yellow Rose of Texas — Carmen Godwin
- Edelweiss — Libby Zoerner
Tip Toe Through the Tulips — Joani White
- Do Re Mi — Julia Pavlova Kanaan
- Most Creative Use of Botanicals — LeeAnne Locken. According to sources, it “seems like Patti Flowers changed the category she awarded, from ‘…. use of Natural….’ to ‘…. use of Botanical…’ LeeAnne Locken’s ‘hat’ was not made from natural materials, but it was striking and definitely deserved an award. It was created by Andre Yabin-Binzario Couture.”
- Gentlemen Only — Shane Walker
- Best of Show — Jill Rowlett
As Jill walked from the back of the room to the stage, Kermit with banjo towered over the other hatted heads. As she left the stage and started down the stairs, she just barely looked down to see just where the steps were. With that Kermit appeared to be headed for the lap of Gina, who was seated front and center. But after her tip of the hat two years ago, when her for-real fountain hat splashed the front row, Jill quickly recovered, Kermit stayed atop his perch and Gina remained calm, cool … and frogless.