It was the last black-tie hurrah of the 2016 spring season. While temperatures proved summer was indeed setting up residence, La Fiesta de Las Seis Banderas types were dressed to the nines on Saturday, June 18. The honoree of the day should have been the person who created A/C.
At 5:40 p.m. as family and friends gathered in the Chantilly Ballroom’s lobby, the ballroom itself was a flurry of activity. All the staging was nicely in place. Two large screens faced each other from the far side of the ballroom. A multi-tiered stage with columns and a huge fan featuring the six flags of Texas served as the backdrop. Across the way at the back of the room was a stage for the band, a dance floor and platforms for videographers and production crews. In a corner to the side of the stage was a small stage for the presentation band and a mic for the speakers.
But the videographers, bands and speakers were not to be found at this time. No, it was time for the official photographs of the Duchesses and their escorts. As the Duchesses stood to the side of the stage, the escorts assembled on stage for the first photo of the night. Well, most of the escorts that is.
Like a vet wrangler of cats, photographer James French stood on a ladder hollering orders first to the group of escorts on stage. “You on the top row on the end. No, the top row. Yeah, you. Step down.”
Finally all with gloved hands clasped standing like a team of football players in white tie, the photos were taken.
Then it was time for the photo of the couples. That’s when the problem was discovered. Standing among the couples were a handful of beautiful Duchesses without escorts. An adult shouted to one of the girls, “Where’s your escort?”, as if the Duchess has hidden him in the storage room. The Duchess raised her shoulders and motioned with her hands, “I don’t know.”
Before that reality hit home, three white-tie escorts came bounding in the room and hustled to the ladies in waiting. As French and the rest of the advisors did a quick check, they realized they were still three escorts short. As if on cue, the last three rushed into the ballroom, just as French realized that the “done” escort photo was going to have to be “redone.”
Finally the group photo, the Duchesses photo and the redo escort photo were done. French hustled off hollering to the escorts, “If you’re going to have a family photo done, go now.” Escorts scampered.
By 6:16 p.m. the ballroom was now devoid of Duchesses, escorts, and French. In their place were servers setting up tables. One organizers was heard to say, “Get ready for round two.”
In the meantime the crowd in the lobby had become a selfie extravaganza. While some might think it was due to the overload of collegiate types home to support their former classmates, the adults were into the memory-making photography, too. One leggy young thing with a thigh high slit sprinted across the lobby on nose-bleed stilettos like a gazelle to greet her pals.
La Fiesta Co-Founder Pierce Allman was with Connie and Chris O’Neill talking about their son, Jack O’Neill, escorting his granddaughter Allie Beth Cowan. All-dolled up Gala Co-Chairs Elizabeth Gambrell and Rebecca Gregory didn’t show any signs of having coordinated the day’s preparation. Others in the crowd included Linda Shiffer, Karen Young, Catherine Magee, Mary Kumpf, Jillian Daber, Cecily Work, Duchess mama Mary Humphreys Parker, Amy Hughes, MaryMichael McCartin, Emily Anwar, Lily Cockerell, Arden Wynn, Leah Lambert, Regan Tate and Brooke Wilson.
Soon the signal was given that the main event was getting ready to start. Running a couple of seconds late, the lights in the ballroom dimmed at 6:45, the A/C cranked up, so even the wooliest tuxedoed guest would feel right at home and the crowd of guests moved into the ballroom.
The doors opened and initially only five or six senior types ventured in, but within minutes they were followed by a flood of guests making their way to their assigned tables for dinner and applauding. Watching the various generations of guests make their way into the ballroom, the questions of heels was noted. Some guests took long strides and looked like they had been born in stilettos. Others looked like they’d had their feet bound as they hobbled their way to their tables.
But these guests weren’t finished chatting. At 6:52 “the voice” over the PA asked guests to “take their seats. The program will being in 15 minutes.”
As some heeded the call, it was noted that the video crews were outnumbering the still photographers.
Three minutes later “the voice” warned “the program will being in 10 minutes.” Still the guests had a lot of hugging and talking to do and one couldn’t really blame them. After all, some of these collegiate types hadn’t seen each other since graduating from high school last year.
But “the voice” was not to be ignored. At 6:59 sounding like a call to arms, “the voice” announced for guests “to take your seats. The program is about to begin.” No more of the minute countdown. The time had come and there was no turning back.
Well, that may have been well and good, but the masses kept pouring in and not settling down to business. Over the PA, “Chicago That Toddlin’ Town” played. Interesting choice.
Uh, ho. At 7:04 the doors closed, the music stops and still a few stalwarts keep standing and talking. “The voice” returns. His credibility is on the line. He repeats that the program is about to begin. There’s just the slightest tinge of a sounding like a father, who isn’t falling for his kid’s excuse for being past curfew. This time the message came across and seats were almost filled. Alas, at 7:07 he gave it one final effort. Evidently there were a number of people with hearing challenges.
But at 7:08 the stage lights came up and the last standing guests were seated. The main doors of the ballroom opened and the escorts marched in and onto the stage. Yes, all the escorts were accounted for. They were followed by six beautifully dressed folklorico dancers, who performed flawlessly on stage. After all, this year’s them was “Viva La Fiesta! — Celebrating The Splendors of Mexico.”
Following very brief remarks by La Fiesta Chairs Eloise Meachum and Missy Rothwell, the presentation was underway. First there was the presentation of the escorts, who disappeared off stage. Then eight escorts returned to places on the multi-tiered stage. The first Duchesses were individually escorted centerstage by their fathers and joined by their escort. Each Duchess represented a unique duchy (i.e. the Duchess of Monarch Butterfly, the Duchess of Cinco de Mayo, the Duchess of Palacio de Bellas Arts, etc.) with her gown reflecting her theme. Following the Duchess’ bow, her father presented her with a white rose and she rewarded him with a kiss on the cheek. As the father left the stage, she Duchess and her escort returned to the escort’s place on the tier. Despite having 40 Duchess presented in five groups, it all came off flawlessly.
Chronicling moments was potential Duchess-to-be Kaitlyn Gamster with her cellphone.
The finale had all 40 Duchess and their escorts on stage for a standing ovation. Then they promenaded down the runway to the dance floor for the first of many dances to come.
For more photos of the Duchesses, their escorts and the whole goings-on, check MySweetCharity Photo Gallery. Be prepared because there are a heck of lot of ’em.