There was the most glorious, huge orange sphere hovering over North Texas on Saturday, June 10. After days of drizzle, lighting and thunder, the skies were pristine. And this was summer!
Over at The Fairmont Dallas, it was equally perfect for the 31st Annual La Fiesta de Las Seis Banderas … except for a needle and thread situation and too many toasts.
But first the backstory. Overseeing the months of La Fiesta preparations were Rebecca Gregory and Nancy Monning. Among the committee heads were the Gala Co-Chairs Anne Besser and Michelle Johnson. Those four were known for running a tight ship and still maintaining a smile and cool composure. Each year one of the six flags that had been part of Texas history was selected as the theme. This year it was France, and the ladies were delighted with the theme “La Fete Royal.” They were inspired by the 2017 beneficiaries (C.A.R.E., Connecting Points of Park Cities, The Elisa Project, The Family Place, Friends of University Park Library, Highland Park Education Foundation, Highland Park Literary Festival, HP Arts, HPHS Community Service Council, HPHS Counseling Department and Student Council, HPHS Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter, HPHS Science Festival, HPHS Student Emergency Fund, HPHS Youth and Government/Moody Family YMCA and Park Cities Heritage House at Dallas Heritage Village) to raise the funds.
But hiccups happen even to the best.
The first one was a real hit. The Anatole had to pull out from holding the event due to a convention or something. Anne and Michelle put out calls and locked down The Fairmont. The smiles said it turned out to work with the French theme, since The Fairmont was French-owned.
But Anne, who will be overall co-chair with Elizabeth Gambrell for 2018, reported that not only would they be returning to the Anatole, but the Anatole team came through this year with additional staging without a charge or hesitation.
As for the relocation, it required some adjustments. The tried-and-true, 17,967-square-foot Fairmont Regency Ballroom just didn’t have as much space as the 30,360-square-foot Anatole’s Chantilly Ballroom. So sacrifices had to be made. The number one was the dance floor, which meant no post-presentation dance for the couples. Another issue was accommodating all who wanted to attend. The tables of black-tie guests were downright cozy.
But it was all coming together. After all, it was the first time that the Duchesses, who had just finished their freshman year in college, were able to see former high school classmate. It was like a black-tie class reunion.
However, the mammoth group pictures that were to be taken in the ballroom as parents and friends cocktailed in the adjoining lobby ran into a bump in the road. Photographer James French and his team were already with cameras in hand. The ladder was set dead center at the end of the runway. The idea of photographing 40 Duchesses in ball gowns and their escorts was a daunting challenge. But James and his folks were old hands at this situation.
However, it seemed that not all the Duchesses and escorts realized this wasn’t a casual selfie. There was a schedule to be kept. The escort group photo was delayed by five minutes due to some MIA escorts. Next, the group photo of all 40 Duchesses and their 40 escorts was on the list. Only when the headcount took place, four Duchesses were missing. It seems they were “being sewn into their gowns.” Five minutes passed, then 10. The couples that had stood so erect for the photo setup were now seated on the stage. The clock kept ticking, and still the foursome was missing. Evidently one designer was responsible for all four dresses. When James was asked if they should go ahead and shoot the photo without the four, the presentation photo vet knew just the right answer: “That’s not my call.”
Still they waited. Finally, just minutes before the ballroom doors opened, the tardy Duchesses arrived to applause by the 76.
Quickly, the group photo and the Duchesses’-only photo were taken. James removed the ladder and just in time, as the doors to the ballroom opened and the chimes called all 900 guests to their seats, where they discovered elegant place settings with napkins tied in bows and topped off with French symbolic honey bee ornaments.
Around the room were the Parker clan (Gwen and Doug Parker with their kids Eliza Parker and Jackson Parker) to see son Luke Parker escorting Lillian Cockerell, Angela and Brad Cheves were on hand for son/escort Conner Cheves, who was escorting Duchess Sarah Unkefer, Leslie and Jack Gosnell were front-rowing it for daughter/Duchess Ellison Gosnell. Was it really that long ago that Jack had been the escort pick of the debutante crowd?
The presentation started off with the escorts parading from the back of the ballroom via the runway to their places on the stage. Then a couple arrived on stage dressed in 18th century French attire and started performing “Rock Le Minuette,” starting with an elegant Baroque with the escorts in the background. Suddenly, the mood changed with the male assisting the young woman out of her billowing skirt revealing long legs encased in fishnet stockings. The tempo picked up and so did the couple as the gent picked her up on his shoulder and whirled around. Still the escorts stood solemnly.
After a brief welcome by Rebecca and Nancy, the escorts (Nick Alexander, Paxton Baird, Grayson Borrego, Henry Bould, Watson Brown, Christopher Buell Jr., Harrison Buford, Ty Burke Jr., William Caldwell, Kevin Cassidy, Conner Cheves, JD Cochran, Cole Ellis, Robert Farrow, Vale Fitzpatrick IV, Stanton Geyer, Thomas Glieber, Chase Govett, Garrett Hall, Bobby Hrncir, Cade Kimzey, William Kraft V, Parker Lacour, Mitchell Laughlin, Spencer Lorio, Jack Martin III, Hoyt Matise, Charles Mencke III, Wade Nicolas III, Charlie O’Brien, Austin Overton, Luke Parker, Adam Rathjen, Turner Rejebian, Barton Showalter, Benjamin Smith, Zach Snelling, Sam Stewart, Matthew Vandermeer and Hunt Wood Jr.) were individually introduced and exited. Then the formal presentation took place, with eight Duchesses being introduced on their fathers’ arm. As each of the 40 Duchesses (Emily Anwar, Clara Beecherl, Elizabeth Bradshaw, Kate Brayshaw, Laura Brayshaw, Anna Buford, Jeanne Ann Bullington, Helena Burns, Ellie Bush, Keaton Calhoun, Emily Carvell, Lillian Cockerell, Annie Combs, Elizabeth Cooper, Katie Dalton, Elizabeth DeBeer, Fields Dunston, Maddie Fehlman, Ellison Gosnell, Claire Green, Kristen Haggerty, Elizabeth Hubbard, Shanley Huckabee, Savanna Jones, Hannah Jurgensmeyer, Kendall Klingaman, Lane McCormick, Alexandra McGeoch, Caroline McGeoch, Dorothy Meachum, Clare Obenchain, Caroline Robertson, Avery Roosien, Peyton Schlachter, Madison Stuart, Madison Tedford, Madeline Toole, Sarah Unkefer, Emily Weisfeld and Erica Yaguchi) walked the runway, emcee Al Raya described her duchy.
It came off without a hitch on stage.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the same in the audience. During the early part of the presentation, the guests were quiet to hear the narration and to watch the deep bows. However, by the fourth round of eight couples, some adults had been fueled by trips to the bar, resulting in their returning to their tables and sounding oblivious that there were still Duchesses being announced. A couple of gals were feeling no pain as they greeted friends at a nearby table loud enough that the announcer couldn’t be heard.
But the Duchesses and escorts soldiered on, concluding with all 80 on stage for a final bravo. They then joined their families and friends for a seated dinner, followed by dancing and a “late-night party” in the International Ballroom.
However, some of the honorees didn’t quite make it to the International Ballroom. It seems that the day’s activities may have gotten the best of one or two of them. It surely couldn’t have been due to imbibing, though, since organizers had stated in the program, “It is unlawful to serve alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of twenty-one. Valid identification will be required.”