The 2021 Crystal Charity Ball Fashion Shows were a gamble for both CCB and Neiman Marcus NorthPark. To take over a vast part of the store for one production was challenging enough. But to hold a morning event including a reception, fashion presentation and brunch and do a repeat less than two hours later for an afternoon tea was rather daunting. And adding to the equation was the decision just days before to move the meals from the outdoor NM Garden Court to the second floor. But by this time the 2021 Crystal Charity Ball Chair Leslie Diers, 2021 CCB Fashion Show Chair Lisa Cooley, Neiman Marcus Brand Experience/Special Events at Neiman Director Marjon Henderson and her team and Nancy Nasher‘s NorthPark Center crew were old hands at pivoting after a year of being at the mercy of the pandemic’s ups-and-downs.
Manicured fingers were crossed as the day began on Friday, October 1, with the champagne reception in the store’s third-floor gift gallery and children’s department.
Guests were surprised upon disembarking the escalator to see two towering lattice doors blocking their view of the showroom of designer fashions. Overnight it had been transformed into a runway production and was off limits until the big show commenced.
The dressing rooms had been adjusted to accommodate the 10 Best Dressed (Marybeth Conlon, Tiffany Divis, Jennifer Dix, Cate Ford, Cara French, Libby Hegi, Kim Hext, Karla McKinley, Amy Prestidge and Kimberly Schlegel Whitman) plus Hall of Famer Mary Clare Finney and the models for makeup and to change from street clothes to runway looks. Along the main hallway was a rack of black silk robes with “Best Dressed” embroidered on the back. Each had a 10 BD-er’s and Hall of Famer Mary Clare Finney’s initial on the front. Quickly the question was raised: Who had provided the personalized robes?
The back story revealed it was none other than 2009-2011 BD-er Nancy C. Rogers. It seems that in years past when the CCB Fashion Show took place in downtown Neiman’s and the pre-show reception commenced on the ground floor, Fancy Nancy held an ultra-private get-together for the 10 plus 1 six floors up, preventing a sneak peak of the ladies of the day until their runway presentation. But with this year’s move to Neiman’s NorthPark, Nancy’s invite-only party would take place in the store’s Zodiac Room on the third floor, with just a curtain and short hallway blocking the view from the general reception. Adding to the need for “secrecy” was the fact that this year there would be no featured designer for the ladies to wear on the runway. Instead, the 10 plus 1 were able to pick out their own favorite designer and look, raising the anticipation level about the day’s choices. A challenge to prevent any sneak peaks? Tut, tut. Lady Rogers simply came up with the idea of literally wrapping the ladies in black silk robes, literally keeping their outfits under wraps.
As for the Zodiac Room, it had been magically transformed into a lush garden of yellow flowers with a mirrored wall lined with flutes of champagne, cushy couches, a towering circular settee topped with hanging lights and more flowers and ultra-fashionable mannequins holding floral arrangements.
But before the 10 plus 1 got to venture into Fancy Nancy’s Garden, they had to take part in a walk-thru for the presentation. When they were advised to put on their heels to get a feel for the carpeted flooring, upscale slippers and sneakers were quickly doffed for stilt-like stilettos.
As NM Group President and Chief Customer Officer David Goubert, NM Market GM/VP Mary McGreevy, 2021 CCB Chair Leslie Diers and 2021 Fashion Show Chair Lisa Cooley read their scripts, the walk thru got an all-manicured thumbs up.
Then the ladies in black robes were escorted along the back hallway to Nancy’s party, where the hostess was greeting guests at a couch in the back of the room. Immediately upon spying 10 BD-er Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, daughter Millie Whitman welcomed her mom with a hug. Others enjoying Nancy’s hospitality included Amy Phelan, Michael Flores, Leisa Street, Paul Divis and Myrna and Bob Schlegel.
In the meantime, the gift gallery and children’s department filled up with guests sipping champagne, buying raffle tickets and checking out the merchandise. One of the popular items was the collection of Fornasetti candles. Paige Locke and her sister Tricia Besing reported that their mom Billie Leigh Rippey was getting back in the swing of things just a little slower than years past as she approaches the 90-year mark on December 7… Mother/daughter guests included Aileen Pratt and daughter Caroline Pratt, Sarah Losinger with daughter Emily Canete, Anne Reeder Corley with daughter Sara Matlock, Norma Hunt with daughter-in-law Toni Hunt, Jan Hegi with daughter-in-law Amy Hegi for 10 BD-er/daughter-in-law Libby Hegi and Louise Griffeth with her daughter-in-law Annie Griffeth, who was in the final stages of completing her Tablescapes project.
Right on time the 10 BD-ers and Mary Clare departed the Fancy Nancy gathering and headed back to their dressing room for the formal presentation, as the two gentlemen who had been guarding the closed lattice doors opened them for the guests to take their assigned seats.
Unlike the past year’s presentation inside the downtown store, with three-tier seating enclosed in a showroom cloaked in the draping, the NorthPark format seemed more open. There were no tiers nor draping. The freestanding racks of clothes that were usually displayed had been removed to accommodate three to four rows of Lucite chairs that seemed to have been configured by the same designers who created tourist-class seating. Needless to say, elbow room was not abundant.
In each chair was a program listing the sponsors and agenda. While some might have wished for a list of the clothes to be included, there was no need, as McGreevy revealed that all were available in the store now as well as triple points for any purchases made through the weekend. That last eye-popping point about the points raised many finely micro-bladed eyebrows.
On schedule the program got underway without a slip. Following David’s welcome, Leslie thanked key sponsors and people and Lisa acknowledged the work and effort by Tucker and Margaret. Both Leslie and Lisa encouraged guests to check the CCB exhibit of 2021 beneficiaries created by the NorthPark Center team just outside NM. Then it was time for McGreevy to formally announce the roll-out of 10-BDers and Mary Clare who were escorted by masked escorts. Again, no slips or oops.
Following Mary Clare’s exit the presentation of NM fashions got underway, ranging from 21st century Bohemian to make-a-killer-entrance evening gowns. In many fashion shows, the closing outfit is a dramatic wedding gown. In this case, the gown looked a bit like it had been designed for Big Bird’s bride.
As the parade of models closed the show, the house lights came up and the guests escalatored down to the second floor, where once again the racks of clothes had been banished. In their place were tables covered with dark teal cloths surrounded by chairs with cushy padding. Against the back of the room were towering panels of greenery with cascading arrangements of flowers. Who needed to be in the outdoor courtyard with its humidity, when the best of the outdoors was inside with air conditioning.
While guests like Lucy Billingsley, Kathryn Hall, Amy and Michael Meadows, Jan Miller and Jeanne Phillips dined on crab tartine on toasted brioche, meyer lemon and fine herbs, with mixed greens, flowers and herbs followed by a citrus chocolate tart and accompanied by Nichols Feuillatte Brut, Epernay NV and Delaporte Sancerre 2020, the NM elves were busy upstairs preparing for the afternoon repeat. Chairs had to be numbered according to the floor plan and programs had to be placed.
As the clocked ticked down, the changing of the guard… or rather, the guests… got underway. Somehow the timing was perfect. Brunch guests enjoyed their meal and chatting before checking out the NM merchandise and heading for their cars. In the meantime, the Tea guests arrived to follow a similar POA, but somehow the second time around seemed to be as fresh as the first run.
However, Fancy Nancy’s gathering seemed a bit more crowded with Charlotte Jones Anderson, Lara Beth Seager, Kristi Hoyl and Kelli Ford with daughter Electra Ford.
Once again the occasion proved to be a mother-daughter outing with the likes of Lisa Troutt with her mom Martha Copeland, Tavia Hunt with daughter Gracie Hunt and Erin Mathews with daughter-in-law Brittany Mathews as well as husbands and fathers of the 10 BD-ers including Jim French with father-in-law Warren Gravely and Jerry Ford with son Jeremy Ford and son-in-law Corey Prestidge.
In addition to a passel of Cattle Baron’s ladies (Diana Hamilton, Heather Randall, Lisa Shirley, Katy Bock, Nancy Gopez, Anne Stodghill and Sunie Solomon), there were longtime CCB supporters and Hall of Fame graduates (Annette Simmons, Gene Jones, Nancy Dedman, Louise Griffeth, Norma Hunt, Lana Andrews, Lisa Troutt, Lee Ann White, Charlotte Jones and Robyn Conlon).
MIA was former First Lady Laura Bush. She had planned on attending but daughter Barbara Bush and her husband Craig Louis Coyne had just given birth to their first child, Cora Georgia Coyne, just three days before and Laura was doing grandmother duties in Maine.
The only change in the lineup of speakers came when Leslie announced that she was going off script. A little look of surprise appeared on the faces of some of the organizers. Everything had gone so smoothly earlier, what could this unscripted piece be?
Looking across the aisle where her parents (Cynthia and Lester Melnick), sisters (Sara Albert and Julie Dearien) and daughter (Tracy Davy) sat, Leslie told the audience of her favorite NM story. She paused and then recalled how in the spring of 1953, “a young man by the name of Lester Melnick was hired by Mr. Stanley (Marcus) and began his career at the Neiman Marcus downtown store. He was hired for what was then called a ‘floor walker’ and was very soon after promoted to be a fourth floor manager. In those days, Neiman’s invited campus beauties from the Southwest conference schools to spend the summer at Neiman’s as models. Cynthia Ann Kenward was selected to represent the University of Arkansas. And, as luck would have it, she was assigned to model on the fourth floor. From the stories that I have been told it was an instant connection between a young, handsome Lester and the beautiful Cynthia. Apparently Mr. Stanley was also impressed with Cynthia and invited her to stay on after the summer, which she happily agreed to. The romance blossomed and Cynthia and Lester were married the following June. Lucky for me, they became my parents. So, thank you, Neiman Marcus. They recently celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary and I … love and honor them for being here.” With Lester smiling and Cynthia tearing up as Leslie told the story, a couple of ladies whisked away a tear and applause filled the room.
In replacing Leslie at the podium, Lisa asked, “How do you follow that up?” But follow up they did with the presentation of the 10 BD-ers plus 1 and the fashions. The only change was Mary Clare opted to wear a different outfit for the afternoon stroll down the runway.
Then it was a repeat of the day’s earlier NM fashion presentation and down the escalator to the second floor’s pop-up dining room that had been adjusted for the afternoon tea.
Just as guests settled down for their tea, the much anticipated rains swept the outdoors. No problem. The folks inside were happily enjoying deviled eggs topped with caviar, classic lobster salad on toasted brioche, smoked salmon toast with maple whipped goat cheese pistachio gremolata and lemon thyme scones with whipped mascarpone cheese and rosemary gruyere crackers finished with a mini-chocolate flower pot, mini-creme brulee with raspberries and mini-lemon bar with blackberries. Accompanying the tasties were Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Brut, Chouilly NV, Delaporte Sancerre 2020 and chilled floral berry tea sip.
It turns out that all the pivoting paid off with a successful double-header fashionable fundraiser.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the looks of the day, check out the more than 200 photos at the MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.