2023 Mad Hatter’s Tea Co-Chairs Anne Stodghill and Kristina Wrenn had assembled a team to make the the 35th Women’s Council of the Arboretum fundraiser a blowout. The theme was regally in keeping with the times — “Majestic Mad Hatter’s Luncheon A Celebration of English Elegance.” Ironically, the Thursday, April 20, date of the event created a slight issue preventing some judges from being able to participate due to the royal coronation of King Charles III. Showing their colonial stamina and sense of humor, the word was passed that Charles had to beg off Mad Hatter’s because of a family gathering.
Luckily, the problem was easily resolved with a royal gathering of taste and appreciation in their wheelhouse of stellar judges ( Neiman Marcus President Ryan Ross, Gro Founder Nathan Johnson, millinery designer Cassie MacGregor, philanthropist Barbara Bigham, international photographer David Yarrow, children’s author Emberli Pridham and fashion design team Babi and Sachin Ahluwalia) along with Honorary Chair Kim Hext.
But then, leave it to that notorious party spoiler Mother Nature to threaten to throw a thunderous temper tantrum into the mix. But more about that later.
In years past the annual head-turning event had had a turnout in the realm of 450-500. But Anne and Kristina had bigger plans in store, with a game plan for hosting 650. This addition required some strategic rearranging to keep costs down and revenues up.
To accomplish their goal they made some major changes. For instance, they scotched the traditional fashion show that had required models and production costs. Instead they arranged to have North Texas fashion designer Michael Faircloth as the luncheon’s keynote speaker on “The History, The Humor and The Hope of the Hat.”
Another eyeopener change was the ever-popular bubbling champagne reception showcasing the guests and their headwear for judges to pick their favorites in the Scott K. Ginsburg Family Plaza. This year it would take over the grounds of A Tasteful Place (ATP), with the arrival of guests registering for the competition and receiving paddles brandished with numbers to peddle by judges. It would also provide guests with the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the edible gardens.
The seated luncheon that had taken place in years past in Rosine Hall and/or the tented terrace would take place this year in both Rosine Hall and ATP.
But just 48 hours before all the parts starting falling into place, weather forecasters hinted that Ma Nature had her own plans for the day. She had hail, thunderstorms and downpours of rain coinciding with the Mad Hatter’s. Just before the first guests arrived, weather updates reported that the yucky weather was shoved off until 3. Organizers took a deep sigh of relief.
As guests started checking in at 10:30 a.m. at ATP, it soon became apparent that conditions were getting downright cozy due to a couple of issues.
First, before hitting the table for table assignments and registering for the hat competition, there were quick selfies to take, with gents like Stubbs Davis being commandeered into snapping, and the servers immediately greeting guests. With drink in one hand and a yummy in the other, there seemed little need to venture further, resulting in a fashionable blockade.
Then there was the combination of sunshine and humidity that resulted in the guests staying put under the building’s covered terrace, with paddles doing double-duty as fans. That meant the hope of guests strolling around the ATP grounds, checking out all the silent auction items displayed on three tables with descriptions in sign holders, was pretty well dashed.
In fact, the breezes arising from White Rock not only challenged the toppers, they wound up blowing the sign holders over, forcing volunteers to grab ornamental rocks from the garden to anchor them down. Eventually the tables were moved a couple of times, finally finding a permanent home alongside Rosine Hall.
Luckily, there were still photo opps to be had, thanks to the guests with their showy chapeaus and Gro Floral Design’s bike sprouting flowers, a British telephone booth overflowing with flowers in ATP and a floral garden with swing on the Rosine Hall terrace.
For some, like the gent gentry led by Mad Hatter First Husband Steve Stoghill and his posse (Stubbs, Yarrow, Harry Hunsicker and Steve Solomon), it was an eye-opening look into the world of flowers and fundraising. One fella took a look at all the hats topped with feathers, flowers and knickknacks and declared, “This is crazy.” A passerby gave the newcomer a Cheshire Cat smile and laughed, “Don’t you know? It’s simply Mad Hatter’s!”
After an hour and half of being judged and enjoying the bubbles of the day, the top-heavy heads started heading to their places for lunch.
The game plan made sense. Originally, the hat winners were to be revealed at 12:15 and Faircloth was to give his talk at 12:30. Instead, the hat competition reveal became a two-step operation, with the first taking place in ATP at 12:30. Meantime, while that was going on, the Rosine Hall guests were eating lunch with the stage empty, the movie-sized screen rolling a slideshow of the sponsors and no one explaining when the program would begin.
By the time the judges and winners arrived for the Rosine Hall announcement at 12:45, the dishes had been cleared and servers were scurrying to refill glasses.
While the ATP guests were lunching, each judge took his/her place at the podium on stage at Rosine to announce their category picks including:
- Ross Ryan’s “The Princess of Wales, Best Overall Ensemble” went to Yvonne Evans
- Nathan Johnson’s “The Chelsea Flower Show, Most Creative Use Of Fresh Botanicals” to Kristi Boylan
- Cassie MacGregor’s “The Queen’s Choice, Most True to Theme” to Sarah Jo Hardin
- Emberli Pridham’s “A True Princess Diana, Sure To Be A Lasting Fashion Legend” to Kathy King
- Barbara Bigham’s “The Hybrid, Best English Garden Hat With A Texas Twist” to Claire Catrino
- David Yarrow’s “The Head Turner, Best In Show” to Megan Clark
- Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia’s “The Royal Enclosure, A Group That Could Attend Ascot Together” to High Tea Group
- People’s Choice to Elizabeth Smith
A surprise took place with the announcement of a new hat award — Lifetime Achievement Award — presented to longtime Mad Hatter’s supporter and oft-time winner Kunthear Mam-Douglas. In announcing the award, Barbara Bigham had Kunthear share her story about coming to the United States more than 40+ years ago from Cambodia.
After five minutes of telling her heartfelt story of returning to Cambodia and witnessing the decades of devastation and loss of life, it was noted that Kristina started edging closer to Kunthear, as if to nudge things along, But Barbara stepped in and skillfully took her place next to the petite Cambodian, thanking her for the story and her years of support for the Arboretum.
Following a group photo of the judges and winners, Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum President Sarah Jo Hardin, Anne and Kristina each took turns thanking sponsors and supporters and encouraging all to join the Women’s Council.
It was just past 1:15 p.m. when Michael took his place at the podium at Rosine Hall and on screen at ATP. His timing was actually perfect. For just as he was concluding his presentation a little after 1:40, majestic storms started rumbling their arrival as valets fetched cars for the remaining Mad Hatters.
For looks at the day’s festivities, check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.