Haute Event: ACRIA Makes Magic for 16th Annual Holiday Dinner with InStyle Magazine, Tiffany & Co., and Donna Karan’s Urban Zen

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The 16th Annual AIDS Community Research Initiative of America Holiday Dinner took place Wednesday, December 7th, at the Urban Zen Center in New York City to much fanfare. Naturally, such an social rendezvous requires a glittery host committee and leading the pack were creative influentials: painter Ross Bleckner, writer Bob Colacello, Calvin Klein Collection’s Francisco Costa, InStyle Magazine’s Ariel Foxman, Donna Karan, accessory mavens Richard Lambertson and John Truex, Time Inc. exec  and ACRIA board chair Martha Nelson, and philanthropist Isabel Rattazzi. Lead underwriters of the night were InStyle Magazine, Tiffany & Co., and Urban Zen.

Donna Karan, John Demsey, and Annelise Peterson.

The soirée paid tribute to John Demsey, group president of The Estée Lauder Companies and chairman of the M•A•C AIDS Fund, for his continuing support of ACRIA and AIDS initiatives.

With bottles uncorked promptly at 7pm for the cocktail reception, a proverbial cadre of about-towners plodded into the Stephan Weiss Studio from the damp gloom. Mais quelle joie de vivre! After an ephemeral stroll through the delightful Zen Studio designs and collections, glasses of Belvedere berry cocktails and wine greeted guests in the studio space.

A splendid assortment of auction items danced along candle-lit walls and on a multitude of tables. There was a masterful multimedia piece by Jeff Koons on bid for $25,000; a whimsical satin animal sequined dress by Vivienne Tam; Rashaad Newsome had a collage that started at $3,600; a two night weekend at Setai Fifth Avenue had people questioning their wallets; as did valuable works from Elizabeth Peyton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Chuck Close (whose Sunflower image set the theme of the banquet hall and golden-hued walls), Nina Bovasso, and Alex Katz. Accessories newcomer, Eleven Objects, had a custom-designed taffeta collar, with shell, sequin, and Swarovski embellishments, worth $975. Other pieces on sale came from renowned contemporary artist such as: Michael Bevilacqua, James Casebere, Jessica Craig-Martin, Crash, Lynn Davis, Sante Dorazio, John Dugdale, Jim Hodges, Markus Linnenbrink, Christopher Makos, Ryan McGinness, Herb Ritts, Shelter Serra, Laurie Simmons, Donald Sultan, and Spencer Tunick.

Bruce Weber and Nan Bush.

As early evening drinks drew to a close, a whittled-down selection of superbly dressed bons-vivants sat down for the brilliant feast. But before a mouth-watering first course of wild mushroom crêpes with Italian truffle perfume and Porcini velouté could be dished, speeches were made. Several of the hosts spoke, including Donna Karan, who poignantly stated, “I can’t think of an artist who doesn’t remember when the AIDs epidemic broke out… This organization has truly come together as a family for the AIDS epidemic.” Then a striking artist/Tiffany-designed award was presented to Demsey. He received a standing ovation, and commented, “I accept this on behalf of myself and all the people I work with.”

It was all gourmet from there onward: Braised beef in aged Barolo reduction with Meyer Lemon dust, accompanied by a Forelle pear and celery purée, and lovely roasted root vegetables. This was all paired with a commendable Nero d’Avola and Rueda Verdejo. According to many satiated mouths, la pièce de résistance had to be the hazelnut frozen mousse with crunchy pralines and bitter chocolate sauce—or was it the Sicilian pistachio parfait with Belgian cocoa and a sugar snow ball? Let the debate begin!

Social stalwarts who imbibed and noshed with great glee included: Connie Chung, Nan Bush, artist Brad Fisher, Gillian Hearst-Simonds, Andrew Saffier, Bibhu Mohapatra, newly appointed ACRIA VP Stewart Shinning, Prabal Gurung, Bruce Weber, Drena De Niro, hostess Donna Karan and daughter Gabby Karan DeFelice.

Sylvia Hommert and Brad Fisher.

But in the end, the extravagance and merriment benefitted a brilliant cause: All proceeds from the evening will support ACRIA, one of the leading HIV research and education organizations, and the nation’s recognized authority on the emerging issue of HIV and aging. Over $400,000 was raised between ticket sales and the silent auction.

Sponsors of the dinner included: Adamson Editions, Belvedere Vodka, Chelsea Frames, Chuck Close, Xavier Flouret Wines, Angela Giannopoulos & Studio3, Deborah Hughes Inc., Javier Peral Music, and Stephan Weiss Studio.
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