By Alesandra Dubin Posted February 20, 2009, 12:24 PM EST
LOS ANGELES One thing Essence magazine would have been wise to provide at its second annual Black Women in Hollywood award luncheon, at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Thursday, was stockpiles of tissues—as presenters and award winners like Halle Berry, Taraji P. Henson, and Diahann Carroll brought the room to tears on at least a half dozen occasions through deeply emotional speeches and remarks.
Apart from that, organizers behind the magazine's Oscar-week event seemed to cover all the details, creating a glittery look—including platinum carpeting, a tufted stage set in ivory dupioni, lush white blooms of ivory garden roses and hydrangea spilling from cut crystal bowls on tabletops, and napkins festooned with rhinestone buckles—that evoked pre-recession opulence.
“The economy absolutely affected us. It's real and it's trickled down to everything, so we've had to be more cognizant about what we're spending—but a beautiful experience is still on brand for us," said Essence events and special projects director Candace Purdie-Montgomery on the luncheon's budget. “We just applied the same streamlining effect to every line item. How much did we spend last year, and how could we be more effective this year, but still not compromise? The core we kept, but we trimmed the fat. We came up with an event that felt real rich. We presented the idea of luxury in things that we didn't have to put extra money into—things like platinum [-colored] carpet.”
Cara Kleinhaut of production and design firm Caravents described the look as “feminine and classic—sophisticated, elegant, pulled together, synonymous with the Essence brand.”
Lexus was the event's presenting sponsor. In the garden next to the ballroom, Lexus presented its Hybrid Living Lounge, where the auto brand showed off its hybrid vehicles, and some of its vendor partners gave gifts to guests as they walked through the lounge—from which none of the elements are landfill bound. (MasterCard, Moët & Chandon, and Coty—promoting its new fragrance with Berry—also sponsored.) Other eco-friendly touches included flooring in natural bamboo, which will be cleaned and reused; whole, living, potted plantings from R. Jack Balthazar, which will be replanted; energy-efficient lighting; drapery made from recycled natural fibers to be reused for future soft goods; and invitations printed on recycled paper with recycled ink.
So why did Essence settle on a luncheon and not a splashy nighttime party? “There were other outlets out there that were competing for our audience [in the evenings],” said Purdie-Montgomery. “We wanted to do something to cut through the clutter.”
Another thing that differentiated Essence's event may have been the mood in the tear-streaked room. “One of the elements that we feel is different from the other programs that go on [during Oscar week] is that there is an element of fellowship, an element of community,” Purdie-Montgomery said.