Betsey Johnson, Stevie Wonder Add "Luster" at A.A.P.D. Gala, Help Raise $1.5 Million

Betsey Johnson and A.A.P.D. C.E.O. Andrew J. Imparato

Photo: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography for BizBash

Betsey Johnson had one goal in mind for the decor of Wednesday’s eighth annual American Association of People with Disabilities (A.A.P.D.) Leadership Gala: “Just pink it out—as much as you can,” she said. To help the country’s largest cross-disability membership organization celebrate its 15th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the fashion designer volunteered to design the A.A.P.D. gala’s logo and lend her girlish sensibility to the evening’s decor.

“When Betsy was willing to add her name to it, that added a little bit of luster,” said A.A.P.D. president and C.E.O. Andrew J. Imparato, whose mother, a fashion editor at the The Los Angeles Times, is a friend of Johnson's. “And when Stevie Wonder agreed to accept the first ever A.A.P.D. Image Award, I think that helped a lot. People wanted to be there in person and watch him perform.”

“When you have a significant anniversary, you don’t want the invitation and event to look like everything you’ve done before,” Imparato said. And Johnson's touch could be seen throughout the event. Banners emblazoned with her flower, heart, and lightning bolt-bedecked logo hung near the stage in the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center’s atrium, while pink roses and a fluted centerpiece with a feather-trimmed, pink leopard print shade topped each table.

This year’s gala was the most successful in A.A.P.D. history, raising $1.5 million—$500,000 more than the previous record. Last year’s guest count hovered at just over 400, while this year’s gala broke 750 and drew corporate sponsors American Airlines, AT&T, CSC, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, and Wal-Mart.

For the first time, the A.A.P.D. added a V.I.P. cocktail reception the night before the event, allowing 75 guests the chance to meet and greet Johnson. Held at the Recording Industry Association of America’s office building, the pink-lit reception included pink macaroons and Betsy Johnson party dresses modeled by nine members of the disability community. The next evening at the gala, guests left with Betsey Johnson goods of their own, a floral makeup bag as a take-home gift.

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