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Colleagues' Sold-Out Spring Luncheon Surprises Guests With Impromptu Live Auction

The Colleagues annual fund-raising luncheon paid tribute to local talent, with a show from designer Kevan Hall and awards for chef Wolfgang Puck and his wife—who volunteered her husband's services in an impromptu live auction.

By Alesandra Dubin March 23, 2009, 11:11 AM EDT

Colleagues Spring Luncheon
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When women's group the Colleagues chose Wolfgang Puck and his wife, Gelila, as honorees and designer Kevan Hall to show his collection at its annual spring luncheon, the result was a distinctly California celebration, an homage to Los Angeles-based talent. Whether it was that local appeal or something else, it must have worked: The Colleagues luncheon sold out this year, recession notwithstanding, for a full ballroom of about 700 overwhelmingly female guests at the Beverly Wilshire on Thursday. The event benefited kids' relief org Children’s Institute Inc.

“As far as keeping [a two-decade-old event] fresh this year, I'd say that a lot of it had to do with our designer, who is really hip with the media right now, and has had a lot of red carpet dresses. And it had to do with the Pucks. Wolfgang is so loved by so many people, as is Kevan,” said Colleagues president Nettie Dart. ”We were in a sell-out position this year, and we we're so excited about it. [Per] the tradition of the Colleagues, we have a lot of women that buy two and three tables and they've been buying them for years. That's our core.” Longtime event chair Anne Johnson added, “Our members are really committed.”

In the past, Saks had underwritten the Colleagues' lunch, but the retailer was not on board this year, so the group looked within its organization for funding. The luncheon also created a tribute book for the first time, and sold raffle tickets for some big-ticket items for extra fund-raising. And in a surprise move, Gelila Puck took to the podium during her acceptance speech and offered her husband's services to cook for 20 guests in a winning bidder's home. M.C. Angie Harmon, a former honoree, met the challenge of an impromptu live auction with apparent ease; the prize fetched $22,000.

Known for working a room with jokes and his Austrian accent, Puck made a topical reference to the president's presence in town. “It's great to be here among all these beautiful women,” he said, surveying the ballroom. ”I really don't know what Barack Obama is doing downtown.”

The Pucks were honored with the Champion of Children award for their philanthropic work—and Wolfgang sent chefs from Spago to oversee the luncheon menu, setting the dishes apart from standard hotel ballroom fare.

During the meal, a stable of models took to a double runway that reached out into the dining room for equally good views from all seats, to show Hall’s fall 2009 collection, which had a ladylike espionage theme.

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