For the 55th annual Corcoran Ball, Project Runway fashion guru and Corcoran alumnus Tim Gunn served as the honorary ball patron, inspiring a fashion-themed room as one of eight lavishly decorated dining spaces in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. But unlike the past two years, Friday’s ball had no overarching theme. Instead it showcased different looks in galleries throughout the museum, including bright spring colors in the atrium, and rotunda decor based on photographs from the current exhibition “Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change,” a retrospective of art from the 19th-century photographer.
“The whole point is that each room looks different,” said Eric Michael of Occasions Caterers, who has been part of the event’s planning team for the past eight years, designing the look and the menu. Beginning in December, Michael works with the Corcoran’s women’s committee, headed this year by ball chair Molly Rolandi, and floral designer Jack Lucky to determine color choices and themes. Michael and the event planning team also work with Perfect Settings to choose linens that have never been used in Washington before. The cloths make their debut at the Corcoran Ball and then become part of Perfect Settings’ spring line.
This year’s color schemes included cheery pinks, yellows, and oranges in the atrium, with colorful mobiles in mod shapes dangling from the ceiling, floral arrangements with tulips, and a mix of plaid tablecloths and shimmering overlays. Guests walked up the sweeping staircase—embellished with rose petals in orange, pink, and yellow—to the rotunda, where Muybridge photographs were projected on the walls, and modern accents, like Lucite chairs, matched the austere black-and-white images. Custom tableskirts were silk screened with Muybridge photographs and lit from beneath the table.
Upstairs in the Bridge overlooking the atrium, dress forms displaying evening gowns set the tone for a dining space inspired by Project Runway, with tables meant to look as though show contestants designed the tablescapes. Whimsical touches included feathers, sequins, even fish-net and high-heel shod feet peeking out from under one table. On the tabletops, colored pencils and notepads encouraged impromptu sketching by guests.
Due to a last-minute scheduling conflict, Gunn was unable to attend the ball, but another reality star, Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, made an appearance, filming for an episode of his show.
The nearly 900 guests—down from last year’s 1,000 due to space constraints caused by current exhibitions—moved to their seating assignments at 8:30 p.m. for a meal of Maryland crab gratin en croute and a filet of beef with trumpet mushrooms, spring vegetables, fondant potatoes and Madeira sauce. By 10:30 p.m., servers had cleared the chocolate-orange parfaits and guests headed to the atrium for slow-dancing to standards by the Phil McCusker Orchestra or to the upstairs blue lounge for soul and disco from Bob Hardwick Sound.
But dancing was just part of the evening’s entertainment, according to Michael.
“It's the rooms, looking at different decor and galleries, that's the entertainment,” he said. “It's one of the last true events in Washington that people know they will go and see their friends.”