CHICAGO On Wednesday afternoon, some 1,250 guests—a large majority of them female—gathered at the Hilton Chicago for the Children's Service Board of Children's Memorial Hospital's Gold Coast Fashion Award show. Comprising a cash-bar-fueled cocktail hour, a three-course luncheon, and a runway presentation that showcased clothing from up-and-coming designers and local retailers, the event is now in its 54th year and “is the only fashion show [in the country] in which the audience votes on a winning designer," said Lauren Pedi, a senior development officer at the hospital.
In the hotel's International ballroom, guests sat to lunch at tables that surrounded a T-shaped runway. At each place setting, strips of bound, brightly colored paper formed small books; each strip of paper bore the name of a fashion designer whose creations would be displayed in the afternoon's show. This year, nine designers participated, all of them roped in by fashion show producer Susan Glick, vice president of women's apparel at Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. Each year, Glick travels to New York with the event's volunteer co-chairs to visit designers and ask them to participate in the show. According to Pedi, designers view the event as an opportunity to showcase their wares to an influential crowd. (Read: local retailers and ladies who lunch at $150 a head.)
At the end of the runway presentation, guests handed the strip of paper printed with their favorite designer's name to volunteers, who tallied results on site. This year's winner, Romona Keveza, will accept the Gold Coast Fashion award at next year's luncheon and one of her sketches will adorn all of the event's collateral. (On Wednesday, the same privileges went to last year's winner, Norman Ambrose.)
Pedi said the assembled crowd represented a mix of corporate supporters, local retailers, and friends of about 40 committee members who were tasked with filling one to two tables each. The convivial atmosphere lead to one hiccup: “The ladies who attend the show are all friends,” Pedi said. ”They're socializing and having fun, and it's wonderful, but sometimes the audience doesn't want to quiet down.”
Based on the chatty atmosphere of luncheons past, the host committee eliminated a video component from this year's speaking program. “We had an awesome video about the hospital last year, but it cost a lot of money to produce and it didn't have the impact we'd hoped for," Pedi said. Without the video, this year's program lasted six minutes; last year's was closer to half an hour.
Pedi said that apart from the hospital's annual Children's Ball, the luncheon is one of the organization's top fund-raisers. Though results are still being tabulated, she estimated that Wednesday's event netted $300,000.