What recession? Some people were likely wondering that during the live auction portion of the 16th annual Race to Erase MS gala Friday evening, as a 2009 Lamborghini LP 560-4 Spyder brought in an arresting $270,000. The black sports car, the first model delivered to the U.S., customized with accents in the charity’s signature orange, was part of the extensive array of auction items Hollywood blue blood Nancy Davis was able to attract for the benefit she co-chairs with Tommy Hilfiger. Davis’ event at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza brought in some $2 million—as much as it did in 2008, although this year’s net take for multiple sclerosis research is expected to outstrip last year’s because new sponsors turned out to underwrite more of the event’s cost.
“She’s very well liked and respected in the community,” says Race to Erase MS executive director Liz Seares of the daughter of the late Marvin Davis, a billionaire oilman and former Fox studio head. “Karma comes back to her. She really puts it out there.”
One place the grim economy did make its mark was around the unusually busy silent auction table hawking internships. There concerned parents and friends hovered over the half-dozen work opportunities in fashion, entertainment, and publicity until the auction closed. Jessica Lefever spent $825 on a two-week internship with Next Models for a friend’s fashion-loving son. “I got a text message [from the friend] saying, ‘Please go up to $2,000,’” she said. “It’s difficult to find anything. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Unifying the cavernous silent auction anterooms on a nonprofit budget is a challenge any year, and Davis’s longtime collaborator Mindy Weiss Party Consultants again used color to unify the space. MS orange was everywhere—in the orange-and-white draping, scattered vases of tulips and roses, tissue paper poking out of handbags up for auction, folds of fabric in jewelry display cases, silent auction sign-up sheets, glitter on signage, and illuminated cocktail tables. Orange tablecloths and floral centerpieces carried over into the ballroom, where guests dined on upscale comfort food—mini grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and filet mignon. The dessert reflected this year’s theme—“Rock to Erase MS”—with chocolate guitar-shaped boxes holding cookies 'n' cream mousse.
This year, Hilfiger suggested dropping the fashion show to shake things up, Seares said. That shortened the evening by about a half hour, enabling organizers to fend off the gift bag rush—and enticing guests to stay until the end of the performances by the Eagles and Michelle Branch—by printing 11 p.m. on the gift bag cards distributed at check in.
“We think it’s rude to artists to hand out gift bags before their sets are over,” Seares said. “You create this snowball effect of people running out to get gift bags. We’ve had people hounding us at 9 p.m., but this year we didn’t have people lining up for gift bags until 10:45.”