Frankly, it wasn't the most original design theme. All-red decor has been a common standby in this low-budget, back-to-basics time. But this was red on a bigger scale. Much bigger. While a few other galas gather more society cachet, the Robin Hood Foundation's annual fund-raiser is New York's biggest benefit in terms of money raised, physical size and production values. This year's event drew 3,400 people and brought in $16 million, and an army of 700 caterwaiters, registration volunteers and production people worked inside three vast rooms created by draping a section of the Javits Center with black fabric.
As in years past, Laurie Fabiano, Robin Hood's director of communications, marketing and events, worked with an all-star team of vendors to put together the event, which requires to-the-minute planning. “People giggle when they see the schedule,” she says. “Because we say '8:32' and we mean 8:32.”
The event is known for its blockbuster live entertainment (last year Mike Myers was M.C. and David Bowie and Stevie Nicks performed) and out-of-this-world live auction lots. This year's M.C. was Billy Crystal, and Elton John and James Brown each played sets after dinner. Big spenders could bid on a chance to meet fashion designers Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Diane von Furstenberg and choose outfits from their lines, plus cook lunch with Daniel Boulud and have a dinner party with help from Glorious Food and Avi Adler. And that was just one lot.
The event is also known for Adler's fantastic, astounding decor, including last year's glowing under-the-sea look and 2001's black-and-white Op Art kaleidoscope. While past years' designs have focused more on installations and objects—tables of 20-foot green poles, hundreds of crystals hanging over a reflecting pool—this year Adler and his partner, David Stark, focused on creating an unusual atmosphere with lighting and video projections. The result didn't have the same initial dramatic impact, but it would be difficult to walk through this event's completely original environment without being impressed.
Inside the cocktail area, Adler put up two giant chandeliers made with 10,000 plastic glowsticks, and hung red tubular fluorescent light bulbs throughout the rest of the room. Mirrored panels covering facing walls made the already vast space seem infinitely large, and glowing blue, magenta and violet lighting created a black light type of effect. To make everyone a part of the event's atmosphere, volunteers passed out tiny blinking red lights; benefit-goers wore them on their lapels, on their gowns—even as earrings.
In the dining room, all 327 tables had pretty straightforward looks: red tablecloths, red cushions on gold chairs, red or pink centerpieces. The atmosphere came from the videos projected on enormous screens that surrounded the room: Graphic patterns morphed into animation, and later landscape paintings with gilded frames appeared static until people and objects moved inside them, creating surreal effects. As a useful echo to the cocktail area's decor, glowsticks on every table served as bright auction paddles to get the attention of Sotheby's auctioneer Jamie Niven.
For dinner, Glorious Food's considerable staff worked swiftly from an enormous prep area behind the black draping. (Even a rival caterer who got a sneak peek backstage one year commented to us on the precision of Glorious' operations.) The menu started with tricolor orecchiette with shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, fennel and artichokes in tarragon sauce, and the entree was cold roasted filet of beef and chicken breast filled with white truffle mousse Cumberland sauce.
After dinner, everyone headed to a third room for performances, where set designer Tom McPhillips of Atomic Design decorated the stage with rows of mirror balls and draped fabric, and Abigail Rosen Holmes of NYX Design lit the set with lively, colorful lighting patterns. Both headliners went over their allotted time to give full-hour sets, keeping the party going until midnight.
Read our coverage of last year's Robin Hood benefit...
Read our coverage of 2001's Robin Hood benefit...
Read our Impresario Q&A with Robin Hood's Laurie Fabiano...