Twenty years ago, as Ronald Reagan’s reign was coming to an end without his ever uttering the word AIDS (he finally did, like once), fledgling nonprofits and a few brave individuals were furiously scrambling to get ahead of the health avalanche that threatened. Planted in the heart of Greenwich Village, St. Vincent’s Hospital was, of course, AIDS' ground zero, so an HIV center was an invention born of necessity.
In a clever twist, last week the center chose to honor 17 AIDS organizations and individuals (like Cyndi Lauper) who worked hand in hand with the hospital in the early days. Bringing representatives from organizations like Amfar, Acria, God’s Love We Deliver, and many more up on stage at once brought the crowd at Gotham Hall to their feet for a long and rousing standing ovation, a truly moving moment that struck even this jaded soul.
Amfar Chairman Kenneth Cole, whose eponymous company broke all the conventional rules of marketing by devoting its advertising dollars to message marketing, including a huge effort behind World AIDS Day (December 1), was the night’s top honoree.
Introduced by a beaming Brooke Shields, Mr. Cole began his speech in a hushed whisper. And continued. The sound team, led by E.S.P., quickly realized Kenneth is a “low-talker” (remember Seinfeld?) and adjusted the levels carefully. Bentley Meeker provided the lighting, which was, as always, superb. (I know people think I plug him too much—invite me to come and see your work, and maybe I’ll write about you, too.) He did amber pin-spotting on wine-colored tablecloths, which I honestly didn’t think would work at first, but with red centerpieces, it all just came together.
Queer Eye grads did their share. Carson Kressley handled hosting in a red velvet jacket (“Festive Red Attire” was the theme, but something tells me he had it hanging there in his closet) and Thom Filicia gave his new design book, Thom Filicia Style: Inspired Ideas for Creating Rooms You'll Love, to every guest in bags provided by Self magazine.
Kristen Johnston, the Third Rock actress with a new career thanks to dramatic weight loss (in my mind, a more dignified tactic than going on Dancing With the Stars), was stunning and funny in white. Who cares if she doesn’t eat?
My favorite idea of the night was bringing in Nona Hendryx as the entertainer. Riding a new wave of popularity due to her recent reunion with Patti LaBelle, the “voulez-vous coucher” singer was a knowing wink to guys of a certain age (ugh, me) who also remember her odd career as a punk disco slayer: “I Sweat, I Sweat” went her song, and I did too, more than once.
I should disclose that I was a volunteer, recruited by the hospital’s Sheila Lennon. I stood in the back gate to greet New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. (She has a mayoral-like advance team. Agree or disagree with Ms. Quinn, she has certainly raised the profile of the office. Can you name her predecessor?) Okay, so I left my post a few times, and sure enough, when her car pulled up, I realized someone had locked the back gate, so we brought her through the kitchen. She was a good sport.
Speaking of sports, my special kudos to Brooke Shields, who was cool as a cucumber waiting for her speech to be revised just before going on. She changed the whole thing anyway as she read it, and favorably so.
Now, a story: She was at Princeton when I was at Penn (where her father went). Following a swim meet, my teammates and I jumped in my old Chevy Impala to drive to the New Jersey Ivy for a football game. The car was a sight: dented, lemon yellow, with a rear view mirror that you had to pick up off the seat to use. Does its nickname, “Roach Mobile,” conjure anything? We arrived too late and the entire lot was full, so we just pulled up and parked under the bleachers, leaving a handwritten sign saying “Guest of Brooke Shields.” We’d never met her and we weren’t towed. So that’s two I owe ya, Brooke.