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Call it gilt without guilt.
Major economies may be in recession, financial firms are falling apart and global stock markets are bouncing up and down faster than a SuperBall, but the social set carries on. Partygoers’ calendars are packed with over-the-top store openings, black-tie benefit galas and elegant launch parties, just as always.
“I wouldn’t be serving vintage cellar Champagne and caviar. Even if money isn’t an issue right now, it’s in poor taste to go down that road,” says event planner David Stark, who used “stupid slide sheets from Staples” in the centerpieces for the Whitney Museum’s annual gala in October. “I try to keep things innovative, not expensive.”
He’s not alone. Carolyne Roehm, who frequently entertains in her posh apartment on 57th Street, recalls telling a friend, “Let’s give a couple of Christmas lunches. I don’t care if we do grilled cheese sandwiches and soup.” She adds, “I think it’s a time that you really want to be with friends—when things are shaky and weird. One’s got to be conservative, but I can still throw a dinner.”
Fund-raising continues, but it’s harder than ever in the current economic climate, says Adelina Wong Edelson, a committee member for a Baby Buggy dinner in December and the Save Venice ball in February. “It’s definitely a more difficult environment,” she says, adding that she and her co-chairs are reaching out to a younger set as well as relying on their core circle of supporters. Single-ticket sales have become more important than selling a full table—or, in the case of the Baby Buggy event, which consists of a performance by Jerry Seinfeld at Jazz at Lincoln Center followed by a party at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Wong Edelson says she is selling more seats for the performance only (from $500). “Most people don’t want the rubber-chicken dinner anyway,” she says. Baby Buggy’s “rubber
chicken” starts at $1,250.
With almost daily job cuts on Wall Street, in fashion and in media, all traditionally deep-pocketed sources of funding for charity events, organizers are having to cast their fund-raising nets wider than before—and hope people turn up. Especially now that donors are more choosy with what they support. “St. Jude’s, where it’s, like, a child’s life, OK,” says one regular patron. “Save the movies, save the whatever, I don’t know….”