Party Loyalty

Recession or no, the social set is out on the town —even if they’re swapping caviar for pigs in a blanket.

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Special Issue
WWD Scoop issue 11/24/2008
There is a sense that corporations and individuals will maintain gifts to their favorite charities, but not contribute to any additional organizations. “The things they support, they will try to continue to support,” says publicist Jacqui Lividini, whose clients, such as Liz Claiborne, sponsor causes like domestic violence. “But everything else will go by the wayside.”

Many committee members fear the arts are one of the areas likely to be hit hardest. “When we start talking about our spring gala next month, we won’t set our goals as high as they would have been last spring,” admits American Ballet Theater chair Blaine Trump. “We’ll look to keep our costs to a minimum and see how we do.” (That said, Trump’s other passion project, God’s Love We Deliver, which feeds people living with AIDS/HIV, is suffering, as well. The organization’s annual run/ walk in Central Park in November saw a 30 percent increase in attendance but a 10 percent decrease in donated funds.)

May’s Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art remains one of the year’s priciest nights, with tables ranging from $75,000 to $250,000, but a spokeswoman for the museum contends: “We are early in the process, but are very optimistic. Sales are going well and are on track with last year.” That was when Giorgio Armani sponsored the event and George Clooney and Julia Roberts cohosted. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Beyoncé Knowles, Victoria Beckham and dozens of other top names came to support two of Hollywood’s hottest stars and the evening brought in a staggering $7.3 million for the museum. (Ironically, the upcoming May event’s sponsor, Marc Jacobs International, recently canceled its traditionally over-the-top Christmas party for staff because of the economy.)

And there are those who insist that, sipping Champagne and nibbling on canapés aside, the current recession is just the time when people should party—especially if it’s in support of a good cause. “We might scale back, especially in this economy,” says Antoine Arnault, director of communications at Louis Vuitton, which sponsored a MoMA film benefit with Men’s Vogue in November, just days after most of the magazine’s staff was laid off when it was cut from 12 to two issues a year. “What we support may be less ostentatious and less frivolous. But it’s always important for us to support the arts.”

Then there are those who think a stiff drink is just what’s called for during the crisis. John Thain, chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch (which had to sell itself to Bank of America because of the subprime mortgage crisis), attended a cocktail party for interior designer Michael Smith in October, even though his industry was tanking and his employees’ portfolios were going up in smoke. His rationalization? “This, at least, is fun, as opposed to the rest of the day.”

Thain, perhaps, could be excused for not fully capturing the less-is-more mood right away. At times, partygoers in New York and elsewhere in the last few months have looked like sailors caught in a Force 10 gale as they rode the up and downs of the economy. Just look at how things have changed in a matter of weeks:

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