It was an extravagant, eclectic evening of fashion and compassion, complete with supermodels and star athletes, power celebs and power brokers.
But the folks behind Saturday's Passport--an AIDS fund-raising gala that has raised more than $2 million for nonprofit groups dedicated to HIV/AIDS research and care--drove home a very important message: Although new drug therapies and treatments appear to be helping many people to manage HIV infection, this is no time to become apathetic.
The dinner and fashion show, thrown by Macy's, American Express and more than 40 other corporate sponsors (with dinner provided by Along Came Mary), attracted 2,800 supporters and fashion fans. Saturday was the second of two stops for the annual charity event that began 16 years ago in a Macy's employee cafeteria in San Francisco. It has since grown to three shows there in 1998 and there is talk of two shows here next year. The proceeds benefit groups in San Francisco and L.A.
No one got the message of compassion across more eloquently than Elizabeth Taylor, referred to as "the Queen" by Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and by supermodel Christy Turlington as a woman "who has taught the world a lesson in compassion."
Before a standing ovation--and shouts of "We love you, Liz!"--Taylor, the event's founding chairperson, the woman everyone was waiting to see and hear, told the crowd that "now is the time for guts and God" in beating the virus. "I am here once more to ask for your help, your compassion and your love. I am here for those who cannot be here to ask for themselves. I am here for those the world does not want to see, does not want to hear and does not want to feel. I am here for those we have turned away and tried to avoid. I am here for all those with AIDS who are disadvantaged and lost."
Taylor then encouraged everyone gathered at Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar to join her in a pact to do "whatever it takes to support the programs that work, whatever the cost! Our convictions will be our final passport to success."
Michael Steinberg, chairman and CEO of Macy's West, told the crowd that apathy, ironically, has been "created by the very success you have worked so hard and in which you have done so much to achieve. You have given your heart and your financial support--and make no mistake about how much both continue to be needed."
With that said, the evening shifted into a spectacular celebration of fashion, music, theater, art, dance, pyrotechnics and lots of cool clothes. Songstress k.d. lang crooned "What's New Pussycat?" and told the crowd she was "proud to be a professional lipstick lesbian" as a spokeswoman for MAC, the cosmetics company.
Among the celebrity models: Marcus Schenkenberg, Dan Cortese, Daisy Fuentes, Swoosie Kurtz, Robby Benson, Eddie Cibrian, Jennifer Tilly, Kim Coles, Cristian de la Fuente, Ricardo Molina and the Clippers' Michael Olowokandi.
Designers Shelli Segal, Elie Tahari and Marsha Akins took runway bows during the fast-paced show, called "Different Together," which also showcased several fall lines, including Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Wilke Rodriguez, Levi's, Polo, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Jessica McClintock and others.
Throughout the hourlong show, many in the audience weren't looking so much at what the models were wearing as what they weren't (some models wore no undergarments). Garnering kudos was the 1920s vintage--and ultra-feminine--look by McClintock that closed the show with her breathtaking satin, lace and taffeta designs.
"Compassion has the power to change hearts, to transcend prejudices and save lives," said Valerie Sorrano, vice president and general manager of American Express, which along with Macy's has raised more than $8 million over the last decade.
"We were committed to supporting the fight against HIV and AIDS long before it was fashionable. And, frankly, until this accessory becomes really obsolete and out of style, we are going to remain committed to supporting this fight."