Alzheimer’s Research and Jason Wu’s Designs Share the Spotlight at a Cool Saks Fifth Avenue Luncheon

The charitable event was held in a tent that brilliantly defied the spring heatwave outside.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

Saks Fifth Avenue and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation can be commended on many fronts, no doubt, but on Thursday they made a remarkable achievement: Under a blazing sun and with temperatures in the 80s they hosted a luncheon for 350 people in a large white tent in a parking lot—and managed to keep it as cool as an otherwise spring day. No doubt when they planned their third annual Great Ladies Luncheon for mid-April they did not expect a heatwave. Everyone inside the very cool tent, including many women in their best suits, dresses, and jewelry and a group of runway models, didn’t have to worry about breaking out in a sweat.

Designer Jason Wu was the star of the event—his designs were featured in the show, and there wasn’t a moment when he wasn’t the center of attention. Even when he sat down at Table 21 with philanthropist Elise Lefkowitz and Saks Fifth Avenue president Ronald L. Frasch, two of the event’s sponsors, he was greeted by one adoring fan after another. Disproving the notion that fashion types eat like birds, he took advantage of every bit of food put in front of him, which included lavash, corn muffins, vegetable canapes, and a salad of chicken and shrimp with lettuce and citrus. He also sipped a lot of water, though options included Pinot Grigio and a delicious blackberry lemonade. All of it came from caterer Design Cuisine. Wu said he would not be seeing the First Lady on this visit, but he’s “in and out” of Washington on a regular basis.

For all the fashion hoopla—and it was a fashionable-for-Washington luncheon—the main focus was on raising money to discover new drugs for treating Alzheimer’s. Lefkowitz lost her mother, Estelle Gelman, to the disease. WETA president Sharon Percy Rockefeller, who was the event’s principal honoree and received the Great Ladies Award, lost her father, former Illinois senator Charles Percy, to the disease.

Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder Companies and co-chair of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, called the ADDF a “unique organization” and said he considers it his personal project “to see to it that Alzheimer’s is prevented and cured in this nation.” He talked about the hundreds of millions of dollars that are raised and the “gap” between basic research and drugs. “We are the ones who organize and who put all our efforts and money into moving things from basic research into real drugs and drug discovery,” he said. Ticket prices started at $200 for individual junior level and climbed to $15,000 for a table of ten with “premier” seating. There was also a silent auction.

Frasch brought with him his wife, Georgia, and a whole group of Saks executives from New York, to attend both the luncheon and a dinner the night before, held in the same tent but for a different designer (Diane von Furstenberg) and a different cause (Vital Voices).

During the meal, Georgia Frasch talked dreamily about the pleasures of being in Washington and staying overnight at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown. She said at the end of their evening they went to the outdoor terrace to sit on a sofa by a fire pit, “and I was so tired I fell asleep on the sofa.” As parents of twin eight-year-olds, who remained at home, they were particularly thrilled about their time at the luxury hotel. “We got such a good night’s sleep, and there were no interruptions and no one crawling into our bed,” she said. No doubt this is a reference to the power of beauty sleep, surely a remedy known well to anyone related to Saks Fifth Avenue.

Among the luncheon guests were Dr. Tina Alster, Nancy Taylor Bubes, Sharon Bradley, Wilma and Tracy Bernstein, Esther Coopersmith, Debbie Dingell, Adele Buckhantz, Samia Farouki, Jackie Fishman, Alma Gildenhorn, Jennifer Haber, Beth Glassman, Beverly Hudnut, Cindy Jones, Joanne Mason, Kristin Mannion, Joan Nathan, Michelle Olson, Lorraine Percy, Ed and Patti Rogers, Debbie Sigmund, Kathleen Ruiz, Trish and George Vradenburg, Jami Taff, and Maria Trabocchi.

The Washingtonian’s Kate Bennett also attended; visit Shop Around Blog soon for more about the runway show.

Designer Jason Wu with Elise Lefkowitz, who lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and who sponsored the Alzheimher’s Drug Discovery Foundation Great Ladies Luncheon at Saks Fifth Avenue. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.
Georgia and Ron Frasch, president and chief merchandising officer of Saks Fifth Avenue. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.