When high-powered Washington women sit down for a fireside chat, they do it just like the men do, but in a ballroom and in heels.
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg hosted her 11th annual DVF Awards in Washington instead of New York Wednesday night, and the marquee honoree who sat down for a “fireside chat” at the Library of Congress was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Also present at the high-powered, invitation-only event wereHillary Clinton; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; supermodels Iman and Karlie Kloss; CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin and CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell; Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden; various local news anchors and politicians; Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron; and a handful of other men in suits.
Many guests came via Acela, but the event also gave Washingtonians with ties to fashion and politics a chance to mingle at the avocado bar with bona fide New York fashion people. Gillibrand showed off photos of her kids. Angie Gates, director of DC’s Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment, told anyone who would listen that DC is “the District of Creativity.” No one made jokes about federal employees who wear navy suits with sneakers.
But for the lucky 200 or so people who attended the DVF Awards, Wednesday was chance to skip watching senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar snipe with fellow Democrats over America’s future and instead celebrate what women have already accomplished.
“In my lifetime, I’ve seen great change,” Ginsburg said. “That is what makes me an optimist.”
Ginsburg received the Lifetime Leadership Award from von Furstenberg, an honor that has previously gone to the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, and Clinton, who introduced the justice at the event.
“We were going to do this at Hillary’s house,” von Furstenberg said in a interview. “Just a small thing. But then we thought, ‘Why not come to her?’ It was my husband’s idea, actually. So we did, and this is fabulous.”
Von Furstenberg is best known for inventing the universally flattering wrap dress. Born in Belgium to a mother who survived Auschwitz, she moved to the US after marrying a German prince. Both pursued careers in fashion, but the marriage didn’t last long, and her career eclipsed his. In 2001, she married movie executive and Fox Broadcasting founder Barry Diller. Since 2011, they’ve doled out $50,000 to the charity of each award winner: a world leader, a celebrity “Inspiration” award, and two “International Awards” for women doing humanitarian work overseas.
The biggest question heading into Wednesday night’s event was whether Ivanka Trump might show up in support of her more liberal sister-in-law, the supermodel Kloss. She did not, nor did Kloss’s husband, Joshua Kushner. But Kloss made an impression on her own, towering over other guests in heels and a black-sequined V-neck dress. When her turn at the podium came, she cranked the microphone up as high as it would go.
“I’d like to say, ‘Good evening,’ but I’m a little bit taller then the rest of the world,” the former Victoria’s Secret model quipped. Kloss introduced Mexican activist Saskia Nino de Rivera, the young founder of the prison reform NGO Reinserta. Lana Condor, star of the Netflix series To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, followed up with her moving introduction for Priti Patkar, an anti-human-trafficking advocate honored for “breaking the cycle” of multigeneration sex-trade work in Mumbai.
But Ginsburg was the draw, even for the other honorees.
“I don’t know any female who doesn’t admire her, anywhere in the world,” said Iman, who was surprisingly chatty during a pre-presentation interview. The 64-year-old model pulled off a black-and-yellow body-con dress with a matching coat and heels, but admired Ginsburg’s more sensible fashion choices.
“Those slippers!” Iman said. “This is what I call feminine—and tough!”
Iman also had praise for a fellow Somali immigrant working across the street at the Capitol. She loves Representative Ilhan Omar, especially because the congresswoman sincerely apologizes “if she says anything off-color.”
“A lot of other people haven’t done that, not naming names,” the model said, laughing. She relished a chance to talk politics and noted that her late husband, David Bowie, was a “huge fan” of Ginsburg.
“He would have said, ‘What did you do to get here, just to be in the same room with her?’ ”
In the ballroom, it took two (female) Secret Service Agents to get the 86-year-old jurist safely onstage. Once seated, she was as sharp as ever. In the 1960s, she rocked brightly colored DVF wrap dresses. To the DVF Awards she work a black dress with an illusion neckline and matching black lace gloves.
Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, has argued cases before the Supreme Court, including leading the ACLU’s case against the Colorado baker opposed to gay couples enjoying his wedding cakes. If Mar thought sitting down for a “fireside chat” with the justice would be less intimidating, she was wrong. Ginsburg challenged Mar twice in the first five minutes, correcting the dates of two discrimination cases from the early 1970s and clarifying that even though the ACLU was led by men when she first worked there, two important women were on the board: Pauli Murray and Dorothy Kenyon.
From there, however, Mar steered clear of challengeable factoids and instead gave the justice room to speak about challenges still facing women. The biggest? “Unconscious bias,” Ginsburg said. She then treated her audience to a history of hiring practices at symphony orchestras. “When I was growing up, I never saw a woman play with the New York Philharmonic or Chicago Symphony,” Ginsburg said, explaining that after a critic tried and failed to identify the gender of a pianist while listening blindfolded, orchestras began auditioning musicians behind the curtains. Once female musicians started to be judged purely for their skill, the ratio of men to women improved.
The justice also had advice for men: Spend time more time with your kids, she said, expressing exasperation that balancing work and family remains such an issue in the “electronic age” when so much information is available online, anywhere.
“We are living so much longer now,” she said. “We are going to spend most of our lives not caring for children, and that is so hard for women [who make career sacrifices early] . . . and for men. . . . One day, those children will be grown, and they didn’t have any real part in raising them.”
Continuing to make progress for gender equity will require women and men to both push for that goal—along with bonding with a strong, “likeminded” sisters, Ginsburg said.
“Like the Secretary said, we’re stronger together,” Ginsburg added, giving Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign a nod.
Von Furstenberg closed the evening by welcoming all her honorees and presenters back onstage.
“We hope you live a very, very long time,” von Furstenberg said to the diminutive justice.
No one onstage clapped louder and nodded more emphatically than Jared Kushner’s sister-in-law.