As you probably know by now, only the most extreme circumstances could keep the faithful from their usual lunch at Michael’s. Since Mother Nature proved to be too formidable a force for us on not one, but two back-to-back Wednesdays, we were only too happy to pull double duty this week.
On Monday, I attended the estrogen-fueled lunch for “The Cosmo 100,” a gals-only power lunch hosted by Joanna Coles who, having been named EIC of Cosmopolitan mere weeks ago, put together a guest list to end all guest lists for her first event. When I arrived a few minutes before noon, the paparazzi was lined up to capture the arrival of Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane von Furstenberg, Ali Wentworth, Jennifer Westfeldt and Jessica Seinfeld, who seemed to be channeling MC Hammer in some curious gold lame harem pants. Also in attendance: ABC News’ Deborah Roberts, model Carol Alt, bestselling author Jane Green and more A-list Gotham gals than I’ve seen in one place in ages. Hearst’s amazing PR team headed by Deb Shriver, Alexandra Carlin and Holly Whidden deserve some major kudos. I was seated at a fabulous table with Cathie Black, modeling icon Pat Cleveland and Barbara Taylor Bradford, who told me her 29th book will be published early next year. The mind reels.
When the A-list crowd made their way to the Garden Room, Joanna (who was rocking some gorgeous leather pants) greeted everyone with her trademark cheeky humor, telling us she’d prepared ‘binders of men’ as research for her new gig and then quoting Margaret Thatcher with the wise words, ‘Cocks crow but it’s hens that lay the eggs.’ She also advised us “never to underestimate what you can do in 10 minutes.” So true. But Joanna wanted to do more than celebrate fun, fearless females at her kick-off lunch; she surprised everyone by introducing some truly formidable women who’d broken through the glass ceiling during this election cycle. New Hampshire’s first female governor Maggie Hassan talked of having her daughter run her winning campaign, Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to congress explained how she won her race in Hawaii by proving wrong the naysayers who told her “it wasn’t her time,” and Grace Meng, the first Asian-American elected to congress from New York, spoke of the need for women to be mentors to other women. It was truly one of the most inspiring events I’ve attended in a long, long time.
Today, I was joined by another trailblazer Marcy Syms, who you must know from those commercials for the legendary off-price retailer (“An educated consumer is our best customer”). It was Marcy’s father, the late Sy Syms who founded the business in 1958 as the first national retailer to sell off-price men’s clothing. At first, it was Sy who gave voice to the slogan in 1974, but he wisely asked Marcy to take his place in 1978 thus tapping into an emerging public consciousness about working women. The rest, as they say, is history. “I still remember wearing those bow blouses and those short haircuts!” said Marcy.
She didn’t originally intend to go into the family business and first joined “on a project basis with a five-year plan,” but quickly found her calling putting her “entrepreneurial spirit” to work in helping grow the business that in its heyday had 47 stores selling men’s and women’s clothing in 16 states. “It was a moment in time,” Marcy recalled of Syms’ ability to capitalize on the momentum spurred on by Ralph Nader about consumer rights. This was well before high-low fashion and off-price shopping became chic, Marcy explains. When Syms was the first men’s retailer to sell designers like Armani and Versace for below retail, “We cut out the designer labels and thought the best publicity was no publicity.” What a difference a few decades make.
Syms’ retail business shuttered last year, but the Sy Syms Foundation, started by Sy in 1985, lives on with Marcy at the helm. The Foundation is active in many areas of corporate philanthropy, including the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University which welcomed the inaugural class to its new Executive Masters of Business Administration program this year. The Foundation is a longtime supporter of public television and was initially funded solely by Mr. Syms and later endowed by funds from the company’s secondary stock offering in 1997. An early underwriter of Frontline, the foundation continues to sponsor WNET’s classic movie series that runs on Saturday evenings. “It’s really a passion of ours,” says Marcy. And, she warns, just because Mitt Romney won’t get the chance to fire Big Bird, don’t think PBS is out of jeopardy.”Big Bird is still threatened,” she says. “In the last two years, federal funding for public television has been cut 13 percent.” Of course, there is a concerted effort to find sponsors to fill in the gap but at what cost? These days, big sponsors come with big demands which could change the very essence of what public broadcasting has always been about, says Marcy. “I believe in what philanthropy can do but it can’t — and shouldn’t — take the place of government.” Still, even if you have that PBS tote bag or Andrea Bocelli CD already, the next time you tune in and see one of those fundraising drives on-air, whip out that credit card and think of Downton Abbey.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Wayne Kabak and tell-all queen Kitty Kelley
2. IMG honcho Jerry Inzerillo and Kevin Wall
3. Law & Order SVU‘s Richard Belzer, without his dog, and agent David Vigliano
4. Evan Knisley
5. Entertainment titan Bob Daly
6. Most of ‘The Imber Gang’: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman
7. Harold Reisch
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia with Blair Sabol who writes NYSD’s “No Holds Barred” and Marianne Harrison. When I stopped by to chat with DPC, he introduced me to his elegantly dressed lunch date and told me Mariann was PR princess Elizabeth Harrison‘s mom. We can see where Elizabeth gets her youthful glow — and sense of style. If you’re on the Upper East Side and find yourself at J.Crew, ask for Marianne and she’ll put her skills as the store’s personal shopper extraordinaire to work. We’ll be calling for an appointment soon!
9. Wenda Millard
12. Attorney Michael Kassan
14. Author and (so we’ve read) President Barack Obama‘s favorite presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin with her longtime editor, Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew
15. Star Jones, rocking a sleek black and white dress and enjoying some wine with an equally stylish gal who took her leftovers home in a doggy bag
16. DreamWorks Studio’s Stacey Snider who is off to L.A. tonight with a group of gents, including Entertainment Weekly editor Jess Cagle.
81. Foodie Ruth Reichl (No, we didn’t get to see what she ordered)
17. PR maven Harriet Weintraub with a gal whose face we recognized but just couldn’t place. Anyone?
18. Marcy Syms, Lisa Linden, Sharon Horowitz and yours truly
20. Conde Nast’s Dawn Ostroff who traded air kisses with Stacey Snider on her way into the dining room.
21. Richard Bressler with Conan producer Jeff Ross
23. Michael Childer
24. The Municipal Art Societys’ Vin Cipolla (Nice to finally meet you!)
25. Author Pamela Keogh with radio talk show host Joseph Montebello
26. Obama advisor Brad Thompson
27. Fashionista Fern Mallis who is off to India yet again to search out more inspiration for her collection Fern Finds on QVC.
28. Gannett’s Maryam Banikarim
29. Wednesday Martin
Just when we’re finally back in the groove, we’ll be off again next week for Thanksgiving. See you in two weeks!
Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.