Gorgeous Models, Great Food, Good Show: Gimme More!

The Eighth Annual More Magazine/Wilhelmina 40+ Model Search Finals Event last night at Cipriani on 42nd Street marked the first big event for new More EIC Lesley Jane Seymour — who co-hosted the swank soirée with Oscar-nominated actress (and More cover girl) Joan Allen. “This year’s model search is particularly exciting because we are celebrating our finalists — 10 More women — in our 10th anniversary year,” Seymour said at the beginning of the show. The top 10 women, who range in age from 40 to 51 and represent seven states, strutted their stuff down the runway before the winners were announced.

The event kicked off yesterday evening and drew a crowd of pretty people — models, sponsors and members of the press — who enjoyed bellinis and Frederick Wildman champagne and spirits, as well as a delectable spread that included tuna tartare, beef carpaccio, spinach cannelloni, veal ravioli and fresh mozzarella. After about an hour and a half of eating and drinking — and enjoying the gorgeous interior of Cipriani — the crowd gathered around the runway for the fashion show that featured Heidi Weisel designs modeled by More‘s top 10.

Brenda Saget Darling, publisher of More, welcomed everyone and explained that after six months, 100 open calls and 14,000 entries, the finalists had been whittled down to ten: Joyce Larkin, 42; Lynn Doyle, 51; Elizabeth James-Lipscomb, 43; Julia Jordan, 46; Chung Winstanley, 45; Laura Lasko, 50; Shanah Luhmann, 49; Lilian Williams, 40; Teresa Schweitzer, 43; and Lani Ridenhour, 43. The lovely ladies modeled dresses and gowns in mostly black, white, beige and brown, and each were strikingly beautiful.

“Inner beauty must be polished before outer beauty can shine,” Dieter Esch, owner of Wilhelmina Models, said before the show began, and it was clear that although each of the 10 finalists was gorgeous, they also exhibited a radiant inner beauty. One woman was a pastry chef, one a pilates instructor, several were mothers and philanthropists, and all were accomplished.

After each woman modeled two designs, all ten joined Seymour and Allen onstage for the announcement of the winners. Esch did the honors, presenting second runner-up Julia Jordan, of Lancaster, New York, with a $5,000 modeling contract with Wilhelmina, and first runner-up Elizabeth James-Lipscomb, of West Bend, Wisconsin, with a $10,000 Wilhelmina contract before announcing the grand prize winner: Chung Winstanley of Short Hills, New Jersey. In addition to a $15,000 modeling contract with Wilhelmina, Winstanley won a wardrobe from Talbot’s, RoC anti-aging products, a year’s supply of Garnier hair products, a week long vacation in Mexico, a Baume & Mercier diamond watch, and a runway gown designed by Heidi Weisel — a package totaling $33,000. All 10 finalists will be featured in the June 2008 issue of More.

Perhaps even more excited than the ladies themselves were their devoted fans — Lynn Doyle, of Newtown, Pennsylvania had a cheering section of sorts, as did 3rd-place winner Julia Jordan. “I’m so proud of her,” Jordan’s husband of 21 years said after the show. “Did you see me crying?”

After the show, the guests were spoiled with even more goodies: An impressive dessert table that included cheesecake, chocolate covered strawberries and tiramisu, to name but a few of the delicious confections offered. Seymour’s first event as EIC was a huge hit — and the chic event will be showcased tonight on Extra!.

It was evident though, that these models for a night were real women. Upon leaving the party, finalist Lani Ridenhour, of Hartsdale, New York, left with finalist Laura Lasko, of Phoenix, Arizona — who traded her high heels for fuzzy pink house shoes as she scurried out of the building and down 42nd Street.

—Tracy Bratten