Divine Design, the annual fundraiser benefiting Project Angel Food, celebrated its 20th anniversary in style Wednesday night, with a gala dinner marking the start of a six-day charity shopping marketplace that will run through Dec. 12.
Before dinner, guests sipped cocktails and wandered the cavernous space -- the former Robinson's May store in Beverly Hills -- while browsing and buying discounted delights such as L.A. Eyeworks frames, vintage fur capelets, Brooks Brothers Black Fleece jackets and ties, Alexander McQueen clutches, Trina Turk tote bags, D.L. and Co. candles, a veritable forest of bamboo furniture, Philippe Starck Ghost armchairs, Barbie bicycles, Kiehls lotions, lip balms and more -- all of which could be had at 50% off retail prices.
Posted throughout were large signs bearing the equation "$5 = 1 meal," an exchange rate of sorts meant
to remind potential shoppers that each $5 bill they laid out for their bargains would translate into one whole meal delivered by Project Angel Food.
Serving all of Los Angeles County, the organization is dedicated to delivering nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. In 2010, Project Angel Food cooked and delivered more than 735,000 meals, and since its inception 22 years ago, the organization has delivered 7.5 million meals.
After cocktails and some preliminary purchases, the crowd moved to the Beverly Hilton ballroom for the gala, hosted by "America's Top Model' runway coach J. Alexander, whose first of several outfits involved an outsized sparkly version of the red AIDS lapel ribbon pinned to his chest.
This year, chef extraordinaire Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon) picked up the evening's first award for Iconic Chef and Restaurateur.
"You give a chef a bowl? I don't understand," he joked as he took to the stage to accept the award, an inscribed Tiffany & Co. crystal bowl. "This will probably never see a salad, but it is an honor nonetheless." Recounting the words of one of his longtime mentors who said, "We cook because we want to nurture," Keller likened his lifetime in the kitchen to the work of Project Angel Food.
Costume designer Patricia Field ("Sex and the City," "The Devil Wears Prada") was named Iconic Fashion Visionary. "There were times when I was afraid the audience wouldn't be able to hear the dialogue because the clothes were too loud," said her friend, "Sex and the City" creator and gala co-chair Darren Starr, by way of introducing Field. "Many people have said that New York City was the fifth character on the show. But I think it was Pat."
Taking the stage in sunglasses and a sequined jacket, Field joked, "I have a friend who collects all my awards, but I'm going to keep this one because I can make a gorgeous salad in this."
Before the presentation of the final award, Kristin Chenoweth entertained the crowd with a troika of songs from her new album "Some Lessons Learned," belting out the tunes with such brio that the high notes threatened to shatter glassware.
Chenoweth's performance was followed by a live auction that saw a Brooks Brothers and Broadway flight/lodging/show package go for $14,000, a Marvelous Miami excursion for $7,500, three sponsorships of Project Angel Food holiday season meals going for $5,500 each and another three sponsorships for Valentine's Day meals going for bids of $7,500 each.
The final award of the evening went to Viola Davis ("The Help"), who was introduced by her friend and costar Octavia Spencer. "She's chic, always elegant and eloquent in a woman-of-the-people way. And she has an amazing body ... of work." Spencer's long pause between the words "body" and work" drawing a chuckle from the crowd.
Davis, who does indeed have an amazing body -- as well as body of work -- said she never imagined she would get a Woman of Style Award. "You guys have made a mistake," Davis said. "You haven't seen me with my wig off."
Between the awards and the shopping opportunities, we found ourselves with precious little time for celebrity spotting, though we did manage to get our "Mad Men" fix thanks to being seated at a table with cast members Bryan Batt and Michael Gladis and the show's costume designer Janie Bryant, all of whom were guests of Brooks Brothers, a longtime Divine Design sponsor.
The hot topic of conversation at the table? The annual New Year's Eve dinner that Batt and his longtime partner Tom Cianfichi traditionally host in their New Orleans home, and that Bryant will be attending for the first time this year. Cianfichi told us that their tradition is for him to make osso bucco for their dinner guests, and for Batt to construct elaborate party headgear for them to wear as they transition from one year to the next -- crafted from all kinds of decorative things Batt has collected over the course of the previous year.
For information and ticket information on how you can get some of the decorative items the Divine Design marketplace is selling (and where, don't forget, the discounts will get deeper as the days go on), go to the divinedesign.org website.
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-- Booth Moore and Adam Tschorn
Photos: Attendees at the 2011 20th anniversary Divine Design gala included, at top (left to right), actor Matt Bomer with chef Thomas Keller, Patricia Field and Viola Davis. At center, Arthur Wayne, event fashion and beauty menswear chair, "Mad Men" actor Michael Gladis and the show's costume designer Janie Bryant. At bottom, Pauley Perrette from "NCIS." Credit for all photos: Alex Berliner/ABImages