Party Coverage: Scene City
By STUART EMMRICH
Carolina Herrera has had quite a year. The fashion designer, best known early in her career for the wedding dresses she designed for celebrity clients like Caroline Kennedy and now the leader of a $1.2 billion global empire, recently marked her 35-year career with a book party in Manhattan that attracted such celebrities as Serena Williams and Priyanka Chopra; followed by another commemorative event in Madrid, where the host was the American ambassador to Spain, James Costos; and a trip down to Dallas, where she was honored by Neiman Marcus with an award for “distinguished service in the field of fashion.”
Perhaps one of the few women who might have had a better 2016 was Diana Ross.
Last month, Ms. Ross, who started out as the lead singer of the Supremes in the early 1960s and then went on to a successful solo career and even branched out into movies (garnering an Oscar nomination for “Lady Sings the Blues” in 1972), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, in his last class of designees, an honor accompanied by a hug, a kiss and a somewhat sheepish presidential grin.
On Tuesday night, the lives of these two remarkable women converged on the stage at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, where Mrs. Herrera received the Women’s Leadership Award by the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund and Ms. Ross gave a spirited, strong-voiced, 20-minute sampling of her greatest hits (including “I’m Coming Out” and “My World Is Empty Without You”), finally getting the black-tie crowd to stand and dance (a little stiffly, to be sure) to “I Will Survive.”
Earlier, a string of admirers paid tribute to the 77-year-old designer. The actress Emmy Rossum told of Mrs. Herrera gently guiding her as she became a red carpet regular (“She is the chicest woman alive”) and disclosed that Mrs. Herrera was designing the gown for her wedding. The Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long recalled sending Mrs. Herrera apple pies from the Little Pie Company when she became an American citizen (“She told me she ate them all herself; I’m not sure I believe her”). And Glenda Bailey, the editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar (and a host of the evening, along with Steven Swartz, the chief executive of Hearst), told how Diana Vreeland stepped in with some prescient advice when Mrs. Herrera originally started out with plans to design fabrics. “Oh, that’s so boring,” Ms. Bailey recalled Mrs. Vreeland saying, “Why don’t you do a collection of dresses?” Mrs. Herrera’s first runway collection was shown in 1981 at the Metropolitan Club in New York.
The evening’s final speaker was Seth Meyers, who described how Mrs. Herrera had pulled off the almost unthinkable: designing a wedding dress that made his wife look beautiful despite having spent the previous night and most of that morning on an emergency room gurney with severe food poisoning. He also suggested another possible business line for Mrs. Herrera: designing fashionable hospital gowns. (“I said to Carolina, ‘There’s a real market there.’”)
The evening featured a short film recapping Mrs. Herrera’s career, with the biggest laughs going to her husband, Reinaldo Herrera, when he recalled his wife telling him back in 1981 that she was going to start a fashion business, and how he encouraged her to do so — and then added, “I thought it would last exactly six months.”
At the dinner afterward, which was attended by a mix of celebrities including Julianna Margulies, Christina Ricci and Olivia Palermo (who wore a Herrera wedding dress when she married the German fashion model Johannes Huebl), one of the partygoers walked over to Mr. Herrera and said his wife was now, officially, a legend.
“Oh, don’t use that word, ‘legend,’” Mr. Herrera said, his face contorted into a look of mock horror. “It just means old.”
But when asked whether he really had those doubts about her business prospects 35 years ago, he said he had not been joking. “That’s true,” he said. “I did say that. And I believed it. I never thought we would be at a night like this.”