Food and Fundraising

For Miami's social elite, high-end galas are high-calorie affairs

Standing inside Bal Harbour's Neiman Marcus, Michael Musto was far from his usual downtown Manhattan stomping grounds, and even farther from the usual fodder for his long-running Village Voice nightlife column. There were no Hollywood celebs behaving badly, no catfighting drag queens, not a single club owner with an underage model on his arm. Instead last month's "Destination Fashion," a fundraiser for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis that commandeered the entire Bal Harbour Shops, was filled with the city's foremost socialites and ladies who lunch, the kind of well-heeled gals on a first-name basis with the sales clerks inside Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Musto, flown in by the benefit's organizers to cover their event, quipped that he was feeling a bit like the frumpy heroine of Georgy Girl: "I don't think they realize most of my readership shops in thrift stores."

Still while a gossip columnist may have come up short, there was plenty in the way of social observation as this city's true movers and shakers met in the type of forum all too often overlooked by reporters focused on the corporate boardroom. And not least, amid all the schmoozing moguls and their spouses, was some good eatin': Barton G rolled out an internationally themed tasting session. Neiman Marcus was remade as "Asia," complete with trays of sushi, Japanese ceremonial drummers thundering away, and female samurai warriors whipping swords over their heads while leaping around the menswear department -- shades of Kill Bill, or at least Kill Bill Blass.

Throughout the rest of the Bal Harbour Shops (the word mall just seems so ... gauche) Barton G continued to dazzle. No giraffes or elephants, featured at his past hosted openings, but the "Russia" area was graced with a bear -- in the form of an eight-foot-high ice sculpture being meticulously carved by a chain saw-wielding artisan. As the shards flew, fur-coated women (it was, after all, an oh-so-chilly 65 degrees) sampled caviar while one husband tested the limits of Barton G's ethnic authenticity. "Where's the vodka?" demanded our thickly accented Slavic gentleman. "How can you call this a tribute to Russia without serving shots of vodka?" The bartender chuckled in response, then spied the growing number of Eastern-bloc men nodding their heads in serious assent, and scrambled for the Grey Goose.

At the Wolfsonian-FIU dinner, the power elite actually seemed to be enjoying themselves
At the Wolfsonian-FIU dinner, the power elite actually seemed to be enjoying themselves

Drawn by a sudden surge of energy, folks began pouring into Saks Fifth Avenue, where women in Mummers headdresses were handing out little American flags and ushering people to the "USA" eating station. And the culinary evocation of our nation? Dessert! Long tables were piled high with chocolate cakes, cookies, and ice cream bars. Turning away offered little hope of escape, only more tables covered with jars of M&Ms, jelly beans, and Gummy Bears.

Some other journalist might have chosen that moment to deliver a sermon on American culture and its respective symbolism to the global community. But faced with a night that served a worthy cause -- not to mention 30 feet of gooey chocolate chip cookies -- Kulchur decided to simply shut up and chew. Silence also allowed for eavesdropping on the defining conversation of the evening:

"Have you seen my wife?"

"I just saw her shopping in Valentino."

"Oh God, not again!"

High fashion was equally in evidence at the following evening's annual Wolfsonian-FIU dinner, though in keeping with its "Prohibition" theme, any local gangsters in attendance traded their black Armani outfits for vintage pinstriped suits, accessorizing with suspenders, spats, and appropriately decked-out molls on their arms.

Perhaps it was the Halloween atmosphere of the costumes -- an abundance of white Gatsby tuxedos and flapper gowns. Perhaps it was the band -- the swing sounds of the Peter Duchin Orchestra, smoky torch singer and all. Or maybe it was just the surroundings -- the towering ceilings and swanky Deco décor of downtown's forgotten Alfred I. Dupont bank building. Regardless, the Wolfsonian's unique shindig was one of the few galas in recent memory at which Miami's power elite genuinely seemed to be having fun, packing the dance floor, table hopping, and bellying up to the dessert buffets to ladle out huge spoonfuls of chocolate mousse. (Yes, Kulchur has put on a few pounds of late.)

Flitting around the room was Wolfsonian founder Micky Wolfson, making introductions among the diverse crowd, matching the city's leading architects and artists with congressmen and European dignitaries. "I'm a hunter-gatherer, not a hoarder," Wolfson explained to Kulchur. "It amuses me more to find objects than to store them away. What people choose to do with them then is up to them." It's a philosophy that seemed to apply as much to the guests gathered here as to the rare propaganda curios he's collected for the Wolfsonian museum. To that end Kulchur barely had a chance to scribble in his notebook before Wolfson grabbed his arm and began dragging him away: "Come and meet the head of the Louvre!" Why not?

Kulchur soon collided with developer and Wolfsonian board vice chairman Craig Robins, visibly enjoying his return to Miami's most-eligible-bachelor list. Indeed tonight would not be an occasion to talk business. His biggest fear, Robins joked, was that he'd start believing the reams of glowing press his real estate projects have been garnering. And his new status as a nationally known art collector, his purchases closely monitored by the Wall Street Journal for market indicators? "I think I'm equally inept in both spheres of my life," Robins retorted with a grin. This was going nowhere.

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