By  on March 16, 2010

It wasn’t a typical night on the black-tie circuit Thursday as the March of Dimes held its annual Beauty Ball fund-raiser at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan.

One of the honorees, Neil J. Katz, who received the Beautiful Apple Award, opened his acceptance speech with a pang of Great Recession dry humor. “After 40 years in the beauty business, again I’m looking for a job,” deadpanned Katz, who stepped down as chairman and chief executive officer of Parlux Fragrances Inc. in January, while remaining on the board. Katz then philosophically allowed that these things can happen when one wins an award for groundbreaking innovation, as he did in December, and is chosen as a Beauty Ball honoree.

After the laughter died down, Katz adopted a more serious tone in praising the industry for its generosity in this time of financial stress. “This industry believes it owes something to the community and that it must give back,” he said. Earlier, Katz noted: “It’s inspiring that we can have this kind of turnout, despite the fact that this is a difficult time for the industry.” He attributed this to the industry’s “passion, generosity and sense of caring.”

The evening’s other honoree, Jonathan K. Pollack, executive vice president of sales promotion, marketing and e-commerce for Belk Inc., was equally eloquent in accepting the retailer of the year award. Pollack said throughout his life, he has looked for opportunities to help children. At home in Charlotte, N.C., he participates in a Back Pack program that provides school supplies to underprivileged students, and he also is involved in a Kid Vote program that aims to instill an appreciation for participating in the democratic process. “[Children] are our future,” he said.

Pollack closed his speech by reminding the crowd of 400 that what matters in life is not how many breaths you take in a given moment, but “the moments that take your breath away.”

Despite the good cheer, the financial squeeze that has gripped the industry was also felt at the dinner. The evening’s fund-raising total stood at $710,000, short of the goal of $800,000, which was below last year’s take of $1.03 million. Of the Thursday night total, $100,000 was raised on the spot with an auction and a call for contributions among the tables.

But the tide may turn in time for the next Beauty Ball, judging from what Pollack is experiencing in Belk’s retail trends. “Business is getting better,” he said. The cosmetics category is “positive” and “the women’s fragrance business is looking like it’s coming back. As the year goes along, it will get stronger.”

In addition, “shoes are very good,” he added, “and accessories are outstanding.”

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