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“I lived hand-to-mouth, but there was always a dollar for drugs.”

That’s how Onieka M. said she survived for years before turning her life around with the help of Phoenix House. “I knew I had to change my attitude and come to grips with all the anger I carried for so long. Phoenix House taught me how to live and earn a living,” she said.

This story first appeared in the November 4, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

McCune recounted her plight — from high school dropout to junkie to Phoenix House to aspiring cosmetologist — at the Grand Hyatt ballroom Tuesday, which was packed with retailers, designers and socialites there to honor Saks Fifth Avenue’s Ronald Frasch, Josie Natori and Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Glenda Bailey, and support the nonprofit alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention organization. Phoenix House also spotlighted another of its clients, Matt C., who detailed how the organization enabled him to rebuild his life. The event raised $1.2 million.

Among those in the crowd was Cardinal Egan, who introduced Natori. “She is ever so humble, even though she is ever so gifted and ever so successful. Josie is an angel,” he said. Egan spoke of the scourge of drugs as well. “There are few plagues in history worse than this one. It’s moving down to grammar schools.” Thirty-two percent of students in middle schools report drug sales, and 66 percent of high school students report drug sales in their schools, according to Phoenix House.

“Seriously, I could cry,” said Natori, moved by the reception. “I seriously doubt there isn’t anyone in this room that hasn’t been affected one way or another.”

“I love Glenda,” said Alber Elbaz, who introduced Bailey to the audience. “My mother would be very happy to learn that I love women.” Elbaz described his annual ritual with Bailey — a dinner in Paris after his fall show in March. “Glenda’s office calls in January, but I have not one sketch. Not one design. But I do have a dinner reservation.”

Frasch, Saks Inc.’s president and chief merchandising officer, was introduced by Rose Marie Bravo, who cited his “open leadership style encouraging young talent.” Then Burt Tansky, former chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, cut in on the house speakers and appeared like a deity on a giant screen. “I’m Burt Tansky. Retired retailer. This is the first time in 14 days I’ve put a suit on. It’s not easy getting back in uniform.” Then he commended Frasch as an aggressive competitor, and Phoenix House for salvaging thousands of lives. Frasch said the occasion was “really overwhelming. It always amazes me, the compassion of this industry.” On a lighter note, he recalled that when he was at Neiman’s and Bravo was at I. Magnin in the late Eighties, they both vied for the first order from the same new designer. He got it, she didn’t, but the clothes never sold at Neiman’s, only at an outlet.

“The girls at the University of Texas were buying the clothes for Halloween costumes.” Bravo, Frasch grinned, had planted a bait and switch.

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