La bellissima Renée Fleming, who thrilled opera lovers everywhere as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Met Opera this year, swept onto the stage of the Juilliard School’s spring gala, “Classified Jazz,” and said, “Let’s talk about fashion. The truth is, I never know what to wear to galas. In fact, I told Juilliard they should have a class called Evening Gowns 101. It’s absolutely crucial. Today I went to my gown closet — yes, I have a gown closet — and there, way back at the end of the rack was this lonely little black dress that I bought at a thrift shop when I went to Juilliard. I’m wearing it tonight, so this dress has brought me full circle from a student in the wings to performing here tonight.”

And Renée fit perfectly into this sexy vintage showstopper with pleated fan sleeves and a chain belt that showed off her figure.

This story first appeared in the April 2, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Wynton Marsalis and Renée, both Grammy winners and Juilliard alumni, performed together for the first time. The jazzman played the trumpet while Renée sang “Answer Me, My Love” and “Caravan,” to wild applause, naturally.

The evening’s hosts, also alumni, were Christine Baranski, in a black ruffled Vera Wang dress with a diamond cuff by Gilan, and Keith David, whose TV show, “The Big House,” premieres tonight on ABC. Renée slipped into a black Issey Miyake sheath and a scarlet coat by Gianfranco Ferré for the dinner dance after the concert, and then swung onto the dance floor while Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks played what Marvin Hamlisch called “society music,” which he predicted would be “the only music that will be played at parties like this a thousand — even five thousand — years from now. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice they’re playing the music a little faster than it’s supposed to be because society moves a little faster than the rest of us.” You could have fooled me.

Others twirling about the dance floor were Agnes Gund, the art collector, in a black-and-white harlequin top; Muffie Potter Aston in a vintage navy blue gown with spaghetti straps by John Galliano; Cynthia Lufkin in a white Gianfranco Ferré shirt and a long taupe skirt, and Kitty Carlisle Hart, a wonderful 93, snappy in a beaded sheath with feathers fluttering hither and thither. After the Juilliard orchestra played the original 1924 arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Kitty said, “George would have liked that rendition.” She ought to know. George, being George Gershwin, was a close friend of hers and her husband, the famous playwright Moss Hart.

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Brooke Astor says she’s coming to the opening night of the Martha Graham Dance Company on April 14 “because there are so many good-looking men dancing.” And many more are coming, because it marks the stage debut of André Leon Talley, in the role of the “narrator” that Martha originally created for Liza Minnelli in “The Owl and the Pussycat.” The chairman of the gala, Kimora Lee Simmons, says, “I’m going to shine, shine, shine that night,” so the rest of André’s fans in the fashion flock had better wear sunglasses.

The performance is at City Center with dinner, dancing and a silent auction immediately following the performance at the Plaza Hotel. The vice chairmen of the evening are Manolo Blahnik, Rachel Feinstein, Bianca Jagger, Karl Lagerfeld and Ralph Lauren, who is designing a special stage outfit for André to replace the original Halston costume designed for Liza — and Liza is coming, too! The gala performance is the opening of Martha Graham’s 2004 New York season, and among the decorative types expected to attend are Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, Iman and David Bowie, Mica and Ahmet Ertegun, Rupert Everett, Tom Ford, Cornelia Guest, Amanda Harlech, Donna Karan, Lee Radziwill, Isabella Rossellini, Judy and Sam Peabody, Ralph Rucci, Danielle Steel, Lynn Wyatt, Vera Wang, Veronica Hearst and everyone at Vogue, where André is editor at large. It will be a historic night!

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Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, is one of the odds-on favorites to be on her country’s roster of riders for this year’s Olympic Games in Athens. The United Kingdom’s equestrian coaches have whittled down the list of contenders to 14, but only five will go to Greece and they are dying to win. Zara, who has gotten this far on her merits, not her bloodlines, says her grandmother was thrilled when she was chosen for the long list and loves being called about what Zara and her horse have been up to. “Even though she’s the Queen, she’s my grandmother and she knows all the horses and is keen to find out what’s going on.” Other members of the family are not quite as aware of her talents. “My cousins, Prince William and Prince Harry, said, ‘Oh my God, we didn’t realize you were this good,’” Zara said.

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Henry Street Settlement’s annual dinner dance is set for April 20 at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers. They’re calling the evening “3-D,” for three-dimensional, and the honorees of the evening are Henry Street Settlement heroines Marlene Hess and Daisy Soros. Beverly Sills will introduce the two ladies, and the chairmen of the fandango are Laura Hunt, Eva Lorenzotti, Pilar Crespi Robert and Jill Swid.

As for that “3-D” decor, it will feature vibrant orange, Day-Glo green and brilliant white, and that’s just the dining room. Expected to be there taking it all in are Eliza Reed Bolen, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Tory and Christopher Burch, Rena Sindi and others too colorful to mention. Sotheby’s dashing auctioneer, Jamie Niven, will lead the live auction, where the prizes include a chartered, private yacht journey to St. Tropez, a pampered trip to Thailand, a studio portrait by Gilles Bensimon, place settings and service for 12 from Christofle and Bernardaud and more, more, more.

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