“I think that if there’s a metaphor that encapsulates what we’re about, it’s that we’re at Barneys and we have Leymah Gbowee here with us,” said Paul van Zyl, founder and chief executive officer of Maiyet over dinner at the department store’s restaurant, Fred’s, on Thursday. Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist and recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, was seated at a table diagonal from Princess Khaliya Aga Khan and parallel to the evening’s co-hosts, Christina Ricci and Barneys New York ceo Mark Lee.
“I was interested in the designs at first,” said Ricci, who is playing Hermia in an off-Broadway production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and was clad in an embroidered pair of silk shorts and a cream-colored jacket by Maiyet. “Then I found out the story behind it, and I think to take beautiful clothing and people’s love of fashion…to turn that sort of greed into something beautiful and world-changing is amazing, and important.”
The menu for dinner, designed by Floyd Cardoz, was inspired by three countries: Colombia (a spinach and avocado salad with plantain chips), Kenya (halibut and coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf) and India (a conical vanilla kulfi with grapefruit, topped with the tiniest sliver of edible gold). The two Plexiglas banquette tables created for the dinner were filled with fuchsia orchid blossoms and small canvas bags of the spices used for the dishes. Down the center of each table was a water-filled trench, wherein orchids and votive candles delicately bobbed. Although beautiful, the tableau deceived more than a few diners and resulted in several shattered wineglasses.
As each course arrived, van Zyl and co-founder and brand president Kristy Caylor gave short speeches about the wares that they had designed from those regions. Van Zyl spoke about the floral embroidery on Aga Khan’s dress and the collar of Ricci’s blazer, which came from an Ahmedabad studio that employs Hindu and Muslim women who “agree beforehand to respect each other’s beliefs — and when altercations are beginning, will go into the street and tell the men to stop fighting, and when they do, these men listen.”
Gbowee praised the brand’s ability to make change through the women in the communities they visited. “I once realized,” she explained before the meal began, “that if change was to be made, it had to be through the women in society.”
Or at least through what those women wear.