NEW YORK — With practically every major world leader in town for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, there was no shortage of political heavyweights at Tuesday night’s Appeal of Conscience Foundation Awards Dinner.
They came to tip their hats to the interfaith organization founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and celebrate the night’s three honorees: LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault, The Coca-Cola Co.’s chairman and ceo Muhtar Kent and Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The eclectic dais at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the gala was held, featured three tiers of tables filled with dignitaries, religious leaders and other well-known figures, including two of the three honorees (Brown attended a press conference earlier, but was unable to stay for the dinner due to a commitment at the U.N.), as well as Bono, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Ray Kelly, Donna Karan, Wilbur Ross and several clergy, including Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox church in America.
“Having just come from the Clinton Global Initiative, the honoring of Bernard Arnault by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation confirmed my belief that a world commitment to compassion and change is the only solution in this world of chaos,” Karan said. “Bernard Arnault through his passion for creativity and inspiration has realized a vision where commerce and philanthropy can connect to create a new paradigm for the business model.”
Guests in the ballroom included Arnault’s wife, Helene, who was seated next to Queen Rania of Jordan; his son, Antoine, who shared a table with Uma Thurman; his daughter, Delphine; Monica Seles; Natalia Vodianova, and several senior LVMH executives, including Sidney Toledano, Antonio Belloni, Renaud Dutreil and Mark Weber.
Raising a toast, Bono called Arnault “the quietest storm that ever blew into town.”
Arnault gave a heartfelt acceptance speech that touched on everything from luxury — “Luxury is the opposite of anonymity and standardization” — to the importance of sustainability — “Whatever the cause of the problems that affect our planet, such as climate changes, scarcity of water and other resources, pollution and the end of biodiversity, their impact must change our behavior.”
He cited Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who once said, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
Arnault credited his talks with Rabbi Schneier ranging from China to the psychology of Vladimir Putin and the necessity for peace in the Middle East for giving him “greater serenity in life.”
“In the course of our journeys, in Asia, in America and in Europe, we have met both ordinary and exceptional people,” Arnault said. “We have traveled separate paths, but we have reached the same conclusion. The forces and shared interests that should bring the people of our world together are far stronger than the perceived differences among them.”
The event, which raised more than $2 million, also featured a performance by violinist Laurent Korcia on the Zahn Stradivarius (1719) violin, which is on loan from LVMH.
The night also offered plenty of more lighthearted moments. At the press conference earlier, Brown, somewhat embattled at home, expressed his admiration for Kissinger, and said he had learned much from him and his various books — though he was hoping for the former secretary of state to pen a book on “how to win elections in a recession.”
And Arnault and Kent even had an opportunity for an amicable jab at each other’s expense. “I have great respect for Mr. Kent and the Coca-Cola Co., though I do admit to preferring my bubbles to theirs,” Arnault, whose stable of brands includes Dom Pérignon and Veuve Clicquot, said in his acceptance speech. The Coca-Cola chief responded, “Speaking of Dom Pérignon, the last time I was in Paris, I ordered an ice-cold Coca-Cola at a cafe, and the waiter just smiled and said, ‘Ah, American Champagne.’ Bernard, whether they are your bubbles or my bubbles, they are good.”
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