NEW YORK — Though the main course was filet mignon, a roast topped the menu at Cipriani 42nd Street here Tuesday night.In conjunction with Vogue magazine, Neiman Marcus chief executive officer Burt Tansky presented St. John Knits and its founders, Bob and Marie Gray, with an American Fashion Lifetime Achievement Award. The Irvine, Calif.-based knitwear firm is celebrating its 40th year in business.In a speech before handing over the award, Tansky made his admiration for the St. John business clear — they’re Neiman’s largest account, after all. But it was his comical roasting of St. John and its founders that had guests going. "Only 1 in 100 sheep has passing wool quality standards for St. John," said Tansky. "The other 99 Bob uses for barbecues."Tansky also joked that the family opened their factory in Mexico so they could use it as a vacation spot and that Marie Gray is still paid 40 cents an hour — the same wage when the company started in 1962. The company uses more than 40 million paillettes, many of which fall off at the best parties, Tansky joked."Today, St. John’s annual sales are $600 million, all of which comes from Neiman Marcus," Tansky said. "Oops, I didn’t mean to say that."The Grays responded by thanking their retail partners, friends, family and the roughly 5,000 employees that make up the firm."We’re awed and overwhelmed," said Marie Gray. "We don’t often reflect on our past. When you’re busy with tomorrow, you don’t often think of yesterday."Daughter Kelly Gray was also on hand, having just flown back from the Greek islands Mykonos and Santorini, where she shot the upcoming St. John campaign.The speeches were followed by a performance from Natalie Cole, who sang numbers from her latest album "Ask A Woman Who Knows," which was released Sept. 17. Some St. John supporters present included Vogue’s publisher Tom Florio and editor Anna Wintour, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, designer Barry Cord, Saks Fifth Avenue senior vice president of fashion merchandising Jaqui Lividini, and Burberry’s ceo Rose Marie Bravo, who stopped by for a quick hello.

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