On Thursday, Pope-fever had hit Midtown. The streets surrounding the Plaza Hotel, just below Central Park, were temporarily closed, in preparation for the pope mobile’s imminent arrival. “It could be 20 minutes, it could be two hours,” said a stationed police officer to a thwarted cab driver of the traffic obstruction.
Unbeknownst to the crowd of rubberneckers in the area, inside the Plaza itself was a Pope of another kind — Olivia Pope, or more specifically, actress Kerry Washington who plays the cable television favorite on “Scandal.”
Washington, along with Dee Ocleppo and Tommy Hilfiger, were hosting a cocktail party to unveil the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, a limited-edition purse designed to bring attention to domestic violence and financial abuse.
The actress, who serves as a spokesperson for the foundation, teamed with Ocleppo to design this year’s purse, a special-edition crocodile-embossed clutch with a removable cross-body strap, rose gold-tone hardware, and suede lining. Additionally, this year Saks has signed on as the exclusive luxury retail partner for the project, and will sell the bag both in stores and online for $350, with 25 percent of the proceeds donated to the Allstate Foundation.
“To have Kerry Washington and Dee Ocleppo design a bag that we can sell to raise money for a charity — it’s amazing,” said Kathleen Ruiz, senior vice president of public relations and marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Added Ocleppo: “It’s a beautiful color, at a great price point and it’s for a good cause.”
The event, which brought out additional guests Robin Roberts, Alicia Keys and Natalie Joos, culminated in a speech by Washington about the power of fashion. “We’re here for the unveiling of a purse, which may seem strange or disconnected from the issue,” she said. “But I want to explain why it’s so important to me why we are having this conversation through fashion….I really learned about fashion late in life, as an actress having to show up on red carpets. I had to think about how to market myself, and I really entrenched myself in learning about fashion. It has become something that I really enjoy, and am really passionate about.
“This past weekend was the Emmy Awards, and I had the honor of wearing this really incredible Marc Jacobs dress that was right off the runway. When I get dressed for an event, my goal is to wear something I feel good in. If the goal is trying to impress people, I’m going to go home upset, because no matter what you do, you can’t impress people all of the time. This particular night, a lot of people liked the dress I was wearing, and to be completely honest, it made me uncomfortable. We have turned fashion into a competition where we decided some people are better than other people. It turns something creative into a race.”
Washington noted that the offer to design the purse was a chance to express her interest in fashion without this competitive lens. “This was an opportunity to work in fashion in a way that wasn’t about making people feel uncool because they can’t afford something, or that they have to measure up,” she said. “It was about making women understand their power. This purse is not about being an ‘It’ bag. The bag is about empowering women.”