Since 2013, the Fashion Centered dinner has brought leaders in the fashion and creative industries together inside The Center, New York’s West Village-based LGBT community center. Championing the event, which is invite-only, is a group of cochairs including Mark Lee, Dorothy Berwin, Marigay McKee, Siddhartha Shukla, Peter Speliopoulos and Kering’s Laurent Claquin. This year’s dinner took place on Sunday.
“We all got together and really wanted to do something to connect the fashion community to the LGBT community. Cochairs like Laurent felt strongly that we needed to bring people into The Center, literally, and really help them understand what we did to serve the community,” said Glennda Testone, executive director of The Center.
The Center’s programs include providing resources and support for young LGBT people, immigrants and their families, as well as career services, arts programming and health resources. Claquin became involved with The Center when he arrived in New York six years ago, driven by a desire to pay it forward.
“The situation is still critical, unfortunately. When we live in big cities it looks like the LGBT community is very well accepted — it’s actually not the case,” said Claquin. “The Center is welcoming 6,000 people every week, because a lot of them are getting kicked out of their house. Unfortunately, the fight against homophobia is still really relevant today.”
He points to the fashion industry’s LGBT inclusiveness as an opportunity for brands to be agents for change. “Because people look up to us — it’s a very influential industry — we have to drive the conversation and be pioneering, more than ever: the debate around gender equality, about gender fluidity and about sexuality,” he added. “We have a duty to support, but also to have an impact internally and externally.”
This year, fashion brands and companies on board for the dinner included Gucci, Moncler, Ralph Lauren, Balenciaga, Tory Burch and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The Center recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, and one benefit of the Fashion Centered dinner is that it allows guests to actually see the facility’s space from the inside.
“What’s been really inspiring to see is not only how people come into the space and are really open to learning what the situation is like for the LGBT community today, but then these people and influencers and brands that are really iconic go back to their companies and think about, ‘OK, how can we do more to support our queer employees, how can we do more to support the LGBT community broadly?'” added Testone.
One such brand is L’Oréal. After attending a dinner, executive Xavier Vey went back and looked at what the company was doing inside the company to support its LGBT employees; the company now has an active internal group, and L’Oréal has also returned to The Center to host a panel for young people about what it’s like to work in the beauty industry. Other firms such as Alexander Wang, Coach, Milk Makeup and Barneys New York have also hosted panels and other initiatives; Barneys partnered with The Center in 2014 for its spring campaign, and Milk has cast promos for its special edition Pride products from The Center’s staff and clients.
“None of that would have happened without this dinner, without the conscious effort on the part of the hosts to really bring people into The Center who wouldn’t have otherwise stepped foot in the door or know what we do,” said Testone. “And once they do, they realize both the goodwill possibility of connecting, but also the business possibilities and the creative possibilities. The LGBT community has self-expression at its core, and I think that’s true of the fashion community as well…it is a pretty magical collaboration when we come together and work together to do beautiful things,” she continued. “I think people have really appreciated the partnership, and it’s really allowed some young people to dream, ‘Well, maybe I could do this someday, maybe I could be a designer, maybe I could work in fashion at Kering — or who knows.'”
In its six years, the dinner has raised $1.5 million for The Center; the team is working toward its goal of raising half a million dollars. “All kinds of support, big or small, everyone, every drop is important — every word, every conversation,” Claquin added.
Given the current political climate, Testone noted that The Center has a particular focus this year to support LGBT immigrants, connecting them to resources for housing, employment and legal representation, as well as providing social support. “A lot of LGBT people come to this country because they would face tremendous persecution or even death for being who they are in their home countries,” she said. “So they come here really needing to be able to make this work in America, and wanting to be who they truly are. And so we do everything we can to support them.”