Anna Sui summed up fashion in a nutshell: It’s about function, solutions and “how it makes you feel.”
Sui spoke at Wednesday night’s Design for Disability Gala at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan. The evening centered on a fashion show starring models with disabilities wearing clothes designed for them by FIT, Parsons School of Design and Pratt students. The clothes featured elements — cut, seaming, closures — intended to heighten comfort and ease of dressing while also looking great. Each of the five designers — Richard Jimenez, Kevin Kim, Fisayo Quadri, Maria Terracina and Daniel Lee — presented a focused, distinctive three-look lineup, all with a casual undercurrent that reflected the festive mood of the room. Among those cheering the models on: Norma Kamali, Sofia Coppola, Derek Lam, Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann, Hanne Gaby Odiele, Zhengyang Zhang, Micah Fowler and Zach Anner.
Sui mentored the fashion students over a four-month development process, succeeding Lam, last year’s adviser. She admitted that going in, she didn’t know what to expect, “how to talk to the models or how to address their disabilities.” As it turns out, “they broke the ice,” she said. When she asked actor Ryan Haddad what he wanted from his show look he responded, “I want to look hot!” The casting included several serious actors, among them, Jesse Yates, headed to the Yale School of Drama, and Madison Ferris, who played Laura in “The Glass Menagerie” on Broadway. Conversely, Andrea Dalzell just received her nursing degree and Valerie Joseph and Lacey Tompkins are involved in advocacy for the disabled.
In his postshow remarks, Cerebral Palsy Foundation chief executive officer Richard Ellenson noted “the gorgeous energy that shines…through the lens of fashion.” He then turned to the evening’s honoree, Vera Bradley’s Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, whose late brother Jamie suffered from cerebral palsy. In what would prove an instance of happy kismet, the two met at a performance of Seth Rudetsky’s “Disaster!” Ellenson attended with his son Tom, who has cerebral palsy. During a break in the evening, the father wandered off and Baekgaard saw Tom sitting alone. She struck up a conversation. When Ellenson returned with a curious look, she said, “I just said, hi.” His response: “Our foundation’s signature campaign is called, ‘Just say hi.’”
Two years and many “hi’s” later, Ellenson thanked Baekgaard for her contribution of $1 million to fund a virtual CP center that will provide families with information at the exact moment they need it. After, Baekgaard admitted being taken aback at the mention of the amount of her gift. Told it might inspire others, she nodded. “I love giving money,” she said. “That’s the best lesson you can give your kids.” On the other hand, some interests wane over time. About her own event outfit, Baekgaard offered, “It’s old, probably seven years. You get to a point — it doesn’t matter much.”