Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Politics may have played a behind-the-scenes part in the logistics of Wednesday night’s Alumni Star Salute for the Fashion Institute of Technology’s scholarship fund, but once the tribute dinner began, its honorees tried to steer clear of such peccadilloes.
Reba White Williams, who is on the city’s Art Commission, said she had initially planned to present an award to Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, by parodying a speech once given by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was Konheim’s first choice as presenter.
“I’d walk out doing the mafia talk, and then I’d explain why I was an hour and a half late — because I couldn’t get a taxi and had to thumb a ride and every time a taxi went by, the driver yelled some slur out the window at me,” Williams said. “When I told Bud that was what I was going to say, he nearly had a heart attack.”
After all, Williams’s little joke would have come after all the drama that ensued once another of the night’s honorees, bridge suit designer Tamotsu, had asked Giuliani’s opponent in the race for U.S. Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to make his presentation. Fortunately for Konheim’s health, Williams toned down her speech and instead pointed out how, while serving on the Art Commission, Konheim had skillfully taken to the task of telling an artist or two that their work wasn’t so good, but with enough charm and wit that they rarely seemed to mind.
There was still some political residue yet to come at the dinner, which raised $200,000 for FIT scholarships and also honored Carl Goldstein, senior vice president of S. Lichtenberg, a home design company, and Nancy Marino, president of Linmark Westmark Group International, an e-commerce development firm. City comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, while introducing Goldstein, paid tribute to Dr. Joyce Brown, whose husband, H. Carl McCall, is state comptroller and happens to have flirted with a bid for governor.
Brown, who was introduced as “the First Lady of FIT,” said the school was half-way through its capital campaign, raising funds to build 300,000 square feet of additional classroom space and renovate 400,000 square feet of existing space. FIT also plans to build a “great hall” where designers will be able to stage runway shows, build a new technology wing and permanently close off the block of West 27th Street that cuts through its Manhattan campus to create an urban mall.
She also played a little fashion politics, choosing to wear an architectural black and blue gown created by 25-year-old Hilton Smith, a 1999 FIT graduate who designs full-time for Dana Buchman and creates custom looks for private clients on the side under the label Hilton Hollis.
“It’s all about opportunities we can create for our students,” Brown said. “It’s not like it was torture to put on a beautiful gown.”
The other First Lady speaking that night phoned in her performance, a video testimonial to Tamotsu.
“One of the reasons I love being one of Tamotsu’s customers is not just because I like his designs, I also like him as a person,” Clinton said. “You can’t separate his charm from his clothes.”
Of course, most political functions tend to run a little long. By the time Tamotsu took the stage, he seemed to echo a sentiment held by many in the audience.
“I just want to eat,” he said.

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