A few years back, one of Chicago’s premier men-about-town, Bunky Cushing, heard about an annual Palm Beach affair called the Old Bags Luncheon. Each guest brought a gently used designer handbag, which was raffled off for charity.
Cushing thought it was a great idea, and like all great ideas, worth copying. So he did. On Oct. 8, about 80 women gathered at RL Restaurant in Chicago’s Ralph Lauren store, not only for lunch, but to donate old handbags to the Brown Elephant Resale Shop. Proceeds from the shop, which is famous among Chicago’s thrifty-but-fashionable set, benefit the Howard Brown Health Center, the city’s leading HIV-AIDS clinic.
For Cushing, whose nonprofit work includes co-chairing the annual hat luncheon benefit for the Chicago Historical Society, this event was a way to expand both his and his friends’ horizons. “I always wanted to do something for AIDS, so I thought I’d do my own thing,” he said. As for his “ladies,” the term he fondly lavishes on his legions of female friends, “this is a way for them to get their toes wet with the AIDS cause,” Cushing said.
Cushing changed a few details to make the event his own. To start, he didn’t call it the Old Bags Luncheon. “That would be insulting to my ladies,” he said. Instead, he and a friend, Michelle Crowe, came up with Handbags and Halos. “The idea is you bring a handbag and earn a halo,” he said.
And he turned the raffling idea on its head. Instead of raffling off old handbags, lunching ladies were able to buy raffle tickets to win one of three brand-new bags, from Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade and Marlowe.
Of course, the lunch was meant to raise awareness and money, but Cushing had another agenda as well. “I wanted it to be gay in the Victorian sense — an afternoon of fun and remembrance, but mostly fun.”