With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

(Bloomberg) -- “A white dress with tomatoes on it and a lettuce head. Did you see the sushi?”

Alexia Leuschen, president of the Central Park Conservancy Women’s Committee, was reviewing hats at the 37th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Luncheon, the group’s largest fundraiser for Manhattan’s beloved green oasis.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

The woman with the “pagoda situation” caught her eye, as did Moda Operandi’s Lauren Santo Domingo’s bow matching her dress. Leuschen, an interior designer married to Riverstone’s David Leuschen, wore a flat straw hat she’d found while antiquing in Hudson. “I’m a hopeless junk collector,” she said.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

Some of the 1,200 guests on Wednesday had planned their outfits for months, others came in headbands or no hat. Yet there they were (including Jenny Paulson, Gillian Miniter, Vanessa Traina and Central Park Conservancy Chairman Thomas Kempner) helping to raise $4 million for the park with a boost from corporate chair JPMorgan.

The pageant captures the wealth that has accrued in Manhattan: Some guests cover the hair they spend thousands on each month with hats on which they’ve spent thousands to wear just once. That business used to go to local couture milliners from Harlem to Bridgehampton. Now Etsy is a popular source giving exposure to designers from Leeds to Los Angeles. Yet winning the hat game here has always been more a matter of creative expression than money.

It’s refreshing to see so many affluent women wielding glue guns to produce some exquisite examples of DIY. Whatever their origin, the hats range from strange to humorous, pretty to regal, and they bring women from different social circles together to talk about their chapeaus and the magic of Central Park.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park
With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

Debra Black, hatless on an overcast day (she co-founded the Melanoma Research Alliance with her husband Leon Black), sat next to elaborate headpiece creator Lisa Pevaroff-Cohn. Just before they dined on chilled asparagus soup and curried chicken salad, Pevaroff-Cohn explained her creation.

“I’m obsessed with fairy tales lately,” she said. “Someone is always rescuing someone else. My thought was, why not rescue yourself.”

Pevaroff-Cohn, an artist and jewelry designer, put just that slogan on her hat in letters she gave some sparkle. The self-sufficient female figure climbing out of the silver castle was a Polly Pocket doll one of her daughters once played with.

Marcia Mishaan got it: “Forget the prince, he needs to go,” she said.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

Men were scarce at the event, but Sarabeth Smith, Michelle Leicht and McCartney Wilkins gave credit to their husbands (who work in finance) for introducing them.

“They’ve been friends since they were teeny-weeny,” Smith, who decorated her head with a an upside-down, melting gold ice cream cone, said of their spouses.

“We’re better friends,” Wilkins added, modeling a bling radish.

Leicht -- whose head was covered in pretend sushi rolls -- said there are five sons and three husbands among them, as well as identical rings they wear as a sign of closeness.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

Sujata Eyrick showed off a swath of feathers accented by rubies and diamonds. “The idea is to wear jewels you don’t ever wear because they’re stuck in the safe,” she said.

Since her son enrolled in boarding school, she’s returned to her career as a milliner and plans to make 50 hats a year. She designs around her customers’ jewels, which she always makes sure to securely fasten, she said.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

Someone asked Mary Bryant McCourt if the $100 bill hanging on her hat was real. "It certainly is,” the former model said. “I live in Palm Beach.”

A $10 bill hung next to it. The $1 bill she’d rolled up to look like a flower bud had fallen off, but the theme of her hat was intact: “to grow money for the park,” she said.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

Many women turned their well-coiffed heads into birds’ nests, which didn’t necessarily help them blend in with their surroundings of the Conservatory Garden. Anne Harris, a muralist, carried a pigeon bought from an Italian taxidermist. Elizabeth Villar, a volunteer fundraiser for the park’s playgrounds, kept a feathery pink flamingo atop her blonde locks, perhaps giving a peek of what the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute gala will bring out Monday evening with its “camp” theme.

With $100 Bills and Rubies, Hats Bring Haul for Central Park

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