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Thursday, February 17, 2011

I work on a lot of non-jewelry and non-blog projects, but I don’t always write about them here. One of those — which I alluded to in this December post but didn’t name — is my chairmanship of the board of alumni trustees of the Columbia Daily Spectator, my alma mater‘s student newspaper. I was the arts and entertainment editor at Spectator in 1988. As one of the trustees, I now advise the students on a variety of issues and promote the newspaper’s long-term interests.

Every February, Spectator has a big alumni dinner. The students and I started working on this year’s dinner last spring.  There were a lot of changes: a new name for the dinner, a new emphasis on fundraising, new prices, and a new venue. It was hectic! I’m thrilled to say it was also a huge success. The dinner took place last Saturday at the Columbia University Club of New York. Our keynote speaker was Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. Arianna is smart, successful, beautiful, and charming.  She’s also funny. Those of you who have read my blog for a while know how I feel about Family Guy. Imagine my joy when Arianna appeared on the show in November to trade insults with talking dog Brian Griffin, referring to him derisively as “Snoopy” while he mocked her accent and called her “Zsa Zsa”!

In addition, Arianna has spectacular timing — she sold the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million mere days before the Spectator dinner. We were nearly sold out before that announcement but that news put us over the top.

Here is a picture of me with Arianna and two handsome gentlemen before Arianna’s speech.

From left: Arianna Huffington, Ernie Brod, WendyB, MrB.

That’s my husband, MrB, on the right, of course. Ernie Brod, standing next to Arianna, is a Spectator alum and one of my fellow trustees. (Coincidentally, his son Jon is a senior executive at AOL, so Jon and Arianna have spent a lot of quality time together lately.) Ernie, his friend Bernie Nussbaum, and other members and friends of their Spectator board and Columbia class joined together to raise $25,000 to digitize Spectator’s archives. Spectator was founded in 1877, so that’s a lot of content! I’m looking forward to giving people access to all the fascinating information Spectator has on the university and New York City itself. Thanks again to Ernie, Bernie & Co. for helping to make that possible.

Another special guest we had that night was famed author and essayist Joan Didion. Joan is the mother of Quintana Roo Dunne, who was the photography editor at Spectator during the year I was arts and entertainment editor. Quintana died much too young in 2005. (Joan’s prize-winning book, The Year of Magical Thinking, deals with her grief over the loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, who died while Quintana was hospitalized for the serious illness that eventually led to her death.) Ever since Quintana’s death, I wanted to find a way to memorialize her at Spectator. Last year, I finally approached Joan and we created the Quintana Roo Dunne Award for Visual Achievement. The inaugural award, presented by Joan, went to online editor Neel Patel for creating a new Spectator website, with a front-page blog called Spectrum, that led to a massive increase in traffic.

Joan Didion, presenting the Quintana Roo Dunne award. Photograph by Zara Castany/Columbia Daily Spectator.

Evan Schultz, another Spec alum, captured Quintana so well in an email he sent to me last week that I quoted him in my introduction of Joan:

“Whenever she came to Spec, she came sophisticated.  She came elegant.  She came glamorous.  Most important, she came kind.  If we chatted, instead of coaxing a story from my broken keyboard up in Spec’s disheveled perch, suddenly I was along for a ride in her world of art, and polish, and charm.”

John Gregory Dunne's book of essays. Click to buy used on Amazon.

Thanks again to Arianna, Joan, the students, parents, trustees, alumni and other guests who made the event such a success. And here are a couple of press links about the dinner:

If you want to do some more reading on Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne, there is a great New York Times article from 1987 here.

I planned to save the “What Wendy Wore” part of this evening for another post, but let’s face it — this is at least partly a fashion blog! So here’s the outfit.

What Wendy Wore
Dress: Zang Toi (2010)
Tights: Fogal
Shoes: Lagerfeld (1994)
Earrings: My own Cleopatra design
Ring: My own Marie Antoinette design
Watch: Tiffany
Lip color: The usual
Nail color: Elegant Wish by Gelish

I love this ombre Zang Toi dress with shoulder bows, but I’m going to have it hemmed. I’m not sure why I decided to wear it so long; I’m going to take it up to the knee. You can tell that I’m having an ultra-serious night due to the relative paucity of jewelry, particularly in the ring department. I often wear five or six rings at once, but here I’m just wearing the Marie Antoinette and my wedding and engagement rings. Normally I want to promote my jewelry but this night I wanted to keep the focus on Spectator.

I’ve actually meant to describe my jewelry-wearing policy since last April, when I promised commenter Munique that I would shed light on the necklace-dress combo I wore. Here’s the thing. I’m not a fashion civilian who, in the name of good taste, looks in the mirror and takes one thing off before leaving the house. I’m not a lawyer dressing for the courtroom or a banker dressing for the office. I’m a jewelry business! I was taught that a few years ago when I was at a (non-fashion-related) conference in California. There were hordes of us staying in the same hotel. I set out for dinner wearing a big ring, a medium-size necklace and small earrings. I immediately bumped into a friend who works in public relations. “Where is your jewelry?” she asked, to my puzzlement. I showed her what I was wearing. She said, “It’s not enough. Go back to your room and put some more on.” Instead, I continued on my merry way until I bumped into another public-relations gal. She too asked, “Where is your jewelry?”  I showed her. “It’s not enough,” she said. “Go back to your room and put some more on.” That time, I listened. To this day, I wear no jewelry — not even wedding jewelry — around the house, in the gym, while running errands or walking the dogs, but I pile it on when I’m going out socially. Why not show off as many pieces as possible? I’m my own house model!

UPDATED TO ADD: The New York Times has a funny little piece about how people accuse Arianna of calling everyone “darling” or “dahling” when, really, she doesn’t. The Times calls out the Observer piece I linked to above. Also, I should note that the Observer story ends with Arianna inviting a high school student to speak to her about working together but says, “The student never got her chance—Huffington strode out of the room, question time concluded, to fly to Washington for an appearance on This Week.” True, Arianna had to leave, but she made sure one of her team connected with the student to exchange information so they could talk later.

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21 Responses to “On the Town: Huffington and Didion at Columbia Spectator Dinner”

  1. What a night Wendy! I love both of these women and this event sounded spectacular. I also love that you wrote for the Columbia Daily Spectator and haven’t stopped since!

  2. Arianna is brilliant, isn’t she?
    I’m with you on the jewelry wearing. I don’t wear it for basic tasks but when I go out I pile it on.

  3. Catherine says:

    I love ombre! That dress is pretty amazing (I also love purple and black).
    I’m so glad to hear that you helped launch the Quintana award. I looked up Joan Didion the other day and heard about the scholarship and dinner. She’s a hero of mine, so I was curious to learn more.

  4. deja pseu says:

    Wendy, I’m so impressed with the “other” work you do. You’re a heavy hitter! And my head is just spinning over the concept of being in the same room with both Joan Didion AND Arianna Huffington!!!

  5. Eli says:

    Thank you for sharing this other side of your world. It looks like such a distinguished night! And for such a great cause.

    This bit about your PR pal telling you to pile on your jewelry is quite interesting, I guess fashion designers must (or better) feel the same.

  6. Cyrillynn says:

    Hi Wendy!

    Great dress and fantastic post. Looks like you had a great time with some very esteemed guests!

    Any Second Now

    PS Love your jewelry…I’m digging the Asterisk and Emotiocon rings!

  7. alixrose says:

    You are amazing, how you do so much I don’t know. Your hard work paid off congrats on successful event.

    Also love the dress, the style – color is flawless. Love.

    Sorry we didnt get to see each other last week. I didn’t see you at IFB and I didnt plan well. I will be sure to let you know when I head out there again, I would love to see you.

  8. mystyle says:

    Hi there! What a worthy and successful event, well done to everyone at the Spectator for all their hard and esteemed work put in. The Zang Toi dress is beyond gorgeous, I love the ombre effect and you look amazing xx

  9. Mary says:

    And here I was thinking that you were just an amazing designer of jewels! Dude, what else ya got?

  10. K-Line says:

    I love Joan Didion’s work and her story of loss of husband and child was beautifully articulated – and totally heartbreaking.

    On a side note, seems you know everyone, WB!

  11. Susan Tiner says:

    How fun to get to share your exciting evening with Arianna and Joan Didion, not to mention all of the other luminaries, including Mr B.

    I read the Year of Magical Thinking and thought the story of Quintana was so unbelievably sad.

    The dress is gorgeous!

  12. Kathy says:

    What a wonderful evening – thanks for sharing it with us!
    You looked beautiful, so what else is new?!?
    I love your blog more than I can say. I have a daily ritual of coming home from work, walking the dog, feeding her dinner and grabbing my iPhone to read the days Wendy!!
    Wearing lipstick, of course.
    Hope to see you soon!

  13. Important dress; important event; important jewelry. And don’t get me started on the house model!

  14. Elizabeth says:

    It’s nice to hear about your *other* activities! You have such a busy life outside your jewelry business and it’s very interesting to read about.

  15. Faux Fuchsia says:

    Dear Wends,

    I love to read this blog to see what you’re up to. You are So Connected.

    Ms Huffington really interests me, as does Joan.

    Kepp living the Dream. Oh, and another thing, how come you and Mr B never visit Australia? Good Enough for Oprah, Good Enough for you.

  16. savvy gal says:

    oh how wonderful!!! you look fab!

  17. stacy says:

    The dress is stunning, you are beautiful and the event was a success… all thanks to YOU.

    Hey… leave the dress. You can’t shorten it or else you will end up with a tiny square of purple at the bottom 🙂 The length is good honey!

    Loving my anti-spam word… cbgb!

  18. What a wonderful post! Congrats on the fund raising! Congrats to Arianna on that INCREDIBLE price for the HuffPost. Congrats to Spectactor. How absolutely lovely that Joan was there. It had to mean so much to her to have her daughter remembered in this way. And, Wendy, that dress! OMG! LOVE it. You look amazing.

  19. apparellel says:

    you look absolutely amazing in that dress and your red lips.


  20. Iheartfashion says:

    Congrats Wendy!
    What a great cause and a spectacular guest list. I love Joan Didion. Her memoir was such an inspiration to me.
    And you look gorgeous, as usual!