Compassion is always in Fashion

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The Silver Lining of  feeling rotten this week is that it is Fashion Week in New York, which means I have had divine diversions from my general state of malaise. Ohhhhh, I do love Fashion Week!   Even if I can’t be there in person, between all of the blogs and websites, I feel like I’m engaged and present for it…which is so much fun!

Another SL this week is that I am reminded of the incredible experience that I had there this time last year.

A little background:  I am honored and privileged to work with Dream Foundation, the first largest national non-profit focused on fulfilling the dreams of adults facing life-limiting illness.  Dream recipients are 18 years or older, have been given a diagnosis of less than a year to live, and meet financial criteria, ensuring that dream recipients would not otherwise be able to afford their dreams.

In January of 2010, 25 year-old Latoya Headley contacted Dream Foundation with her final life wish (she was suffering from glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer):  to attend New York Fashion week.

Knowing my love of fashion, the folks at Dream Foundation engaged me to help pull the Dream together. Yes, I am a fashion devotee, but having never attended Fashion Week myself, I had NO idea how on earth I would pull this together.

Of course I’ll make this happen, I said out loud.  No clue how, I thought to myself. (GULP!)

I’m really bad at asking for anything for myself.  Really bad.  (Though, I must admit that FBC has helped me say “yes” a little more often when people kindly offer assistance-SL). However, when it comes for advocating for others, I’m pretty good at making things happen.  So, I went far and wide into my network of colleagues and friends to see what we could pull together.

My, oh my, how people rallied!   Diva Limosuine Ltd generously offered to handle transportation for Latoya for the entire trip (via a chic black sedan, I might add!). Hotel Mela provided  the hotel accommodations. I flew to New York to escort Latoya (who was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down) and her sister, Naima, through the fashion-filled dream.

Latoya’s Dream began with lunch with award winning, super chic clothing designer Lyn Devon who talked candidly with us about what it is like to be a designer, her inspirations and her passions.  Lyn generously gave Latoya several fashion books from her personal collection as well as a signed original design from her spring collection. Lyn continues to be incredibly generous to Dream Foundation, giving a percentage of her sales from trunk shows to help fulfill dreams (SL).

Lyn Devon with Latoya and Naima

After lunch, we headed over to the Bryant Park tents (Fashion week has since moved to Lincoln Center) to see the Diane von Furstenberg show.  Despite her hectic schedule, Ms. von Furstenberg made time to meet with Latoya backstage before the show.  Ms. von Furstenberg could not have been more kind, patient or sensitive. She knelt right down next to Latoya’s wheelchair to talk with her. Latoya absolutely BEAMED. Then, we were all escorted (down the runway!) to our seats. Latoya was front and center.  It was magnificent!

Latoya (in a DVF dress) with Diane von Furstenberg

The next day, we went to Oscar de la Renta’s showroom in the Garment District. (We had been invited to attend his Fashion Show two days later, but Latoya had to get back home for chemotherapy so the Oscar team rallied and invited us to the final fittings BEFORE the show.)

Mr. de la Renta could not have been more charming, engaged, kind and even funny! He had Latoya sit right next to him during the fittings.  As soon as he finished adjusting the clothes on a model, he would lean over to Latoya, give her a familiar pat and tell her stories.

Alex Bolen, the CEO of Oscar de la Renta (and also Mr. de la Renta’s son-in-law) came down specifically to meet Latoya.  Wow. There was such a warm, familial sense of WE in the room.

After about an hour of fittings, Mr. de la Renta said, “I want to show you the rest of the showroom (upstairs), so you all take the elevator and I’ll meet you there.” So, yes, Mr. de la Renta HIMSELF toured us around the rest of the showroom, introducing us to everyone, including his seamstresses (with whom he lovably teased).  He smiled easily and laughed readily.  In his office (YES, his personal office!), he showed us his favorite photograph, one of him with Audrey Hepburn. His admiration for Audrey Hepburn was palpable.

Before we left, he gave Latoya and her sister incredibly thoughtful and personal gifts, including matching bracelets and a pink cashmere blanket “for when Latoya becomes very ill and has to spend time in the hospital,” he told me.  Really?  REALLY?  All I could think was: DON’T CRY here (though I did well up!).  To witness such generosity of spirit is one of the great experiences in life, the ultimate Silver Lining.

Oscar de la Renta with Latoya

Our next stop (yes, there was more!) was Bergdorf Goodman for an afternoon of lunch, pampering and shopping, coordinated by Judith Peterson (a 20 year Bergdorf Goodman veteran).  Prior to the trip, Latoya told me that she had always wanted to try lobster.  Well, Judith enabled that dream to come true by encouraging Latoya to order everything on the swanky BG restaurant menu that had lobster as an ingredient.  After lunch, Judith arranged for Latoya and Naima to have their makeup done and then go shopping, courtesy of a generous gift certificate.  More beaming from Latoya.

Latoya and Naima with Jimmy, the legendary doorman at Bergdorf Goodman who INSISTED on helping Latoya into the car

Their departure was bittersweet.  I was overjoyed, honored and humbled to have been able to be a part of this experience.  However, I knew that it was the last time that I was ever going to see Latoya.  She died last summer. Her mother called to deliver the news.  She said that Latoya’s dream fulfillment was one of the great experiences of her life. It was one of the great experiences of mine as well (SL).

So, you see, despite feeling horrendous after my chemo, I am buoyed by memories such as this.  By the courage and fortitude of Latoya and her family.  By the kindness and generosity of the best of the best in the fashion industry.  By the goodness in the world.

A very happy and beautiful Latoya

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.

– Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn and Oscar de la Renta, 1988 (Life Magazine)

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Comments

  1. TONI says

    Wow..I just found this!!! WOW thanks for giving my cousin the chance to endure this she had a blast!!.. brought tears to my eyes…
    rest with angels Toya…

  2. says

    hi Hollye, how VERY magical this is…I hope you are doing well! COURAGE STRENGTH LOVE AND MOST OF ALL…..Laughter WILL get you through this! I am A friend of J.B…..I hope you liked/recieved my pkg. Facing The Mirror with Cancer- ANYTHING I can help you With…PLEASE DO NOT hesitate to call…We have another friend in commen- Daryl Stigalis she is as beautiful on the inside as on the outside…" per my working w?her….if you need my services,We have a another very close friend in common who lives in Del Mar..ALLWAYS looking for a reason to visit! YOU CAN/Will get through this….Drs told MY best friend-15 years ago"pack it up…." she showed them! If I can help you….Im in!
    Live,love,laugh Lori Ovitz

  3. Nan and Hilary Jacob says

    I'm speechless. This is such a wonderful, hearwarming story…oh my gosh. You were truly an angel for lovely Latoya. Her light will always be present and the gift you gave her..well you must know, was the trip of a lifetime. Now I need a new tissue! Thanks for sharing….

  4. says

    Hi Hollye,

    Thanks to your Blog, I helped my daughter and Rebecca's grade school friend, your age, today. We looked at totes, shoes, and color, color, color! I've made a vow to really stop, breathe, and consider before I ever wear black again. She needs more inspiration for friends' events (showers etc.) plus a more uplifting joyous look for picking up the 3 and 6 yr. olds from school. I know you know what I mean.

    In spite of your miserable plight right now (which you will survive like I did -double mast.etc.)Your writing shares joy! I'm happy for you and Latoya.

    Hope you're enjoying the S.B. rain that is visiting us down here in Westwood at any minute. Great Regards,
    Pat Dunn (310 433 – 5879).

  5. Jill Nida says

    Hollye, this is such a wonderful, warm story. It has given me a new smile for today! Thank you for sharing it with us! You are an amazing woman!! Love, Jill

  6. says

    Thank you for sharing the Dream Foundation with your readers! We are so honored to have you lend your voice to our mission. Hollye, you have been such a gift to our dreamers, the staff, and to myself. Thank you for sharing your exemplary creativity, compassion, humor and love….you are grace defined! A humbled Founder and honored friend, Thomas

  7. Stina says

    OK, it's not even 7:00 AM and you have already touched me today. What a story, told in such a beautiful way, oh you of the generous heart. May your weekend be better than the week.
    X0 S

  8. joanie says

    And when it comes to "true fashion"…you will never, never be out style. Keep in touch with your memories of fashion week and Latoya's joy. The chemical reactions those feelings trigger in your brain and body will be the best medicine during fashion week….blessings.