2012 October 16

A Perfectly Pratt Affair

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Hal Rubinstein and Fern Mallis Hal Rubinstein and Fern Mallis
Patrick McMullan
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(NEW YORK) How does a hallowed yet constantly evolving design school ring in 125 years of churning out titans of creative industry and eventual icons of the often aesthetic disciplines? In Pratt Institute’s case, you throw a lavish, lovely gala at the Waldorf Astoria, an NYC landmark designed by Pratt alum Lloyd Morgan. Ditto for one of the architects behind the Chrysler Building (that would be William van Alen, FYI).

Gilding abounded, not just on the Waldorf grand ballroom’s resplendent ceiling, below which massive pearlescent balloons grazed the chandelier-slung surface. As a nod to Pratt’s school hue, yellow, gold cropped up in everything from the pretty yet non-prissy centerpieces (gilded orbs akin to balls of yarn) to the dress code, which gave the option of black tie or “festive gold attire.” The crowd seemed to warm to the latter suggestion, including your Daily, as intricate beading and tasteful sequins abounded among female folk (the guys, including Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, stuck primarily to tuxes, alas).

As cocktails in a cozily dimlit room just north of the supper space wound down, the dapper masses moseyed towards their seats as a harpist continued to pluck away in the atrium and the white wine got poured. Fern Mallis and InStyle’s Hal Rubinstein hobnobbed before the seating commenced. “I grew up with Pratt being in the family because my sister was a graduate; it was really special that she went there, and many of her friends are now highly successful in their fields,” Mallis said. “Having just been honored by Pratt with their lifetime achievement award, it’s so great for me to be here and salute their anniversary.”

For Rubinstein, Pratt’s appeal speaks to the style significance of the city it inhabits. “I find New York fashion to be the most interesting of all the major capitals, simply because it’s the one city that most strongly nurtures young talent. Pratt’s one of the laboratories for the future of American fashion!” As for the subject that Rubinstein has been known to ‘prattle’ on about? “Bad manners!” Rubinstein’s most sacred point of etiquette: “Understand that conversations are not always all about you.” Duly noted, Hal.

Onto more gilded matters—the Empire State Building’s golden turn last night, in honor of Pratt’s big birthday. “That’s lovely!” exclaimed Rubinstein. Mention of the NYC landmark and its colorful nightly lightshow brought back memories for Mallis:  “I did pull the switch once for fashion week. We lit it purple, orange, and green—it was very colorful, and a really fabulous set of fashion colors for the season.” Should Mallis get to flip the switch on 34th Street again, you can bet it’ll be on her birthday, March 26. Colorwise? “Red used to be my color, but I think that’d would look too Valentine’s Day-esque.” A birthday lightshow would also be on Rubinstein’s wishlist should he get to have an eve at the Empire State Building, done up in “four shades of blue.”

Onto the honorables and edibles of the eve. As guests tucked into baseball-sized tufts of burrata cradled by diced tomatoes and dusted with bits of basil, one attendee marveled over her last bite, "I've never eaten this much mozzarella at one time! Wow." Dairy delights much? To accompany the appetizer devouring, Pratt’s current prez Thomas F. Shutte and the school’s board of trustees chair Bruce Gitlin took to the stage, offering up stats like the tuition price back when the Brooklyn-based institution opened in 1887: $4 per class, per term, a charmingly antiquated stat that elicited oohs and ahhs.

As the fromage was cleared, gold envelopes were passed around at each table, containing anniversary booklets of the 125 brightest innovations by Pratt alums during the same number of years the institution has been around, including everything from the Dunkin Donuts logo to beloved childhood read, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, to Karim Rashid’s futuristic design aesthetic (Rashid was on the premises for the occasion, as were scads of alums young and old). "I want to be in this book someday, really badly!" one Pratt fashion design senior squeal-whispered to her peer while leafing through the booklet. One day, cheris!

Gala co-chair Marjorie Kuhn then introed the trio of honorees, dropping yet more Pratt-imbued intel in the process: the cocktails tippled pre-din contained honey from hives located on the 20th floor of the Waldorf Astoria, underscoring the institution’s sustainability commitment in a decidedly delicious manner. Also tasty? Tournedos of beef tenderloin prepared quite rare and plated with asparagus, roasted onions, and a buttery sweet potato tartin that conjured an early Thanksgiving favor note for some, with salmon for the pescaterians and pad Thai (random alert!) for the vegetarians in attendance.

First up, Julie Taymor was honored by producer Jeffrey Horowitz. “We have to be here now—all of us. Without art, we don’t have a country, we don’t have a culture, and we aren’t human. Being an artist is a really great honor, and to be honored by Pratt is fabulous!” said Taymor, whose wildly creative body of work from The Lion King’s megahit Broadway run to the Beatles-saturated flick Across The Universe. Speaking of the latter, three of the musical film’s stars, TV Carpio, Martin Luther McCoy, and Dana Fuchs hit the stage for an après-entrée set, which had guests singing and/or clapping along by the time “All You Need Is Love” was sung.

Russell Simmons was in presenter mode for the night to give the award to artist Kehinde Wiley, donning a tux accented with a noir Yankees hat and bright white Adidas kicks. (The sportif shoes stayed on but the chapeau came off when Simmons hit the stage.) “He’s like a needle in a haystack, a person of color like that!” Simmons remarked to The Daily. “Throughout history, fine art has left out a lot of the pulse—poets seem to capture it all, and so do commercial artists, but in the American art world there are so few successful people of color. Kehinde represents a culture and a time period; he gives representation of hip hop in fine art.”

Wiley first fessed up to the “terrifying” feeling of being up there to accept his award. “Coming up here makes me nauseous!” Wiley said with a slight laugh. “It's a very well-heeled place to be. We have a responsibility to take the riches in front of us and tell the truth…and Pratt is a place that has the balls to embrace art.”

Also nabbing an award for the big anniversary: Maximilian Josef Riedel, the stemware savant CEO of Riedel Crystal of North America, as presented by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner. The myriad wine and bubbly glasses imbibed from during the soiree were Riedel-sourced as well.

The affair’s award, by the way, was unsurprisingly designed by a Pratt superstar student. “I thought of the motto—'Celebrate. Honor. Support'—and went in a few different directions, ultimately ending up with this design, which is a vertical, celebratory grand gesture to celebrate the anniversary,” said Pratt industrial design senior Casey Daurio, who designed the eve’s award, a chic twig-esque cluster. “I had a month and a half to design it, which felt too short! We went from sketch models in foam core and wood before moving into final ideas.” How many mock-ups and drafted statuettes went into the process? “Not hundreds,” Daurio recounted, but 17 iterations leading up to the final. And it wasn’t the physical makeup of the award that entered Dayrio’s dreamspace for that six-week endeavor, but rather the application he completed in order to nab the designing gig. “My dreams are meant solely for rest!” Daurio explained.

The dessert trio—a petite vanilla bean-flecked ice cream, a sliver of airy chocolate hazelnut tart that faintly crunched like a sophisticated Kit Kat, and a mini apple caramel pie—offered options, or simply a sugar high for those fond of all three sweet picks. And then, Pratt-ettes decamped to the coatcheck downstairs to retrieve those formerly soaked umbrellas and hit the now-downpour-free streets. The takeaways from the bash, which raised over $1 million in the process: spiffy Karim Rashid water bottles, toffee-studded chocolate bars, vintage-y Pratt postcards, plus enough Pratt pride and inspiration to get creative. Perhaps after a good night’s sleep first.

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