An Afternoon of Elegance With the Opera Guild

By Jon Finck

Mary Poland, Todd Hoyles and Georgina Chapman. (Drew Altizer Photography)

On May 16, the San Francisco Opera Guild in partnership with Neiman Marcus Union Square had a triumph with their presentation of guest designer Georgina Chapman and her Marchesa Fall 2019 Collection: A stunning display of breathless elegance, femininity, and beauty of design emerged on the pink-carpeted runway. Over audible comments of “exquisite,”“stunning,” “gorgeous,” everything looked picture-perfect and calm.

You would have never known that this show and luncheon for 210 guests had, only 72 hours before, been uprooted from its original setting at the Marin County home of Mary and Bill Poland and quickly adapted to the third floor of the iconic Neiman’s location. The forecast of heavy rain, wind, and cold temps nixed the original plan for an outdoor event by the pool.

“Where’s Mary Poland?” I asked upon checking in. “Oh, she’s downstairs at the Geary Street entrance welcoming guests with an umbrella,” a volunteer exclaimed. With Burt Bacharach’s famous song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” going through my mind, I went downstairs to find the Opera Guild’s effervescent president alone greeting guests who were coming in from the rain and thanking them for not bailing out. “I’m gonna do a raincheck and have a reception at my home for all of you.”

The scramble to salvage the event and transfer it to an indoor venue was a model of flexibility, creativity, and adherence to the adage “The show must go on!” In offering up his store as the new venue, Neiman Marcus General Manager Todd Hoyles said, “Though we would have enjoyed being at Mary and Bill’s home, you always know that Neiman Marcus is your other home.”

Acclaimed event designer Riccardo Benavides quickly relocated his prepared pieces originally intended for the outdoors. A huge green leafy MARCHESA sign that was to have been floating in Mary and Bill’s pool instead welcomed guests as they came up the elevator.

Lee Gregory of McCalls Catering opined, “We setup the ad hoc kitchen in the Yves Saint-Laurent section of the store: YSL has never tasted so good!” She was spot-on with the elegant lunch of soy-seared salmon nestled among vibrant greens, which was only out-done by the flawless lemon meringue cake and raspberry chantilly cream.

Toni Wolfson, one of three event co-chairs along with Francesca Amann and Maya Meux, shared: “We’re all a team and being so nimble, we were fortunate to keep this event intact despite the change in venue. Everyone worked so hard to make sure this show stayed on course.”

Some of those spotted included: Romana D’Angelo Bracco, Melinda Yee Franklin, Maryam Muduroglu, Sobia Shaikh, Farah Makras, Teri Mino, Elizabeth Birka-White, Komal Shah, Sandra Farris, Shannon Cronan, Lisa Zabelle, Carol Doll, Jorge Maumer and Robert Federighi.

Chapman flew in special for the occasion, resplendent in her form-fitting calf-length dress. “One of the first shows I ever did was at Neiman Marcus Union Square over a decade ago, so I guess you could say this is my return engagement,” said the celebrity designer. When asked the secret to her success, she explained: “I have a fabulous design team. I’m privileged to have such a talented group of colleagues behind the scenes.”

As part of the afternoon, the Opera Guild’s creative director, Caroline Altman, noted that the benefit event supported the guild’s education programs connecting over 50,000 students annually to the world of opera. She then introduced three members of the Opera Scouts, a popular program for students ages 12 to 18, who gave a sweet a cappella performance of the familiar Sound of Music song “Edelweiss.” The scouts are headed to Austria next March for a 10-day itinerary of performances in Vienna and Salzburg.

The Marchesa fashion show and luncheon were the inaugural event for San Francisco Opera Guild’s 80th anniversary and de-spite the inclement weather, it was a five-star launch.

Phoebe Wright, Amarech Mendez and Violet Pasmooij. (Drew Altizer Photography)

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