What I Would Have Worn

By Catherine Bigelow

Months before the San Francisco Symphony Gala and San Francisco Opera Ball were canceled, designer gowns were already on order. So we asked a few swans what they had planned to wear — fabulous frocks now languishing in their closets.

Prisca Geeslin illustrated by How Heart Thou.

PRISCA GEESLIN San Francisco Symphony President-elect

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, San Francisco Symphony President-elect Prisca Geeslin hadn’t
yet chosen a Symphony Gala gown. But she was considering a “redo” of a favorite Rubin Singer design
accessorized with Maria Canale jewelry. “2020 has been less than ‘glitzy,’” she notes, wryly. Geeslin, who’s also a trustee of Grace Cathedral, NARAL and A.C.T., has served on the symphony board of governors since 1995 and is committed to the orchestra’s education and community programs for which she and her husband, SF Opera Board President Keith Geeslin, established the Geeslin Family Fund for Community Engagement.

Dede Wilsey illustrated by How Heart Thou.

DEDE WILSEY San Francisco Opera Trustee

When it comes to black-tie ball gowns, the mantra for SF Opera opening weekend grand sponsor
Dede Wilsey is: “Go big, or go home.” In recent years, she has ventured beyond her classic Oscar de la Renta comfort zone. For this year’s ball, Wilsey ordered a gorgeous pre-fall 2020 Andrew Gn gown — a custom-woven fil coupé beauty (a nod to the storied 19th-century silk weaving industry in Lyon, France) adorned with a bronze floral motif.

Komal Shah illustrated by How Heart Thou.


Tech engineer and arts patron Komal Shah is well versed in sartorial gala “wow.” Though petite in stature, she wears dramatic yet flouncy, femme designs as well as any runway model. For Opera Ball, Shah chose a frothy pink confection, trimmed with gold sequins, from the Monique Lhuillier spring/summer 2020 collection. “Monique personally suggested this gown when she was here for a Neiman Marcus event,” notes Shah. ” I hope to wear it someday, soon. But I haven’t even unpacked it: There are layers and layers of tulle. It’s giant.”

Nafiseh Lindberg illustrated by How Heart Thou.

NAFISEH LINDBERG San Francisco Opera Ball Co-chair

Opera Ball co-chair Nafiseh Lindberg chose a knockout Naeem Khan gown from his fall 2020 RTW Collection. A black sequin bodice tops a semisheer fishnet gown, embellished with colorful, hand-embroidered flowers — a signature of Khan’s intricate designs. Lindberg, an SF Opera Guild member, praises the guild’s focus on maintaining free youth arts education, now delivered virtually to families and educators.

Kim Dempster illustrated by How Heart Thou.

KIM DEMPSTER San Francisco Opera Ball Co-chair

Inspired by the Opera Ball theme “Kaleidoscope,” co-chair Kim Dempster also selected a fall 2020 Naeem Khan gown that pays homage to Khan’s late design mentor, Halston, by channeling ’70s disco glam in a sheer, gold-beaded gown (revealing black-tie undergarments) that’s cinched with a belt and Halston’s signature choker neckline.

Sako Fisher illustrated by How Heart Thou.

SAKO FISHER San Francisco Symphony President

In 1995, Sako Fisher chaired her first San Francisco Symphony Gala heralding the inaugural season of
Michael Tilson Thomas. Unfortunately, this year, she and her classic Gaultier Couture gown will remain home on September 30, the date of the now-canceled gala honoring Fisher and her husband, Bill, was also a welcome for new SFS music director Esa-Pekka Salonen. It also marks Fisher’s own final season as president, stepping down in December after an eight-year tenure in which Fisher successfully grew audience development and artistic initiatives such as Soundbox, an intimate live music venue in Davies Hall that sounds like a cathedral but feels like an underground club with cocktails.

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