I have changed my mind about parties in the last few years. I used to be a warehouse party and jeans kind of gal. Remember kalimotxos? I still love an extra bourgeois dinner party with candles and dessert, but lately I have found myself more and more at large celebratory gatherings that are not weddings, which include formal garb and an open bar. Photos may or may not be a part of such convenings, and when they are, you end up in the newspaper (or BmoreArt). Food at these events is always dubious although it looks Instagram-worthy. And the clothing people wear? For me, the best part, after an iconic location, is the fashion.
Even as a kid at church, seeing the adults play dress-up was always my favorite. And when black-tie expectations are set for a gala, peer pressure takes over and everyone cleans up. You can take the most curmudgeonly dull human, add a 30-year-old tuxedo and some sparkly cufflinks, and they are suddenly internet-level special. That vintage gown that fits perfectly with rows of tiny buttons? Yes. Your great-aunt’s earrings you only bring out for special occasions? Yes please. The Stella McCartney you got on consignment? Hell yes. Those shoes from Italy squirreled away at the back of your closet in an actual cloth bag? For the love of god, yes.
Let’s just acknowledge what a treat it is to wear these magical things, designed by extra magical creative humans, especially when most days involve sweat pants. And there’s nothing wrong with sweat pants or yoga pants or jeans—I love them all—but there’s something quite different and wonderful about getting fancy and I’m still trying to figure out exactly why.
I fall in love with the clothes and the people attached to them at these parties because I admire the creative effort they have made. Successfully dressing up is actually harder than it looks and I have devout respect for a bold soigné display. Breaking all the fashion rules and winning—this somehow makes everyone happy. I suspect humans are a lot like tropical birds, attracted to the plumage and the color and the attitude and there must be some evolutionarily valid strategy attached to this. I’m not arguing that anyone would be better suited to survive the zombie apocalypse in cute shoes, but there has to be some scientific reason for playing dress-up because it’s too common a human impulse, this practice of embellishing ourselves with the ideas and the things we have made, and it feels really good.
A gala is like an expensive Halloween party. Everyone there who made the effort to dress up feels warmth towards everyone else who sacrificed their dignity and took a few creative wardrobe risks to entertain others. The usual barriers of everyday life are gone, at least the first layer of age and class, and you can freely strike up a conversation with anyone. I’m not sure anyone else feels this but me, but I find these conversations, especially asking people about their sartorial decisions, a breath of fresh air. They alway leads to other stories, and we usually end up knowing the same coffee shop or third grade teacher or cousin.
Baltimore is a small city but I don’t usually know a lot of the people at these galas. More often, my colleagues are the people working at them. And in truth, I’m happiest when I am working at them, too, envisioning stories in text and photos, creating coverage that rivals the actual energy of the event. I’m fascinated by the humans who live in my city and those who make a serious commitment to style feel like kindred spirits to me.
Getting off the couch, putting on shoes and mascara, this all takes work. Although there is no event or party or gala that can singularly represent Baltimore, I do think that the Walters Art Museum’s Annual Gala, this year hosted on Saturday, October 19, 2019, offered a delightful slice of the beauty and style and weirdness that Baltimore exemplifies. The crowd skews wealthy because the event is a fundraiser and the museum needs funding, but it would be great to see more artists at future galas because it is, after all, an art museum. Who better to bring style and creativity than artists? However, you cannot eat creativity for breakfast or use it to buy health benefits for your employees. This year the Walters Gala sold out, even their after-party with a $115 ticket, and it was inspiring to see so many people making the decision to get dressed up and dance in a museum, to get their photo taken and have conversations with well-dressed strangers.
Jill Fannon’s photos of this event are golden. So was her photo essay from last year’s Walters gala. I know it’s a cliche, but she captures the best in people, not just their appearance but their je ne sais quoi, a certain something you can’t quite put your finger on. All this, plus that shallow depth of field and slight overexposure, and her images feel like velvet on the eyeballs. They’re certainly closer to fashion photography than paparazzi, more an aesthetic archive and less a “scene and heard” column.
I’m not sure exactly what they are, but I suspect “art journalism” can decide whatever it wants to be and how. No matter what you want to call them, these photos are a treat and Baltimore never looked so good. (Cara Ober)
Photos by Jill Fannon, courtesy of the Walters
Mackenzie Themackrae wearing ASOS dress, crown by Carpe Diem, and Aldo bag
(L-R) Andrew Lowery wearing a custom suit by Christopher Schafer, a local suit maker who “makes everything I wear,” with Sadia Arnold wearing a dress from Saks Fifth Avenue and shoes by Sarah Jessica Parker, and A. D. Arnold III in white suit from The Black Tux
Walters Director Julia Marciari-Alexander wearing an original Bishme Cromartie gown
(L-R) Gabriella Souza wearing ASOS dress, Marc Fischer shoes, crown from ASOS, earrings from Goodwill, Sydney Adamson in a jumpsuit by Porridge and crown by Nasty Gal, borrowed shoes with ASOS fanny pack, and Suzy Kopf wearing a dress by June’s, Toms shoes, and family heirloom necklace
Uche Ogbuokiri wearing a dress from Nigeria, jewelry from sister, NYC Company shoes and purse
Nanny and Jack Warren; Her: dress by Calvin Klein, necklace: “Everything is 25 years old except for me,” she says; Him: 40-year-old tuxedo
Ashley Pratt, Manager of Major Gifts at the Walters Art Museum, wearing Eliza J gown, hair clip from Poppy & Stella, earrings by Hello Addie, and shoes borrowed from a girlfriend
Megan Isennock, wearing Cinq a Sept from Rent the Runway with Adel Ainslie wearing a Zara gown
Dr. Emily Clarke-Pearson wearing a dress by Nicole Miller and earrings from the boyfriend with Dr. Holleh Tajalli wearing a dress by Misguided with jewelry from her mother
Janet Barnes wearing an amazing golden feather gown that she made herself!!!!
(L-R) Aniekan Udofia, hat by Hats in the Belfry, Express three-piece suit, watch chain and cufflinks from thrift store in NY and Billy Colbert wearing Gant and smelling great in Hanae Mori fragrance
Nicoletta Darita de la Brown wearing vintage gown from Los Angeles and headdress from Crown Designers
Nupur Parekh Flynn wearing an amazing ensemble!
(L-R) Alex Shawe wearing Joseph H. Marshall and Sara Meadows Shawe wearing Stella McCartney
Eboni Woodard, wearing dress by Xcape, bag from Lulu Townsend
Yasmin Emanuel @Yazbelike wearing dress from Amazon and bag and shoes by Michael Kors
William Murray, shirt by the Walters, pants by Dickies, Guino tie, and classic Nikes
Ellen Johnston wearing Calvin Klein dress and earrings from mom’s closet with Molly Callanan wearing an ASOS dress and Amazon crown
Miriam Fuchs wearing Dress the Population and shoes from Howard Street, Marissa Johnson wearing a dress from Instagram and shoes from Nordstrom Rack
Rahze wearing leather mules by Steve Madden, crushed velvet pants by Alexander Wang NY, crushed velvet kimono by ASOS, and second kimono secondhand
Bishme Cromartie wearing himself and Cara Ober wearing vintage Dolce & Gabanna from ReDeaux, earrings by Laura Woods
Steven Bowman wearing Christopher Shauffer suit with Linda Madex
Name Unknown, Jumpsuit by Lily Pulitzer, shoes from Nordstrom, jewelry Swarovski Crystal
On left, Christian wearing vintage Calvin Klein with guests too difficult to hear over the music
As the party ramped up and the music swelled, we couldn’t hear well enough to get accurate captions, but the photos kept coming and the dancing started. These people look amazing so we wanted to include them.
BmoreArt and Walters Communications team unites! Gabriella Souza, Cara Ober, Tony Venne, and Suzy Kopf