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One Night of Design Frenzy: Bailey House Auction and Party Raises Nearly Half Million in Three Hours

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Friday Feb 25, 2011

A splendid Beaux Arts structure built in 1906, the Lexington Avenue Armory has a storied past, thanks in part to its hosting of the scandalous and seminal 1913 Armory Show, which anticipated the inception of the Museum of Modern Art.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Lexington Avenue Armory still houses the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment - which, contrary to other theories, is the sole explanation for the digits 69 which are inset into the tile work in the massive subterranean men's restroom.

In 2003 and 20009, the Armory hosted the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and this year the Armory was the perfect setting for the Bailey House Auction and Party.

Rather than an army of infantrymen or a corps of long-legged models, the Armory was instead overtaken by platoons of fashion and design queens, as well as numerous philanthropists, all bidding on hundreds of pieces of art and home furnishings, all donated for the benefit of Bailey House and its clientele.

Since 1983, Bailey House has been one of the first (and few) providers of housing and critical services for those afflicted with AIDS - and today, the organization is widely recognized as a leader in advocacy for those individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

The Bailey House Auction and Party was initiated by interior designer Alan Tanksley in 1988, as a means to raise fund for AIDS research - and in the twenty-three years since, the Bailey House Auction and Party has become a favorite on Manhattan’s fund-raising circuit calendar.

For this year’s version of the star-studded event, interior design expert and visual artist, Geoff Howell, created a transformative Manhattan skyline inside the vast recesses of the Armory, so that the more than 800 in attendance had the sensation of walking amidst a Hollywood backlot during the filming of a classic Manhattan film.

Remember those scenes from Scorcese’s "New York, New York," where Liza and Robert DeNiro are on a Hollywood set, made to look like a New York winter? That’s how the Armory looked: as romantic and glamorous as a Manhattan fantasy.

With veteran Sotheby’s auctioneer, Hugh Hildesley, at the podium, inciting the altruistic crowd into a bidding frenzy for items such as a Costa Rican getaway or a date with Bravo star, Andy Cohen, or art from Robert Mapplethorpe, William Wegman, and Herb Ritts, nearly $400,000 was raised.

Meanwhile, in the four showrooms, bids were placed on items donated by Holly Hunt, Restoration Hardware, Donna Karan, Steuben Glass - and just about every design firm that you’ve ever craved for your own home.

The evening was co-hosted by the ever-suave designer, Carmen Marc Valvo, and Sherri Shepherd from television’s "The View," the two of them ably stepping in for previous years’ hosts, Tim Gunn and Simon Doonan.

Man of the streets and inveterate fashion maven, Bill Cunningham, was in the house, scrutinizing the fashionable crowd for the latest sartorial trends, as was the always-striking fashion commentator, Robert Verdi, who wore an elegantly fierce ensemble from the provocative and cerebral designer Rick Owens.

There were men in capes and shrugs, and women in boleros, and flag dancers, and Real Housewives, and a battalion of earnest and enthusiastic volunteers. The drinks were hand-shaken (and strong) and the hors d’oeuvres included goat cheese and leek quiche, and sesame noodles, and fried chicken, and a particularly addictive salted caramel popcorn that kept people clustering around the giant bowls like cows around a salt lick.

Amidst all the fun and festivities, it was good to pause and consider how important this event is for the many people served by Bailey House. Bailey House has long understood the import of home - and their annual auction and party reminds well-heeled New Yorkers of the rightness of noblesse oblige. Or as Bailey House’s motto has it: "The future starts with a place to live."


LINK: Bailey House

PHOTO ALBUM: Bailey House Auction & Party Photo Album

A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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