You may know Jeffrey Kalinsky today as a New York fashion pioneer -- the immaculately dressed owner of Jeffrey who lured labels like Gucci and Balenciaga to his store in the Meatpacking District back when butchers filled the block and the High Line was lowbrow. But the story of his work as a philanthropist who raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for AIDS and breast cancer charities began in an Atlanta shopping mall twenty years ago.
"I had an 'a-ha' moment where I realized that, as a gay man, I could do something for my community," Kalinsky says of his idea to put on a "little shoe show" in 1992 for around 200 of his clients inside his eponymous boutique at Phipps Plaza in the city's toney Buckhead community. "It was a very scary time" in the days before readily available antiretroviral drugs and other interventions, "and there was no major fundraiser for AIDS in Atlanta."
That first soiree (now known as Jeffrey Fashion Cares) earned $40,000 for Common Ground, a grassroots support system for homebound people living with HIV, and grew into a runway extravaganza that brings in $600,000-$800,000 yearly for the Atlanta AIDS Fund and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Kalinsky started a similar event in New York in 2003.)
20 years on, Jeffrey Fashion Cares "never lost its mission to raise money without spending money," Kalinsky says. On average, $.93 of every dollar raised at the event is distributed by the charities' local chapters and put to work in the state of Georgia.
Jeffrey's modus operandi of low overhead and high fashion intrigued Lila Hertz -- a fundraiser and glamorous fixture of the Atlanta social scene who'd been involved with Komen for the Cure during the late 1990s -- so he asked her to chair Jeffrey Fashion Cares in 1999.
The lifelong style fan had sewn herself a couture dress and coat by age twelve, but after being diagnosed with breast cancer in her forties, Hertz felt compelled to put her passion for fashion into action.
"It was my first year as chair of Jeffrey Fashion Cares, and I was putting seat signs on [at the venue] the day of the show when I got a call that my mother-in-law had just been re-diagnosed with breast cancer," Hertz remembers. "She later passed away from the disease."
Her personal experience combined with the loss of a family member fueled her desire to help. Now Hertz is in her tenth year of hosting the annual gathering, which brings together Atlanta's media, medical and philanthropic communities and serves as the kickoff to the fall fashion season.
Besides the pride she and her co-chairs (this year: Louise Sams and Jeffrey McQuithy) feel when they hand over the checks to the charities, Hertz says "seeing the whole thing go down the runway live is magical."
Unlike attending a show during Fashion Week in New York, working on Jeffrey Fashion Cares affords patrons and partygoers a behind-the-scenes look at how designers, models and supporting players put it all together. The show features a luxury auction and catwalk showcase of evening and ready-to-wear clothing available for sale in Jeffrey stores as well as the private stash of the event's guest designer.
Hertz recalls the "aura" of icon Oscar de la Renta, who served as guest designer at the 2007 event, and the fun of watching a then 26-year old Jason Wu smile as his dresses went down the runway in 2009. Isaac Mizrahi and Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler have also participated in recent years. Jeffrey Fashion Cares 2012's guest is the edgy Joseph Altuzarra, who says, "I've been attending the Jeffrey Fashion Cares event for a few years now. I'm so glad to have the opportunity to be a supporter of such a great and important cause. It's an honor to be invited [to be the guest designer this year], and I hope to keep being part of it."
Amongst all the glitz (this year's auction even includes a private tour of Vogue magazine's offices and tickets to Oscar de la Renta's show at Fashion Week in New York), Kalinsky says he never loses sight of the purpose of Jeffrey Fashion Cares.
"There's a photo of me at the first event where I came out on the runway holding my baby niece and began talking about my hope for the future," he says. "That's what proves to me it's been 20 years. My niece Molly is now 21 and she'll be at the event this year."
As for the impact his work as had on funding for grassroots AIDS and breast cancer charities, Kalinsky says, "We've created something too big to stop."
Jeffrey Fashion Cares 2012 is August 27, 2012 in Atlanta. Click here for tickets, to donate, or to bid remotely on auction items.
Joseph Altuzarra will be guest designer at Jeffrey Fashion Cares August 27, 2012. Photo courtesy of Caren West PR.
"I've been attending the Jeffrey Fashion Cares event for a few years now. I'm so glad to have the opportunity to be a supporter of such a great and important cause. It's an honor to be invited [to be the guest designer this year], and I hope to keep being part of it." - Joseph Altuzarra
All slideshow photos courtesy of Caren West PR.
Follow Kristi York Wooten on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kristiwooten