WE’RE ALL CONNECTED: As trustee of The New School and chair emerita of Parsons School of Design, Kay Unger showed her school spirit at Monday’s Parsons Benefit by wearing two designs from Parsons alum.
Not only did the designer wear a pink sleeveless dress from Bach Mai and a floral headband by milliner Gigi Burris, but she has personal connections to both. Bach Mai is produced in the In Style factory on West 36th Street in the Garment District, which is also where the sustainable swimwear label Line in the Sand is made. In addition to serving as creative adviser for that collection, Unger enacted In Style to make PPE for Fashion for the Front Lines, during the pandemic. She and Morty Singer led Fashion for the Front Lines, a New York City-based task force that was set up in response to the pandemic.
Asked to meet with Mai to mentor the designer, Unger said she “flipped,” after seeing the aforementioned pink bengaline moire dress with a horsehair underskirt and “had to have it.” She said, “First of all, it was so me. It reminded me of the ’60s, when I was living in the Midwest. It was just everything I wanted. I love color. I love that it was easy to wear, but not sloppy looking. Feminine, it was a cross between “‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ ‘Sex in the City’ and ‘Emily in Paris.’”
Her choice of Burris had another dimension, as the milliner has had a hand in creating the new nonprofit Closely Crafted. “Very big” on supporting students not just when they are at Parsons, but when they leave, Unger said that is especially important within the first 10 years post-graduation. “You can help make or break their careers, if they have someone to talk to,” said Unger, who enlisted Kerby Jean-Raymond as an intern at the age of 14 and has championed the Pyer Moss founder’s career ever since.
Closely Crafted’s sustainability practices, domestic production, commitment to preserving craftsmanship and efforts to further artisans’ work ring true with Unger. As it turned out, Burris knew Mai from Parsons and found the floral headpiece for Unger to wear. A few Closely Crafted members and supporters like Jonathan Cohen, attorney Douglas Hand and Julie Gilhart joined Unger at her benefit table Monday night. Another expected tablemate, The RealReal’s Julie Wainwright, was deterred by a flight delay.
Burris declined comment regarding Closely Crafted. As for Unger’s headband, Burris said via email Tuesday, “She wore the headband so confidently. It fit the creative black tie [dress code] perfectly. It was a real pleasure to attend the Parsons Benefit as an alumni, and an honor to dress Kay.”
Another example of Unger’s six degrees of separation was the fact that Line in the Sand founder Lynne O’Brien joined her at the Parsons Benefit that honored Tory Burch among others. O’Brien is part of the Tory Burch Foundation Fellows for the Class of 2022.
Unger sported a diminutive pearl handbag by Simone Rocha, whose signature boutique is next door to Unger’s apartment. Thanks to the deep pockets in the Bach Mai dress, she had plenty of room to stash a phone charger, a hairbrush, lipstick, business cards and other sundries. “And you couldn’t tell,” said Unger, who plans to buy other versions of the dress.
Earlier this month at the Met Gala, Bach Mai gained some serious attention, thanks to TikTok star Avani Gregg wearing one of his gowns. Reached Tuesday, the designer said it was a little early to register what impact Unger’s choice may have on business. “My whole thing is just dressing real women and making them feel beautiful. That is what I hope my clothes can do. I just loved that when Kay saw the dress, she had such an immediate reaction to it,” he said.
After returning to the U.S. from Paris in 2019 to start his company, Bach Mai was launched as a bespoke label in October, due to a pandemic-induced stall. Having taken the collection to market for the first time in February, the designer is preparing for an exclusive launch with Neiman Marcus in July. In the meantime, he will show the resort line next month. Describing the past eight months as “such a whirlwind,” the designer said, “The support from the industry has been so humbling and such an honor. It’s been more than a dream come true.” He added that Unger’s response to the collection was all the more meaningful given her background in event dressing and how she had such an impact when she started her company.
Mai said, “I just love that Kay messaged me that she felt amazing in the dress. That’s really why we do this. I really believe that fashion has this amazing power to make someone feel incredible and that they can take on the world regardless of what your personal aesthetic is. When that connection hits, it’s amazing.”
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