BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Staging one of the nation’s most famous charity fashion shows—at Soldier Field, no less—would intimidate almost anyone. But this daunting task has not fazed Mindy Kelly, Susan Merlin, or Anne Tucker in the slightest. The chairs of the Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center’s 90th Anniversary Fashion Show have planned the event so skillfully, they even had time to give Classic Chicago an inside look at the event only two weeks away.
On October 13, more than 130 Chicagoans from the city’s civic and philanthropic communities—and a smattering of celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment—will dominate an all-new runway at Soldier Field’s United Club as models for the evening. They’ll be walking for a cause: to raise money for the hospital’s Road Home Program for veterans and their families.
The longest running charity fashion show in the nation, the event is on track to bring in 800 guests and should more than meet its $500,000 goal.
Participating retailers and designers include Jil Sander, Ralph Lauren, Adam Lippes, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Neapolitan, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Space 519, Chalk Boutique, and more.
Featuring several generations of Fashion Show favorites, this year’s models will include: Alison McNally; Coco Meers; Anne Rockey; Max Drake; Margie Stineman; Flip Block; Stuart Lansing; Megan Addington; Suzette Bulley; Jennifer McKinney; Meredith and Patrick Wood Prince; Abra Prentice Wilkin; Elizabeth Cole; Elizabeth Ryan; and Ron and Christina Gidwitz.
While the fabulous fashion is one of the evening’s biggest draws, the children modeling in the show are always audience favorites. Twenty-one local children, including Lucy and Daphne Bulley, will be hitting the runway, many following in the footsteps of parents also strutting their stuff in Soldier Field this year.
To wrangle the participants and make it all go off without a hitch are the 75 Woman’s Board members on the Fashion Show Committee and more than 125 volunteers on show day. With the final touches on hair and makeup being performed backstage, Rush Chairman Dr. Larry Goodman will welcome guests.
In these last weeks leading up to the big night, Mindy, Susan, and Anne shared their recollections of fashion shows past and insights on the magical evening ahead.
What are your earliest and fondest memories of the Rush Fashion Show?
SUSAN: The first time I was asked to model in the Fashion Show, I was a teenager and was placed in the Marshall Field’s bridal segment as a bridesmaid. I recall feeling extremely nervous and shaky, but also really lucky to have been included in the show’s finale, which was an honor always reserved for Marshall Field’s. In recent years, there has not been a bridal segment, so we are really excited to be bringing it back this year with Oscar de la Renta.
MINDY: It was something my mother and I went to together for many years. One year, after the lights went down, Michael Jordan came into the audience to watch his wife in the show. While he was very supportive of his wife, when his teammate Steve Kerr was on the stage, Michael was yelling and laughing. The more Michael would heckle him, the more Steve would ham it up.
ANNE: My earliest memory of the show is attending in grade school when it was still held at the Medina Temple. My father was a doctor at Rush, so we always went to support the hospital. I later modeled as a Marshall Field’s bridesmaid before joining the Woman’s Board.
What are the challenges in taking the reins and then executing such a huge and historic event?
MINDY: It has more layers to it than a typical fundraiser, as you are planning both a show and a big party.
ANNE: I think reimagining it each year is a great challenge—and an opportunity. This year, it’s our 90th annual show, and we are raising funds to support the Road Home Program at Rush; so we have a lot with which to work. We’ve moved the show to a new venue, which is a perfect fit for the veteran’s program. The Woman’s Board has been producing the show with the help of Amy Olson for the past three years. It is fun to be leading the charge, but it’s also a lot of work staying on top of everything and moving things forward.
SUSAN: So many balls in the air! But it is great to have three co-chairs, as well as the Rush Woman’s Board office and Amy Olson shepherding us through the process. I can’t wait for the lights to go down and the show to start. We’ve worked hard on this for more than a year, and I feel it will be an emotional moment for all of us.
How do you choose the models each year?
SUSAN: It varies every year. For instance, because this year marks the 90th anniversary of the show, we thought it was important to have models whose families have long histories in the city. Other years, some of the models chosen might have an affiliation with the Show’s beneficiary. That said, there are a few constants. We often feature at least one multi-generation family if a participating designer, like Ralph Lauren, wants to show his lines for both children and adults. Pulling from the city and suburbs is important because it reflects the makeup of our board. There is always a children’s section, which is usually Oscar de la Renta. The show often ends with a bride, so, if possible, we try to choose a recently married woman to model the gown. Of course, we welcome celebrities, which always adds to the fun.
How do you work with participating stores?
MINDY: We are grateful for their participation, so we work with them in several ways. Some like to be very involved in the styling process and dress the women backstage before we send them down the runway. Other stores let the models choose their clothing and send them home with the items that very day. We’re very flexible because we want this to be a good experience for the stores. That’s how we keep them coming back!
How have you seen the show change over the years?
ANNE: It’s evolved and adapted and remains one of the city’s signature fall events. It used to be in the afternoon and was a longer show. In 1994, we moved it to the evening and changed the location and format, so it’s a real fashion show with that kind of energy. People are busier and have less time today, so we’ve worked to keep it fun and entertaining. What hasn’t changed is the spirit and dedication of supporting the hospital and having a lot of pride in raising money for so many worthwhile projects over the years.
Tell me a little about the Road Home Project.
ANNE: Our co-chair Mindy Masterson Kelly is a West Point graduate and a veteran. To be able to raise money for this program that provides mental health services, and the fact that Rush is one of four anchor hospitals in the country, is an amazing endorsement of the quality of medical care at Rush. Through a three-year challenge grant, every dollar raised for the program will be matched with two additional dollars by the Wounded Warrior Project.
MINDY: As a veteran, it is a very important part of my reason for helping with the show this year. The Road Home is a unique project, and so far its impact on soldiers and their families has been tremendous. There are very few programs that help not only the veterans but the entire family as well. I believe that a program like this will fundamentally change the health care system for veterans. It is great that Rush is helping to shape this change.
Congratulations to Mindy, Susan, and Anne—all three such enthusiastic and accomplished leaders—and the entire Woman’s Board. Their creativity and dedication are sure to have great results October 13. Happy Anniversary to a classic tradition in Chicago!
The 90th Anniversary Fashion Show will be held Thursday, October 13 from 5:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. at Soldier Field. Seating options are $325 for general admission and $450 for VIP seating in the first and second rows. For more information and to reserve seats, visit http://www.thefashionshow.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Rush University Medical Center Archives