*Dress for Success (DFS) is an international not-for-profit organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.  To date, DFS has helped more than 550,000 women work towards self-sufficiency.

Sonja Norwood

The organization depends largely on donations from fundraising and charitable events to remain sustainable.  To its credit, each year, DFS hosts one of the most anticipated events on the social calendar to bring attention to and celebrate the important work of the organization that helps disadvantaged women achieve economic independence as well as honor top corporate executives for their professional accomplishments and contributions to DFS.

The event, chaired by Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, and chair, board of directors, Dress for Success Worldwide, took place on Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central, New York City.  The glam event was attended by over 1,000 festively dressed guests and raised more than $1.2 million that will be used to enhance and expand DFS’ suiting and employment retention programs.  Happily, funds raised exceeded DFS’ expectation.

Themed “Something to Share: Dress for Success Worldwide Gala 2010,” the gala began with cocktails and silent auction to the lively music of Matt La Von Jazz.  Then as the angelic voices from the ARC Gospel Choir filled the Empire Ballroom, guests took their seats for a glorious program filled with grace and greatness in celebration of DFS’ past achievements and future endeavors.

Guests dined on a three course delectable dinner that featured signature dishes from executive celebrity chefs Jen Biesty (Scala’s Bistro, San Francisco, CA); Elise Wiggins, (Panzano Restaurant, Denver, CO); and Keira Moritz, (Pacci Ristorante, Atlanta, GA).  Complementary wines from master sommelier and director of wines for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Emily Wines capped off the meal.

Susan Taylor and Brandy norwood

Toping off this exciting event was a special performance by Natasha Lyonne and Debra Monk of select readings from the off-Broadway hit, Love, Loss, and What I Wore. The show, written by Nora and Delia Ephron, is an intimate collection of storied based on the memories triggered by clothes and accessories.

“‘Something to Share’ is a night of celebration for the organization’s past achievements and future endeavors stated DFS’ pretty CEO Joi Gordon in her warm welcoming remarks.  And, as she looked out over the sparkling room commented:  “As I look around the room tonight, my heart is warmed.  There is no doubt that the last year has been a difficult one for many of you, our corporate partners and supporters.  And yet, you are still here.  You have decided that it is important to continue making Dress for Success and the work that we do a priority.  This speaks volumes.”

During the stellar awards presentation, Gordon presented awards to Rose Flenorl, manager, social responsibility, FedEx; Suzanne Kolb, president, marketing, news and online, E! Entertainment and the Style Network; and Rita Steel, president, Western U.S. and Canadian Operators, Robert Half International Inc.

DFS recognizes the sacrifices that all mothers make to support their children with the annual presentation of its coveted “Toast to Our Mothers” award that was presented to Sonja B. Norwood, mother of Brandy and Ray J. Norwood, for her commitment in supporting her children as a mother, manager and true champion of their success.  And as her famous children and husband Ray Norwood, Sr. looked on with pride, a tearful Sonja accepted the award, saying, “It is only through access that greatness can be realized.”

Sister2Sister magazine publisher Jaime Brown, honoree Sonja Norwood, honoree Rose Jackson Flenorl, Susan L. Taylor, singing sensation Brandy Norwood

In addition, 16 Dress for Success clients shared their success stories with the audience.  The ladies were introduced by designer David Meister who designed special evening wear for each honoree.  “It’s important to put on something you feel great in so you can go out there and knock down the world,” stated Meister as the women – proud as peacocks – paraded on stage to thunderous applause.  Donna Wynn, DFS PWG member accepted the award on behalf of her group.

This event was a gift that kept giving as funds raised during the Pledge for Support balloon/ribbon segment, in which volunteers tied balloons on the back of the chair of guests for every $100 donated, added an impressive $86,000 to the evening’s coffers.

CEO Joi Gordon (far right) poses with honorees (l-r) Rita Steel, Suzanne Kolb and Rose Jackson Flenorl

In addition, Simone Pérèle is donating $5 for every purchase made online or in participating stores, and a $1 contribution for every “Quote of Confidence” shared on its Fit for Success Web site to Dress for Success Worldwide. Visit www.SimonePerele.com/FitforSuccess.

Audrey J. Bernard

Not to be outdone, Allergan will make a $25 donation for every kindness profile supporting Dress for Success as part of its “My Expressions of Kindness” charitable campaign good through July 2010.  Allergan invites you to show your support for Dress for Success by filling out a My Expressions of Kindness profile at ExpressKindnessCampaign.com.  In addition, if you share your Kindness profile on Facebook and Twitter, an additional $5 donation will be made.  So, log-on and join the Kindness movement today!

This was a pride-filled evening and DFS acknowledges with gratitude presenting sponsors Diageo, FedEx, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Robert Half International, Inc. and The Style Network; and platinum sponsors Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, dressbarn, GE, Kraft, lia Sophia, MediaCom, Ogilvy, Props for Today, Sullivan and Cromwell and Verizon.

In addition to leaving with long lasting memories, each guest left with a hefty swag bag filled to the brim with products from some of the event’s generous sponsors.  Like I said, this event is the gift that keeps giving.  (Photos courtesy Dress for Success)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon with designer David Meister

Celebrity Chefs Elise Wiggins, Emily Wines, Niki Leondakis, Jen Biesty

Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon (center) poses with performers (l) Natasha Lyonne and (r) Debra Monk

The Norwood Family -- Brandy, Ray J., Ray Norwood, Sr. & honoree Sonja Norwood