Isn't she lovely?
Published: November 13, 2011
NEW YORK – A makeshift fashion salon came alive in a Manhattan hotel conference room. A-list stylists selected evening dresses from laden racks, sizing their clients at a glance. Others offering footwear carried bouquets of stillettos by the heels. Sparkly jewelry was doled out like candy. Professional photographers crisscrossed the room, capturing the results of the stylists’ handiwork.
“One more, please. Everybody look this way.”
The women being attired were not models, but the photos showed they could be; not celebrities, but maybe they should be. The purpose of this fashion confab was to style and pamper 50 caregivers of wounded veterans, preparing them for a red carpet walk at a celebrity fundraiser.
Most are wives; some are mothers or sisters. A few are wounded veterans. All are women whose lives were changed by the injuries of war.
Wounded veterans and their loved ones were guests of honor Nov. 9 at Stand Up For Heroes, a New York fundraising event for the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The foundation raises money for organizations that help injured troops.
Caregivers – mostly women – don’t always have much time to focus on their wardrobes, said Anne Marie Dougherty, Marine wife and marketing and communications director for the foundation.
So the foundation created a beauty fest for the women before the event: Day one, for head-to-toe wardrobe, day two for hair and makeup, enlisting names often found on the pages of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.
New York stylist Mary Alice Stephenson said she called on stylist friends, including Lucy Sykes Rellie, Ann Caruso, Paul Petzy, Amanda Ross and Annabel Tollman, to help her give caregivers the celebrity treatment.
“These women have been through so much, It’s an honor, hearing their stories,” Mary Alice said. “No matter what we’ve gone through, everyone wants to feel like a queen for a night.”
Mary Alice and friends – whose clients are known by first names like Beyonce, Scarlett and Britney – brought a cadre of fellow stylists to make the caregivers feel like royalty.
Also taking part was a design team from Sears, whose corporation donated all the clothing, shoes and accessories the women received. L’Oreal and Dior professionals came on board for makeup and hair.
The women were welcomed as they entered the fashion zone and ushered to racks of dresses to begin the process.
“I wear an 8 or a 10,” said Sunny, an Army wife.
“Oh, no you don’t,” asserted a stylist with a smile. “Ma-aybe a six, probably a four.” The stylist was right.
Particular attention was paid to the shoes for another young woman – one was for her prosthesis. She chose shimmery flats with rhinestones to match the ones on her purple chiffon dress.
"Ignore the safety pins,” said another stylist, as photos were snapped of another outfit. “It’s going to be gorgeous.”
Dresses were hemmed, custom fitted and delivered the next day.
“Cameras, away,” Mary Alice joked with a photographer. “We’re discussing underpinnings,” and turned back to a conversation about avoiding panty lines.
A discreetly placed table offered foundation garments and stockings.
“Woo hoo, mama!” Mary Alice said later, breaking off in mid-conversation with a reporter. She had noticed a woman emerging shyly from a fitting room in a form-flattering gown. “That looks great!”
Laughter drifted into the hallway from wide-open doors. Military wives mingled with fashion mavens, a few famous faces and the occasional TV crew.
Veterans -- some with prosthetics, some with service dogs, some with less apparent wounds -- dropped by. They greeted friends, admired their wives’ new dresses and smiled for cameras.
It was a day for smiles and almost no tears. Almost.
Waiting for her fitting, April talked about her husband’s disappointment at being discharged from the military after 15 years.
“It just came in the mail this past week,” she saaid. “No ‘Thank you for your service,’ just ‘You have until this date to outprocess.’”
Her voice broke when she said they’d depleted her retirement savings for living expenses after his injury.
“I hate to hear that story,” said a man sitting nearby. “The Army really took care of us after I was injured.”
Soon his wife emerged with her garment bag of red carpet elegance.
Another caregiver named Gloria demonstrated her catwalk stride in a red dress and strappy high heels. But diva turned mom seconds later, giving instructions to another relative about to take her son outside in his wheelchair.
“Be sure he has his hat on,” she said, pulling a jacket around her son’s shoulders.
“The best part is seeing my husband in his uniform,” said Ernestine. The veterans are encouraged to wear their uniforms to the concert.
“I thought he would not want to wear it, but he was excited about it.”
Her husband walks on two prosthetic legs.
In another conference room at the same hotel, a very different event unfolded behind closed doors. Representatives of a professional sports association populated by millionaires haggled over player contracts. ESPN camped outside. Uninvited reporters were rebuffed by big guys in expensive suits.
But the real stars scarcely noticed. They were living it up right next door, hamming for the cameras, laughing in the face of hardship, celebrating life.