Iman and Stacey Abrams honored at the 15% Pledge Gala
“Tonight, for me, is like the Black Met Gala,” said Shanée Benjamin, art director and illustrator. “It’s just beautiful, there are so many people here, so many creators.”
Dressed in a crinkle green satin jumpsuit by Izayla, Ms. Benjamin stood near the bar at the main branch of the New York Public Library last Saturday night, where the 15% Pledge – a campaign to get retailers to spend 15% of their stock at Black-Owned Brands – was hosting its first gala.
Shortly after 7 p.m., a lavish mix of more than 200 fashion and beauty professionals, celebrities and mostly black industry executives ascended the steps of the Beaux-Arts-style building for a cocktail party. . They mingled in the main lobby as a small marching band played renditions of pop hits, including Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
Among the guests were familiar faces such as actress and model Laura Harrier, talk show host Tamron Hall, track and field star Allyson Felix, actress Rosario Dawson, model Joan Smalls, tailor fashion Dapper Dan, actress Nicole Ari Parker, actor Boris Kodjoe and model Paloma Elsesser.
“I have to say, it’s really cathartic and awesome,” said Aurora James, the fashion designer who started the pledge, which has pledges from 28 retailers, including Macy’s and Sephora. “To be able to embrace the people IRL after this pandemic and the people who have really supported and thrown their all, personally, emotionally and professionally behind this idea, just means the world.”
Ms James wore a custom pink and purple dress by Christopher John Rogers and strappy heeled sandals by her brand, Brother Vellies. It was no accident: the evening’s theme, “Black Tie, Black Designer,” urged guests to source formal wear and accessories from black-owned brands.
“The last 48 hours of building my form for this has been an eye-opening experience as it helps to better understand why this organization exists,” said Benjamin Lyons, a sportscaster and producer, who wore a black bomber jacket per Off- White.
After the aperitif, the guests went to a large reception room to taste, among other things, a chocolate cake resembling a mini terrarium.
The event honored Iman, the model and entrepreneur who launched a cosmetics line for women of color in 1994. “I can only imagine how different things might have been for Iman Cosmetics had I had an ally like engagement,” Iman said on stage.
Then Dapper Dan introduced Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor of Georgia again, and was unable to attend. “I am honored to be among you, agents of change who understand that our economy is an ideal space for justice and progress,” Ms. Abrams said in a pre-recorded message.
After the speeches, the Late Show Gospel Choir sang “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Oh Happy Day” to close the evening. The gala ended just before 11 p.m., before some headed to an after-party at Temple Bar in NoHo.
“It’s like black excellence to the nth power,” said fashion and social media consultant Chrissy Rutherford, who wore a puff-shouldered dark purple midi dress by Laquan Smith.