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Only in San Francisco do guests in sparkly gowns mingle with others in fresh-off-the-clock office attire or street looks without anyone thinking it strange.

Two events this week brought the city’s diverse spirit and fashion flair to the fore: The annual Art Bash fundraiser by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Human Rights Foundation’s Artisan Fashion event at the de Young museum, with support from the Fashion Incubator San Francisco.

Wednesday’s SFMOMA event showcased an eclectic mix of socialites, artists, patrons and business executives armed with cocktails, a healthy appreciation of art and looks that ranged from high-end designers to streetwear, hoodies and sneakers.

Above the din on the first floor, a sold-out VIP dinner took place on the second level. At one table, Jeffrey Gibson’s Dior Lady Art project, “I can do whatever I choose,” made a cameo appearance, while others clocked looks from Mexico’s Sanchez-Kane to Alexander McQueen.

Jeffrey Gibson's Dior Lady Art project.

Jeffrey Gibson’s Dior Lady Art project rests on a table before dinner.

Adriana Lee

The meal kicked off with a few words from Gap Inc. chairman Bob Fisher, who chairs the museum’s board of trustees. Fisher, in an Etro suit, had the challenging task of settling down a particularly bubbly crowd.

“I do a lot of things at this museum, but apparently the thing I’m best at is getting a crowd of 500 wonderful people — all very excited about being at Art Bash — to sit down and be quiet,” he joked. “The fact that it was so hard to get everyone to sit is just indicative of how happy people are to see each other…”

The remark resonates in a city still battling a COVID-19 hangover and other pressures, like store closures and ongoing waves of tech layoffs in places like nearby Silicon Valley.

In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, the atmosphere felt particularly animated.

“San Francisco has been so slow to come out of the pandemic,” sociologist, author and Art Bash regular Sarah Thornton told WWD. “It’s only recently that people feel like things are kind of back to normal — obviously certain things are, maybe, never going back to normal — but it felt like there were more people at the dinner than ever before. It felt bigger.”

Thornton took a break from preparing for her upcoming book release for “Tits Up: What Sex Workers, Milk Bankers, Plastic Surgeons, Bra Designers, and Witches Tell Us About Breasts” to attend the event and celebrate the work of her friend, featured installation artist and filmmaker Sir Isaac Julien.

He adapted his 2010 work, “Ten Thousand Waves,” as well as 2022’s “Statues Never Die” for installations created specially for Art Bash. Other artists included Chelsea Ryoko Wong, who crafted a pop-up activation called “Many Moons I’ve Dreamt of You” against a soundtrack provided by DJ Alex Shen of Lower Grand Radio, and renowned photographer Richard Misrach, whose “Solo to Symphony” activation featured performances by the acclaimed Alonzo King Lines Ballet dancers.

Art Bash is not a singular event, but a spate of experiences including art-driven rooms and party vibes courtesy of rapper Tierra Whack, DJ Sazon Libre and others. VIP guests went from dining on short ribs and bidding in a concurrent auction to an exclusive after-dinner lounge.

Once again, Valentino sponsored the event alongside Christie’s, AT&T, Bloomberg and Bank of America. According to Fisher, the museum raised $3 million across ticket sales, sponsorships and donations, not including the auction.

Max Obata, Daphne Palmer, Elizabeth Dye, Kate Harbin Clammer, Brandi Hudson, Lauren Harwell Godfrey, Heidi Castelein, Elizabeth Minick, Becca Prowda, Chelsea Maughan Kohler, Sandra Shorenstein, Abigail Turin and Jonathan Carver Moore at SFMOMA's Art Bash.

Max Obata, Daphne Palmer, Elizabeth Dye, Kate Harbin Clammer, Brandi Hudson, Lauren Harwell Godfrey, Heidi Castelein, Elizabeth Minick, Becca Prowda, Chelsea Maughan Kohler, Sandra Shorenstein, Abigail Turin and Jonathan Carver Moore at SFMOMA’s Art Bash.

Courtesy/Drew Altizer

Across town on the following night, the de Young in Golden Gate Park — one of the city’s fine arts museums — hosted a very different sort of event. This affair was more of an intimate gathering held by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) with support from the Fashion Incubator San Francisco (FiSF).

Thursday’s theme, Artisan Fashion, invited guests to peruse the city’s 100 years of designer looks and couture through the museum’s “Fashioning San Francisco” exhibit.

Guests enjoying artisan fashion exhibit at the de Young museum.

Courtesy

The program didn’t simply look backward, but also forward, thanks to Snapchat-augmented reality, which powers physical mirrors allowing visitors to virtually try on looks from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino to Kaisik Wong. The experience, which is available now through Aug. 11, marks the first time that a museum is featuring Snap Inc.’s AR tech.

Pressing further on, guests found themselves at a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer stationed on one side, and tables highlighting designer-led brands incubated by FiSF, like DiarraBlu, on the other.

The FiSF and HRF teams. (Left to right: Michelle Gulino, director of legal and programs for HRF; Claudia Bennett, lead of HRF’s Wear Your Values; Jeanine Silberblatt, president of FiSF; Rachel Fischbein, FiSF board member, and Sherry Jeng, senior development officer at HRF)

Courtesy

Addressing the crowd, Jeanine Barnett Silberblatt, president and board chair at FiSF, revealed that the organization isn’t just helping to throw this party, but partnering with the Human Rights Foundation and its “Wear Your Values” program, an initiative created to raise awareness about ethical issues in fashion production.

The group has always supported local design talent as its main mission. But “increasingly, our designers while living here in the Bay Area had a global presence made possible by advancements in technology,” she said.

FiSF noticed that its cohorts were increasingly committed to supporting communities back home, which inspired the group to open its aperture and combine its community with HRF.

FiSF board chair Jeanine Barnett Silberblatt speaks on stage at the de Young.

Courtesy

“Why would a human rights organization care about fashion, let alone devote an entire program to it?” Michelle Gulino, HRF’s director of legal and programs, said. “Because behind this world of beauty, of glamour, of creativity, there is another in which millions of human beings are working tirelessly at the hands of essentially slave masters.”

HRF grew alarmed at the connections between fashion and global human rights violations, she added. This prompted the foundation to create Wear Your Values in 2017 to focus on issues from environmentally conscious sourcing and production to the elimination of forced labor, like that imposed on the persecuted Uighur people in China.

These are the “hidden social costs” of the fashion business, said Claudia Bennett, who runs Wear Your Values.

The group has been working on a new database to give shoppers an easy way to find and support ethical brands. It hopes to make it available next year.

“Fashion is a form of storytelling, a form of expression, and the reason we are all here today is that it can be a form of activism,” said Bennett on stage.



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