Saturday, October 13, 2007
Two weeks ago, I was invited to host the final Out Magazine and Basil Hayden sponsored event of its summer series of Chicago events, as I wrote earlier on this blog. To cap off their successful run in the "Windy City", Basil Hayden, maker of fine whiskey and bourbon, also asked me if I would design an original gown inspired by it's bottle. The gown would subsequently be auctioned off to benefit The Center at Halsted.

My visit was incredible, to say the least. First, being that it was the beginning of October, I expected Chicago to be its typical cold and windy self. Not! I arrived on the weekend of the Chicago Marathon and it was a balmy 85 degrees, thank you very much! I called my girlfriend Kelly Ryan O'Brien ahead to warn her of my whirlwind three-day trip to Chicago. She was the director of Chicago's branch of GenArt and a co-judge on the castings for Season 3 of Project Runway. Now, she is the marketing and public relations director for Michigan Avenue Magazine. She was so excited that I was coming that she was actually waited at my hotel lobby to greet me! I had barely taken out my credit card to put down for "incidentals" and she whisked my trench coat-wearing butt into her car to head to a VIP party Lucky Magazine was throwing to celebrate the launch of its November issue, which featured a whole section on Chicago's best stores. Once I arrived, it soon became photo and meet-and-greet mayhem, as Kelly escorted me through the party . I spent most of the time taking photos and doing various interviews and socializing with Chicago's fashionista that once we finally decided to leave, we went to get our Goodie Bags (which I heard had lots of fun stuff--they looked HEAVY!) and there were none! So we left empty handed. Lesson here is: Be tacky and get that Goodie Bag IMMEDIATELY, the minute you walk into the event, otherwise you'll end up like me.

Afterwards, we returned to my hotel, the fabulous James Hotel and I was treated to a scrumptious dinner and champagne at the JBar. I finally got to check out my room at the hotel and I just about screamed like a little girl who just got her first Barbie! The James Hotel's Marketing Manager, Joel Morales had upgraded me to one of their fabulous Loft Suites and I was in heaven! It was huge! With it's own projection room (to watch movies), a separate master bedroom, two flat screen TV's and more Kiehls products a gay man could ever use! Thanks Joel for "hooking me up". Too bad I didn't have anyone to enjoy it with me: I came stag on this trip unfortunately!

The next day was the event at the Center at Halsted. This brand new multi million dollar building is amazing, housing several floors, including an auditorium, and a huge gym to boot. It is there as a "refuge" of sorts, to give counseling, and educational as well as moral support to Chicago's LGBT community. For this final Basil Hayden event, the clients went all out, creating a very exclusive private party ambiance with orchid- accented tables , delicious hors d'oeuvres , a live DJ, and lots of free-flowing Basil Hayden cocktails for the guests to enjoy. I have several friends in Chicago, and I was happy to see them at the event. It's nice to see familiar faces when you are away from home (Thank you Bil, Anthony and Tony!) I also mingled with lots of my Chicago gays (and their beautiful girlfriends), lots of which professed their love of Project Runway and were very anxious to see the gown I had designed to benefit the Center.

After a bit of meet-and-greetin', the 250+ guests were led to the Center's auditorium , where the auction-and unveiling-of my original gown would occur. Erin put the gown on and it was a perfect fit! I never even had a fitting! A month prior to the event, I received her measurements, created a muslin sample of the gown, and had a fitting with a form I have that was close to her size (between a 4-6). My vision for the gown was a modern "Martha Washington", paying tribute to Basil Hayden's roots which go back to the late 1700's, when George Washington was President. I used the colors of the whiskey and the labels on the bottle (gold, copper and amber) and threw in some black for a bit of elegant mystery. The gown had over 30 yards of triple layered silk chiffon and featured a Duchesse Silk boned corset with a hand-beaded gold paillete over drape (the fabric alone cost me over $700!!) An obi-style tie knotted the empire section, like the final bow on a gift. This was my "gift" to the Center at Halsted and to the guests attending this final Out event of the season in Chicago.

Unfortunately, there was a last-minute glitch: About 30 minutes before the auction was about to begin, I realized that I had left the strappy heels that I brought all the way from Los Angeles in my hotel room! And I didn't like the closed-toe pointy ones the model had. I became a mini-Diva and had someone go to the hotel to fetch them. People around me said, "Oh Nick, the ones she has will be OK, don't worry..." I said "No, she can ONLY wear my gown with the shoes I created for it!" We were lucky that the James Hotel was a 10 minute drive from the event. The shoes arrived and everyone agreed how perfect these strappy heels were as opposed to what she would have worn.
As the auction began (with a starting bid of $250), I became nervous and doubtful that anyone would even bid for my gown. I felt like that kid in elementary school who was not getting picked for the vollyball game during recess! Needless to say, in a way, I got "picked". The gown went for almost $3000 !!! I thanked the winning bidder (seen in photo above) profusely and had my own Sally Field "You like me , you really like me" moment on stage.
It was a wonderful ending to a fabulous season of Basil Hayden and Out sponsored events in the Windy City and I was honored to have been part of it. I also heard through the grapevine that the winning bidder of the gown was going to donate it to the Center to have them display it. Well, my mascara almost started to run after that! (Just a note: I really don't wear mascara, even though I know you wont believe me!)

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