On an evening in late January surrounded by a gathering of friends and supporters, Mary Alice Haney, founder and designer of Los Angeles-based clothing brand Haney, stood in the foyer of a Beverly Hills mansion discussing the virtues of the City of Angels. She and about 300 others were attending the Highland Park-based Learning Lab Ventures’ $1,000-a-ticket winter gala.
“You can be anything in L.A. as long as you work hard and have a vision,” says Haney, the gala’s Philanthropic Vision Award honoree. “It’s very L.A. to come to this town and have a point of view of the world you want to create.”
A former fashion editor and celebrity stylist who moved to L.A. about two decades ago, the designer created her own experiential world for the evening. Models who were clad in Haney looks lounged in a sitting room inside the private Beverly Hills estate.
In the end, the January gala raised $1.4 million for Learning Lab Ventures, an intensive after-school education and enrichment program for 300 children and teenagers from Northeast Los Angeles ranging from ages 5-18. The nonprofit, which was founded in 1998 and is open every day, is on a four-acre campus in Highland Park.
As part of the program, children and teens meet at Learning Lab Ventures’ campus around 3 p.m. during the week and stay until 8 p.m., during which time they participate in art, sports, gardening and cooking and coding classes, as well as work on their homework and academic plans. They all also have dinner together. For the older children in the program, there are youth leadership teams and a chance to mentor the younger students or volunteer in the community.
On weekends, they participate in more classes, and to further the students’ education success rate, volunteers from Caltech oversee a six-week intensive SAT preparation course on the campus.
Ultimately, Learning Lab Ventures supporters are looking to help disrupt generational poverty through this after-school program.
The organization’s January winter gala was hosted by philanthropist and Learning Lab Ventures founder and executive director Rochelle Gores Fredston and online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter, which donated a portion of sales last month to the organization.
In addition to the vignettes of Haney’s collection at the gala, guests were treated to a rousing welcome by Jamie Foxx and performances by spoken-word artist Sekou Andrews and Latin hip-hop band Ozomatli.
For London-based Net-a-Porter, sunny Los Angeles has become a priority market because of the city’s influence as a cultural hotbed and emerging fashion capital.
“California is an increasingly important market for us,” says Alison Loehnis, president of Net-a-Porter. “The city has gone through such an interesting transformation from a cultural perspective. It is a multi-industry town to a greater extent than it has been before. What we’ve seen for our business is that the awareness of the brand has really grown and our business here on the ground has grown. And we think that there’s more that we could be doing here.”
For previous charity galas, Gores Fredston has often tied together fashion and philanthropy, and she has continued the effort since taking over and rebranding the Learning Lab this year. This is the first time Net-a-Porter has collaborated with Learning Lab Ventures, but the partnership appears to make sense given the sartorial passion of Gores Fredston, who previously owned the now-shuttered Arcade boutique on Melrose Avenue. At past galas she has hosted, she has honored designers such as Gilles Mendel, Monique Lhuillier and Stella McCartney. (A representative from Learning Lab Ventures declined to disclose Net-a-Porter’s exact financial commitment to the nonprofit but indicated the partnership will be ongoing.)
“It is incredibly exciting to partner with such an innovative brand who truly set the bar for luxury e-commerce,” says Gores Fredston about the Net-a-Porter alliance. “The brand alignment is absolutely perfect, and every single one of our board members are huge fans, which makes for an even more synergistic fit.”
In particular, Gores Fredston’s work piqued the interest of Net-a-Porter and, according to Loehnis, a common theme for the retailer is working with women, families and children most in need. “When we heard what she was doing with Learning Lab,” Loehnis says, “it resonated.”
The alliance also hit home for Haney, who counts Net-a-Porter as having been the first e-commerce site to launch her collection in 2013. The designer is also consistently inspired by Los Angeles. Her tagline, “Sexy California Glamour,” is captured in the bodycon gowns with strategically placed cutouts and hardware as well as silky jumpsuits and tunics often worn by celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Taylor Swift and Scarlett Johansson.
“There’s such a movement of women empowerment right now and so much of it is happening in L.A., which really inspires me as a designer,” Haney says. “Rochelle, for instance, is such a powerhouse woman. I’m just always amazed by the women I’m surrounded by.”
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