Los Angeles doesn’t have a shortage of opulent charity events filled with luminaries from the entertainment, arts and fashion communities, but few manage to celebrate fashion and mobilize the industry in a way that creates change at the local level.
The Philanthropic Society Los Angeles, founded by Rochelle Gores Fredston in 2010, aims to do just that through ongoing community work and an annual designer gala that raises funds to support Children’s Institute Inc., a center in Watts that provides needy families with educational and other services.
Gores Fredston, 34, moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2008 after spending years as a fashion buyer for Scoop, a now-defunct chain of contemporary boutiques. She had a store, Arcade, in West Hollywood near Melrose Place, for a time. Although the store closed in 2012, Gores Fredston has remained engaged in the fashion world, tapping her designer friends and supporters to participate in her charity work.
“It’s wonderful to be able to combine [fashion and philanthropy] and say, ‘Let’s do something together,’” says Gores Fredston, who lives in Beverly Hills. “Fashion is fun, and it’s beautiful. The industry is also very caring and wants to give back.”
She has also sat on the board of a few of the companies run by the Gores Group, an L.A.-based private equity firm founded by her father, Alec Gores, that at one time owned the J. Mendel and Cynthia Vincent brands. “It was my passion for business and my passion for fashion all kind of coming together,” Gores Fredston says of her fusion of fashion and philanthropy for her charity and its annual gala.
This year’s gala was held last month at her father’s home in Beverly Hills. The annual event always features a prominent fashion designer. Carolina Herrera was honorary chair this time; in previous years, Yigal Azrouël, J. Mendel, Donna Karan and Monique Lhuillier have attended. Each designer presents a collection during the event and helps champion the cause.
Honorees this year also included C Magazine’s editor in chief, Jennifer Smith Hale, and EpiPals, a nonprofit group started by Gore Fredston’s cousins, Catherina and Amanda Gores, that provides costly EpiPens to low-income families.
“I became involved with [the Philanthropic Society Los Angeles] because they support children, and I am always trying to get involved with [causes for] children,” says Herrera, who was in L.A. for the group’s gala.
Gores Fredston says the support of the fashion community and those who attend the gala each year has played a major part in the $15 million the organization has raised for Children’s Institute Inc.
The Philanthropic Society L.A. has also started a family fund designed to help give families a second chance. Recently, the charity was able to help a young mother of three who was living in her car and working two jobs.
“We said, ‘We’re going to give you a year off,’ ” said Gores Fredston. “She wanted to be a nurse, so we put her through nursing school and we made sure that on her salary ... she would be able to support everything we gave her.”
Gores Fredston’s focus on Watts and its families has been a constant in her philanthropic work; for the last few years she has invited or honored artists from or working in Watts to address the gala crowd about the importance of supporting the community.
Last year, actor and singer Tyrese Gibson, who was raised in Watts, gave an impassioned speech about his hometown and its residents; at this year’s gala, artists Sean Dougall and Andrew Paulson talked about Watts, the area they have lived and worked in for the last five years.
“We are so centrally located. We’re the virtual heart of the city, but it’s like the city has stopped taking care of its heart,” Paulson says of Watts. “It’s a really stimulating place to make art and be artists, because you are looking at the world as it truly is. This is not a bubble. It’s not watered down, and a lot of what Rochelle is doing is not just raising funds, it’s raising awareness.”
Gores Fredston, who enjoys wearing labels such as Herrera, Veronica Beard and the Brock Collection, doesn’t appear to be stepping away from her foothold in fashion anytime soon. However, she says it’s her philanthropic work that will remain her focus.
“You never know what life has in store,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to focus my time on philanthropy and on PSLA. I see my time going into policy and really trying to work for these families at different levels in any way that I can.”