The Crowd: Harvesters serve up fashion show à la mode

A gown by Monique Lhuillier was featured in the Harvesters Fall Fashion Show curated by South Coast Plaza.
(John Eckmier)

As Thanksgiving approaches and we relish the celebration of brotherly love, respect and the vanishing value of one American unified family of many origins, what else brings us closer than sharing a meal together at a metaphoric single table representing the very lofty, often aspirational American concept of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The ideal of Thanksgiving cuts to the chase. We all need nourishment to survive. Around the table, passing the platter, everyone is equal. There are no lines of separation dictated by color, creed, origin, wealth, intelligence, beauty or anything else.

For the past 31 years in Orange County an organization know as Harvesters has worked tirelessly and selflessly to serve the now 40-year mission of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County providing “dignified, equitable and consistent access to nutritious food for those in need in the O.C. community.”

Jacqueline Casey, a major donor to the Harvesters 2023 fall event.
(Molly O’Keeffe)

Indeed, Harvesters members embody the meaning of Thanksgiving every day, year in and out. The volunteer organization produced its 2023 Fall Fashion Show & Luncheon recently announcing a cumulative fundraising total to date over its 31 years exceeding $16.1 million, including an impressive $1.9 million this year, translating into more than 48.3 million meals provided to citizens of this great county.

The spectacular day of fashion, food and connection to serving those in need is arguably the most successful and dramatic fashion show of the fall. Harvesters’ members, chaired this season by the formidable Gail Haft, in conjunction with the generous community support and vision of the South Coast Plaza executive team led by Debra Gunn Downing, produced a world-class fashion show luncheon in the stunning multistory lobby of the modernist designed Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

Commencing with late-morning arrivals, the crowd of some 300 patrons dressed to impress, were welcomed in the Concert Hall on an upper level lobby with a champagne reception hosted by the international pearl, diamond and jewelry purveyor Mikimoto. Center staff then ushered the reception assemblage down to a mezzanine level lobby, where designers created a curvilinear snake format of seating originating from the massive floating lobby staircase and winding through the lobby level.

Karen Jordan and Irene Martino at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County luncheon.
Karen Jordan and Irene Martino were among 300 guests supporting the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County at the recent luncheon.
(Molly O’Keeffe)

Chatter was infections. Devoted patrons and donors Jacquie Casey, Roxanne Comrie, Lilly Merage and Michelle Merage were among a celebrated roster of local citizens all dedicated to fostering the Thanksgiving message for everyone, every day of the year.

Let the fashion show begin! Chair Gail Haft joined Claudia Bonilla Keller, chair of Second Harvest Food Bank, in delivering an impassioned welcome, music filled the cavernous open lobby, and a parade of models entered in military formation. Curated by the talented South Coast Plaza fashionistas, the 2023 Harvesters Fashion Show featured the fall/holiday and winter lines of luxury houses Max Mara, Moncler, Lanvin, the Webster, Michael Kors Collection, Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuillier.

Overall, the design presentation was modern, original and in select pieces, very sexy, daring and could be labeled as “fashion art.” The show at first viewing seemed to be a national traveling fashion event because many of the ensembles featured beautiful, luxurious, oversized dramatic coats with enormous collars and long lengths, coordinated with both dresses and pants. Perfect for San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

Sponsors Stephanie Rogers and David Hasenbalg at the Harvesters Fall Fashion Luncheon.
Sponsors Stephanie Rogers (South Coast Plaza) and David Hasenbalg (City National Bank, Second Harvest Board Member) at the 2023 Harvesters Fall Fashion Luncheon.
(Molly O’Keeffe)

Reminded that winter nights on the coast can be chilly, the show was indeed curated for the Orange County audience. Of exceptional note were selections from the workroom of Oscar de la Renta and a magnificent wedding or ball gown from Monique Lhuillier.

In the crowd, taking it all in were generous supporters Laura Vanderhook, Lauren Watkins, Kate Carlton, Sheral Burke, Cameron Davis, Erica Fink and Karen Jaffe.

Also front and center for Harvesters were Jill Johnson Tucker, Karen Jordan, Carrie Quintanar, Randa Kim, Mara Murray, Eden Murray, Keiko Sakamoto, Nancy Youngman, Sharon McKinnon, Jamie McKinnon, Natalie Pickup, Georgina Jacobson and Jennifer Segerstrom.

An encore parade of all models displaying selections from all designers concluded the show as applause rang out. Luncheon followed, as guests traveled down to the main lobby to discover tables arranged and decorated in fall floral finery.

Harvesters Chair Gail Haft and Jassel Kaye at the 31st Harvesters Fall Fashion Luncheon.
Harvesters Chair Gail Haft and Jassel Kaye at the 31st Harvesters Fall Fashion Luncheon at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
(Molly O’Keeffe)

A multi-course luncheon created and served by the staff of Patina Restaurant Group began with chilled gazpacho, an entree of roasted salmon over romaine hearts, roasted beets, varied seeds, squash and drizzled with pomegranate vinaigrette. Baskets of shoestring crispy fries were passed from one end of the table to the other, then back again. Whispering Angel Cotes de Provence Rose accompanied luncheon and with dessert of fresh strawberries, dark chocolate bark and candied ginger bites came a pouring of Nicolas Feuillate Reserve Brute champagne.

The afternoon was made possible by the underwriting support of presenting sponsor City National Bank, along with a roster of dedicated corporate and foundation donors. The Harvesters proudly report that their efforts enabled Second Harvest Food Bank between July 2022 and June 2023 to distribute more than 36 million pounds of food to their Partner Network.

Jennifer Van Bergh, founding member of Harvesters.
Jennifer Van Bergh, founding member of Harvesters helps raise $1.9 million for Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.
(Molly O’Keeffe)

The Partner Network then provided food to families, seniors, children and college students in need at more than 300 distributions sites throughout Orange County. These organizations are comprised of schools, food pantries, senior living centers, transitional housing facilities, shelters for the unhoused, places of worship, after-school programs and soup kitchens.

Wishing Thanksgiving blessings for all people of Orange County with special recognition due the Harvesters and Second Harvest Food Bank for their work making certain that everyone is welcome at the table.