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Society / Featured Parties

A Million Dollar Challenge, Houston’s Best Dressed and a Generous Legacy Come Together in $2 Million-Plus Afternoon

One of City's Best Luncheons Leaves Fashionable Crowd Marveling Over Lester Smith's Example and Carolina Herrera's Clothes

BY // 03.29.19
photography Michelle Watson/CatchlightGroup.com

The late Lester Smith encouraged everyone in his wake to “dance like nobody’s watching.” And while we all loved that mantra of the extraordinarily wealthy and generous oil wildcatter, everybody was watching at the Houston Chronicle Best Dressed luncheon benefiting the March of Dimes.

How could there not be a modicum of self-consciousness on a day that broke all luncheon records by bringing in $2,065,000. And how on earth could the ladies walking the runway as the Best Dressed for 2019 not feel the least bit tingly in front of the approving gathering of more than 800?

Smith also encouraged all whom he encountered to “pay it forward” and surely everyone in this ballroom had plenty to be thankful for and the resources, no matter how modest, to meet his exhortation. In fact, most among the fashionable frolic reached into their designer handbags to contribute further to the cause in an effort to meet the $1 million challenge grant made by Lester and Sue Smith last fall in their roles as the splendidly audacious luncheon chairs.

The energy was palpable in the ballroom of the Post Oak Hotel (everyone still singing Tilman Fertitta’s praises for such a swank  caravansary) as honorary and underwriting chair Rosemary Schatzman announced the ever-growing tally.

The March of Dimes windfall was  fitting tribute to Smith, who passed away only two weeks prior at age 76. It was with great courage that Sue Smith maintained her composure as she spoke to the gathering, a strength displayed also by his daughter Shelly Hendry and daughter-in-law Limor Smith, the duo serving as auction chairs. Standing by in support of the family was Lester’s son, Stuart Smith.

Far from maudlin, the event was a celebration of the March of Dimes, of the best dressed honorees and of Neiman Marcus fashion. Before Carolina Herrera designer Wes Gordon presented his pre-fall and fall collection in a colorful parade, the honorees were introduced. Each was dressed to near-perfection and accessorized with dazzling jewelry from famed designer Margot McKinney. The Australian jeweler was in town through Saturday for personal appearances at Neiman Marcus. She invited the honorees to select pieces from her treasure trove to wear during their presentation.

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Stepping into the fashion spotlight as Best Dressed honorees were Hall of Fame entry Gracie Cavnar, plus Gina Bhatia, Kristy Bradshaw, Denise Castillo-Rhodes, Valerie Dieterich, Gayla Gardner, Heidi Smith, Kristina Somerville, Stephanie Tsuru and Vicki West. 

Just as these femmes were dressed to impress so too were the ladies and gents in the ballroom. In fact, a number of fashion forward men grabbed much of the attention — Fady Armanious in Dolce & Gabbana; Ceron in a black and white mosaic from DSquared (both wearing Calvin Klein white patent booties); Brian McCulloch in a splendid potpourri of Hermès, Burberry and DG; Rubens Franz in DG; and embodying the spring of spring Jeff Shell in a designer floral jacket and Dr. Roland Maldonado in fresh pink blazer.

As for the ladies, too many lovelies to name.

Key players in the event were Houston Chronicle chairman  Jack Sweeney and fashion editor Joy Sewing, who introduced the honorees, March of Dimes state director Darcie Wells; Neiman Marcus GM Stephen Brunelle; and Ashley McClellan, CEO of the Woman’s Hospital of Texas, major sponsor of the event.

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