It’s a rite of spring. Butterflies escape from cocoons, toes seek sandal-friendly pedicures, and the basic jean jacket becomes something beautiful, too. The Dallas
Chapter of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) encores its wildly successful Jacket Collection fundraiser. Jackets are beaded, feathered, furred, and re-cut into haute couture creations showcased in theatrical vignettes. The sensational show took place in the Trinity Ballroom of the Anatole Hotel on Saturday, March 18. This year’s theme is Celebration: Live, Laugh, Love. It once again united passion for fashion and commitment to civic service. The dynamic and diverse lineup of designers included Kenneth Cole, Baccarat, Oilily, Jay Strongwater, Derek Lam, Giuliana Teso, and BCBG. Contributing local personalities include Rhonda Sergeant Chambers, Mattie Roberts and Brad Oldham.
After a season of fantastic pre-Collection fetes, the big night featured dinner, runway show, and both silent and live auctions. According to Chairman Donna Fishel, the expected attendance at the Anatole Hotel was about 2000, up from 1100 last year. “It has grown year after year because the need has gotten bigger, and because there are so many talented people,” says DIFFA Legend Jill Rowlett. “There is a lot of depth to these people. We are so blessed.” It takes a village to put on the lavish affair. Along with contributors ACS, Ben E. Keith and Absolute, DIFFA Style Ambassadors and Legends raise funds for the event. Though DIFFA is a national organization, the Dallas chapter provides financial support to AIDS service organizations here in North Texas. Legend Yvonne Crum simply states, “DIFFA money goes where it should,”
Andrew Britton, Vice president and Finance Manager for Merrill Lynch and the 2006 Chairman of the DIFFA Dallas Board, notes that the Jacket Collection raised $860,000 last year. The goal is to raise one million in 2006. Founded in 1984, DIFFA is the oldest and one of the largest underwriters of AIDS programs in the country. The foundation encourages corporate leaders and design professionals in the fields of furnishings and interiors, architecture and fashion to use their talents to benefit the needs of their communities. As more government funds for AIDS caseworkers and food pantries are cut, DIFFA support of local groups becomes even more important.
The mission of the foundation is to “raise funds and grant those funds to organizations which fight HIV/AIDS by providing preventative education programs targeted to populations at risk of infection, treatment and direct care services for people living with/impacted by HIV/AIDS and that support public policy initiatives which add resources to private sector funds.” The challenge of educating today’s youth about the disease is leading DIFFA to launch more prevention initiatives. “Most young people today have never seen people die of AIDS,” says Britton. “They think they will not get it.” The organization aims to spread the message that there is no cure for AIDS, but it is preventable. Many volunteers have lost friends and family to the disease. Celebration: Live, Life, Love, therefore, is an opportunity to fondly remember them, embrace often too-short lives, and offer affirmation to those living with AIDS that their community will continue to offer their love and support.
These socialites have a social conscience. DIFFA Legends shine bright in Dallas business and civic service:
Ã?Â· Honorary Co-Chair of the Legends Yvonne Crum is a 42-year veteran flight attendant, flying for Braniff and American Airlines, and owner of the event planning company Celebrated Events. She is very active with the Dallas Arboretum, having chaired their Madhatters and Gatsby events, and also chaired the Kidney Texas luncheon.
Ã?Â· Honorary Co-Chair of the Legends Jill Rowlett is a former flight attendant and wife of anchor Tracy Rowlett. The mother of an autistic son, Jill co-chairs an autism event and the Dallas Children’s Theater. Jill says, “We all have to depend on the kindness of others from time to time.”
Ã?Â· Legend Lee Bailey and her husband, Ed Bailey, are franchisors for McDonald’s. Lee serves on the boards for the Mental Health Association and the Ronald McDonald’s House, for which she is chairing a fundraiser to build a new facility in Dallas. Lee is nominated for the Northwood University’s Distinguished Woman Award.
Ã?Â· Legend Angie Barrett is the host of TV’s Grin & Barrett in addition to her role of philanthropist. She serves on the Junior League’s advisory board and is active in The Family Place, Bryan’s House, Dallas Summer Musicals, National Committee for the Performing Arts, amfAR, and North Texas Food Bank.
Ã?Â· Legend Barbara Daseke is an interior designer. She is active with arts organizations, including serving on the boards of the Dallas Symphony, TACA and the New Contemporary Arts Museum. Barbara says she got involved with DIFFA when she saw “the breath of the people it serves. It is quite amazing.”
Ã?Â· Legend Matrice Ellis-Kirk is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, an international executive recruiting firm, and a self-described professional, mother, community volunteer and wife (of former Mayor Ron Kirk). Matrice notes, “[AIDS] is bigger than all of us. It will take all of us to educate those who are affected.”
Ã?Â· Legend Krickett Hancock Goss is both a model with the Campbell Agency and vice president for community affairs for the insurance firm U.S. Risk. Krickett calls The Dallas Collection “the most fun event of the year.” She is also involved with Genesis Women’s Shelter and Cattle Barons’ Ball as well.
Ã?Â· Legend Robert Weatherly is the owner of executive search firm Vertex International Group. Robert lends his energy to arts organizations, especially Dallas Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Museum. After moving from New York, he wanted to support a local AIDS organization and found DIFFA has “lots of heart.”
Ã?Â· David Nelson takes the reins as Event Chairman of Jacket Collection 2006. David designed a jacket in 1990, which led to designing gowns, which led to creating outrageous costumes and sets, and eventually joining the DIFFA board. He brings 30 years design industry experience as a photo stylist, interior designer, artist and filmmaker. Having lost friends to AIDS, David shares, “It is fun to come to the show, but we have to be reminded that there are people we need to help.”
Ã?Â· Donna Fishel, Chairman of the Style Council, sits on the national DIFFA board. She joined DIFFA in 1999 when her hairdresser revealed he had AIDS. “I would like to see your hair long and strawberry blonde before I die,” he wished. “Fortunately my hair grows very slowly,” she said. Sadly, he passed. Donna continues as the “den mother” of DIFFA. She served as chairman of the board in 2003 and created the Style Council Ambassadors and this year’s Legends.
Ã?Â· Robert Bellamy serves as Honorary Chair of Celebration after working with DIFFA for ten years. “DIFFA funds direct care for those living with the disease and addresses the most pressing community needs,” Robert says. “These much needed funds change peoples lives and their outlook on life for the better.”
The Legends champion commitment to the cause. They are personally vested in raising funds and awareness for local AIDS organizations. This stylish group works hard and plays hard. The Legends gathered to celebrate in custom dresses by longtime DIFFA supporter designer Nicholas Villalea. “These are amazing people, real Dallas divas,” the designer says. “I wanted to do something spectacular.” They deserve the glamour of yards of taffeta after putting their hearts into DIFFA. Though the cause is serious, Robert Weatherly acknowledged, “[The Collection] is not stuffy. It is a fun time. There is a lot of joy in this event. People feel like they are doing something for the future.” After last year’s Collection, many Style Council Ambassadors confided to Donna Fishel that they wanted to continue working with DIFFA. “So, why should we not find a role for them to play?” she asked. Donna created the Legends for “our pros. [They are] very knowledgeable, very experienced.”
Many of the Legends first became involved with the organization after losing friends and family to the disease and have continued to contribute for years. Angie Barrett started her involvement with the cause when a friend asked her to buy all the balcony seats for the musical Rent and give them to those living with AIDS. “I know all the people who have died are there at the event saying ‘way to go,'” she says. “We are celebrating life,” concurs Yvonne Crum, who recruited several of the Legends. “We like to have fun. You can always raise more money when you are having fun.”
Legends are each committed to “give-or-get” $10,000 to DIFFA Dallas. They may either give amount personally or raise the donations. The Ambassadors and Legends are expected to raise between $300,000 and $400,000 this year alone. The funds raised by the Legends support AIDS caseworkers, food pantries, housing, and prevention education campaigns in Dallas. The fact that all of the money raised locally goes to local AIDS groups helps make the community impact more tangible. The volunteers also visit the organizations see the people they are serving. “I have gotten to know so many people I wouldn’t have, says Jill Rowlett. “DIFFA has enriched my life. I have friends now that I will keep for the rest of my life.”
Though other DIFFA chapters concentrate on interior design-driven events, Dallas showcases what the city does best – fashion. This year marks the 17th anniversary of the Jacket Collection. What began as “a creative show benefiting a few friends [with AIDS], now is an incredible show to benefit so many,” says 2006 chairman of the board Andrew Britton. Over one hundred Arizona denim jackets donated by JC Penney metamorphose into sensational works of art in the hands of local and nationally-renown fashion designers. Bidders flock each year to add a dazzling piece to their wardrobe while supporting a good cause. Over ten years, Patricia Deason has acquired a Tony Lama-designed jacket with custom boots, a Finley which came with a white shirt every month, and a David Salvatore so heavily embellished that she’s turning it into a hanging art mobile. David Pacetti, the Honorary Co-Chair of 2005, has purchased 17 or 18 jackets, but has given every one away. “I choose unusual pieces which attract attention, under the pretense that the wear shares the DIFFA story,” he says. Collector Maggie Riba chooses jackets for everyday wear. “That way everyone can enjoy them,” says Maggie, “even if they haven’t been to the event.”
Artist Molly DeVoss returns to the runway in her signature black-and-white style. Her 2006 piece is a fabulous black jacket embellished with rhinestones which create a Christian fish symbol turned 90Ã?Â° to resemble an AIDS awareness ribbon, accompanied by an original painting of a male nude. It speaks to the compassion of the artist and her pastor husband. “Lover’s Lane Church,” she says, “is open, inclusive, and embracing of diversity.”
“We want groups that are victims of injustice to get the love message. God loves all of us – just the way we are.”
~Molly De Voss
DIFFA Dallas now serves 50 counties in North Texas. The chapter is DIFFA’s largest and most successful. AIDS service organizations supported by the chapter include: AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Resources of Rural Texas, AIDS Services of North Texas, AIDS Services of Dallas, Dallas Legal Hospice, AIDS Arms, Inc., Health Education Learning Project, Tarrant County AIDS Interfaith Netowork, Resource Center of Dallas, Legacy Counseling Center, and Bryan’s House. Don Maison, President and CEO of AIDS Services of Dallas, notes that DIFFA funds have contributed significant operating capital towards housing and services. “Housing is healthcare,” says Don. “With housing comes everything else: food, transportation, medication, disease case management and case managers to coordinate healthcare.” AIDS Services of Dallas provides 1200 meals through the Supper Club plus a food pantry in the family facility. Four campus-style buildings house 167 people living with AIDS daily, including apartments for families with children. In March 1990, vandals stole cooper pipes and set fire to one of the buildings. DIFFA Dallas was able to make the balloon payment on a second housing unit and has contributed to AIDS Services of Dallas every year since.
DIFFA plays a major role in AIDS funding and education in North Texas. Groups applying for grants are screened to insure funds are appropriated with maximum efficacy. The grants process includes site visits, fiscal scrutiny, and personal interviews.
With DIFFA’s help, AIDS Services of Dallas has been able to provide more than 700,000 nights of housing and shelter for 15012 men, women, and children living with AIDS.