Bill Cunningham on Borrowed Dresses, Charity Galas, Astor

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Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO, Blackstone Group, at right, with his wife, Christine Schwarzman, who said she's just finished reading the novel "50 Shades of Grey," which is "definitely not for Steve," who likes the thriller writer Lee Child.

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Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO, Blackstone Group, at right, with his wife, Christine Schwarzman, who said she's just finished reading the novel "50 Shades of Grey," which is "definitely not for Steve," who likes the thriller writer Lee Child. Close

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO, Blackstone Group, at right, with his wife, Christine Schwarzman, who said she's... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sarah Jessica Parker with a bouquet of flowers from the centerpieces. Earlier in the evening a classical guitarist performed a Flamenco rendition of the "Sex and the City" theme. Close

Sarah Jessica Parker with a bouquet of flowers from the centerpieces. Earlier in the evening a classical guitarist... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, and designer Oscar de la Renta, a board member of Carnegie Hall. Close

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, and designer Oscar de la Renta, a board member of Carnegie Hall.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sandy Weill, chairman of Carnegie Hall and former chairman of Citigroup Inc., presents the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence to Bill Cunningham, photographer-columnist for The New York Times. Close

Sandy Weill, chairman of Carnegie Hall and former chairman of Citigroup Inc., presents the Carnegie Hall Medal of... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Bill Cunningham of The New York Times didn't put away his camera while being honored by Carnegie Hall. Close

Bill Cunningham of The New York Times didn't put away his camera while being honored by Carnegie Hall.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Vittorio Grigolo, an Italian tenor, performed "Marie" from "West Side Story," "Bamboleo" by the Gipsy Kings and many others, to the delight of the women in the crowd. Close

Vittorio Grigolo, an Italian tenor, performed "Marie" from "West Side Story," "Bamboleo" by the Gipsy Kings and many... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Andres Santo Domingo and Lauren Santo Domingo applaud for Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo. Close

Andres Santo Domingo and Lauren Santo Domingo applaud for Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Leslie Ziff and Daniel Ziff of Ziff Brothers Investments. Close

Leslie Ziff and Daniel Ziff of Ziff Brothers Investments.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Ann Ziff, chairman of the Metropolitan Opera and designer/owner of Tamsen Z jewelry, which has a boutique on Madison Avenue. Close

Ann Ziff, chairman of the Metropolitan Opera and designer/owner of Tamsen Z jewelry, which has a boutique on Madison Avenue.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

David Koch, of Koch Industries, his wife, Julia Koch, and Mercedes Bass. While fashion photographer Bill Cunningham advised women not to wear borrowed dresses to benefits, Julia Koch confessed that in her first year in New York, she appeared in Bill's column in borrowed Adolfo, the designer for whom she worked. Close

David Koch, of Koch Industries, his wife, Julia Koch, and Mercedes Bass. While fashion photographer Bill Cunningham... Read More

“I remember a waiter spilling a tray of food on Sandy Weill,” Bill Cunningham, the New York Times photographer, said of Citigroup Inc.’s (C) former chairman, a frequent subject in his column “Evening Hours.” “All the gravy went down his back, and he just went with the flow, sitting with his guests.”

Cunningham, 83, accepting the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence last night at the Waldorf-Astoria, was arguing the point that galas are not so glamorous.

The photographer, known for riding a bicycle around town, sported a black tie and a navy blazer in place of his trademark blue jacket. He also recalled former World Bank President James Wolfensohn playing the cello and retired Goldman Sachs partner James Marcus speaking “flawless Russian” after a concert by a Russian orchestra.

“People don’t realize what you give to these events,” Cunningham said in front of 360 guests including Blackstone’s chairman and chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, Daniel Ziff of Ziff Brothers Investments, Lightyear Capital’s Donald Marron and David Koch of Koch Industries.

“There are cynics, who think the parties are just for ladies who want to dress up,” he continued. “That’s a lie. It’s not that way at all. It is an American tradition of giving back, from a country that has given us everything.”

This particular gala raised $1.5 million for the music education programs at Carnegie Hall, said Weill, its chairman. These programs are now located where Cunningham lived for 60 years in what were once artists’ studios above the venue.

Brooke Astor

Cunningham began his remarks unfurling 10 or so pages of notes. Among the topics he touched on: Brooke Astor (“she gave her time and money”); the New York Times (“I’m just the fluff, I fill around the ads, if we have any”); wisteria in Union Square Park (a sign we’re living in New York’s golden age), and the fact that 30 years ago he used to photograph women going to lunch. Now he photographs them going to work.

Speaking about what to wear to a gala, Cunningham urged women to buy, not borrow their dresses.

Any woman guilty of that crime forgot it when Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo came on stage, to sing “Maria” from “West Side Story” and a few arias. Lauren Santo Domingo, Annette de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker and Mercedes Bass were beaming, especially after he took off his jacket.

Cunningham first spotted Weill without his jacket, at a gala in a very hot tent.

“I couldn’t believe it, so I asked who he was. The press agent said he ran a company, couldn’t remember the name but the logo was an umbrella. So I thought, ‘He’s an umbrella maker?’”

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include: Manuela Hoelterhoff interviews Pablo Heras-Casado; Mark Beech on new rock CDs; Jeremy Gerard on Broadway.

To contact the writer on this story: Amanda Gordon at agordon01@bloomberg.net or on Twitter @amandagordon.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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