Aagaard and Tom
Brokaw at The
Great Sports Legends
dinner in 2005
A look from Michael
Kors’s Fall 2009
collection at that year’s
Destination Fashion event
When it comes to Destination Fashion—the posh fashion show/ cocktail party/dinner benefiting The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis via its fundraising arm, The Buoniconti Fund—absolutely everything is extraordinary. In anticipation of the Saturday, November 10, extravaganza at Bal Harbour Shops, deep-pocketed philanthropists have the chance to “buy” the naming rights to entire cities and continents. The sights, sounds, and tastes of places such as Antarctica, London, and Rome will be artfully re-created throughout the mall by party mastermind Barton G.
“Our donors and friends understand that we are changing medical history,” says Stephanie Sayfie Aagaard, the director of major gifts, corporate relations, marketing, and events for the Miami Project/Buoniconti Fund, which helps The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis meet its national and international goals. “They know that paralysis does not discriminate, and can happen to anyone at any time—the vet coming home from war, the child who was driving with his dad home from school. You can fall off a bike the wrong way and become paralyzed. One person every hour is affected.”
The last iteration of Destination Fashion, in 2009, raised $3.9 million. Intrigue has been running high over the night’s details, and many of them are still highly classified. The organization again will honor its 35 Women of Substance & Style—local philanthropist Yolanda Berkowitz and Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill among them—but at press time, the names of their celebrity escorts remained strictly confidential. (People are still buzzing about how actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and NBA star Scottie Pippen accompanied women down the runway in the past.) Also still a secret is the fashion designer whose creations will be shown on the catwalk, but he or she is sure to be a big name, as Destination Fashion is a fundraiser that has made couture history. At the 2004 event, Ralph Lauren— for the first time ever—debuted a collection outside of New York City (but within the United States), and in 2009, Michael Kors created an iconic runway show with his Fall collection for that year.
But some heavyweight attendees have been announced: Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull will be performing, and Tom Brokaw is the master of ceremonies. Honorary chairs include Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones and his wife, Dawn Jones, as well as polo sensation and model Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras and his wife, Delfina Blaquier, a photographer and former model.
What’s more, Tiffany & Co. will donate 200 of its famous boxes for the Mystery Blue Box Wall. Purchase one and see what’s inside—it could be something worth thousands of dollars. The mall’s other stores, meanwhile, offer up items so exclusive that Bal Harbour Shops throws a Too Good to Keep Silent auction party in advance of the main event. “We love doing it,” says Randy Whitman, managing partner of the Bal Harbour Shops. “They’re getting close to finding a cure, and if you see what they’re doing and the people they’re helping, well, you cannot keep your eyes dry.”
Since its inception in 1985, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has sought to reverse the immobilizing effects of spinal cord injury. Headquartered at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, researchers there have developed revolutionary techniques to restore muscle function, including the use of cell replacement therapy and therapeutic hypothermia—the treatment that is famous for helping paralyzed Buffalo Bills player Kevin Everett to walk again. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved clinical trials for the Miami Project’s work with Schwann cells, which are removed from the patient, purified, and then reinserted into the spinal cord. The results have once-paralyzed animals walking at 70 percent of their pre-injured states. “People always saw us as a beacon of hope,” says Sayfie Aagaard. “But it’s not just a hope anymore; it’s a reality.”