Lynn Goldstein, Jennie DeScherer, Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Carol Weisman

Lupus is a chronic complex autoimmune disease which predominantly affects young women. The disease, which disproportionately impacts African American, Hispanic, and Asian women, causes the immune system to create antibodies that attack tissues and organs. Hence, lupus is an issue which relates to women’s health, public health, minority health, economics, and research.

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The Ninth Annual Lupus Handbag Luncheon and Silent Auction, held in the Plaza Hotel Ballroom, honored two stand-out supporters of the lupus cause: the PUMA sports brand and IBM Associate Partner, Veronica Vargas Lupo. PUMA was named “Corporate Visionary Partner” for joining with Selena Gomez to boost global visibility for lupus. Ms. Lupo received the “2018 Woman of Achievement Award” for her long-time dedication to the Lupus Research Alliance, the largest private funder for lupus research.

Bloomberg’s Felice Axelrod, IBM’s Teri Wilford Wood, and lupus advocate Alison Lee co-chaired the luncheon. More than three hundred people from New York’s fashion, society, entertainment, publishing, philanthropic and lupus communities attended.  Noted philanthropists and socialites who participated included Cindy Secunda, Arlyn Gardner, and Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg.

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Because the Waldorf is presently closed for renovations, I had a chance to do lunch at the Plaza in the nick of time. Full disclosure: I’m only kidding. The cafeteria in the college where I teach serves as my usual lunch venue. I’m in fantasy mode because I’m still Royal Wedding sodden. Even though it is more large chateau-ish than British, the Plaza strikes me as being the closest thing to Buckingham Palace Manhattan has.

When I swung through the revolving entrance door and entered the over the top opulent lobby, I imagined that I was the newly minted Duchess of Fifth Avenue. In that the greeter who resembled a clone of Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost treated me like royalty when he offered to escort me to the elevator, my imaginative vision had a momentary iota of reality.

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After mingling with the crowd, I was off to view the handbags being auctioned. The sparkling gold antique-appearing “Edie Parker Jean Acrylic Clutch,” valued as $895 and adorned with an intricate gold clasp, was my favorite bag.

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The “Satin Soft Body Minaudiere,” a $1,995 clutch characterized by a silver sparkle clasp and a red satin bow, also caught my eye. Ditto for the $850 Stella McCartney Falabella Fold Cross Body Bag, a small smoky blue leather bag tied together with leather laces and silver chaining.

Since I am not the Duchess of Fifth Avenue, I had to look to a more modest bag to fit into my life. The “Echo Straw Bag,” a brown beach bag adorned with a blue crab applique, fit the bill. Last but not least, I must mention the “Lucifer Backpack,” a bag made from what looked like sheared Chewbacca fur accented by a red sparkling nosed Cheshire Cat face.

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The Plaza Ballroom’s Versailles-like chandeliered opulence and expanse is truly fit for a Duchess.  The luncheon host, John Schiumo, a professor and freelance on-air correspondent for CBS News, greeted the audience. The grilled chicken salad, served in a white bowl which, if it were made of cloth and turned over, was large enough to serve as a Royal Wedding hat, consisted of the following ingredients: avocado, haricots verts, field greens, golden beets, grilled squash, heirloom cherry tomatoes, shaved radishes, grilled vegetables, black beans, goat cheese, and champagne vinaigrette dressing. Torched meringue, blueberry coulis, and raspberries formed the “Lemon Ice Box Cake” dessert.

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Ms. Lupo expressed the most touching aspect of the program when she began to cry and said “lupus is not a life sentence.” The audience gave her a standing ovation.

Each attendee was given a Bloomberg-provided sturdy and attractive folding umbrella. Since I am not a duchess and no horse-drawn carriage was available to me at the luncheon’s conclusion, I made good use of the umbrella as I headed home via walking down Fifth Avenue in the chilly rain.

– Marleen S. Barr

Photos via Lupus Research Alliance