For 25 years, elegant and socially conscious power couple Rudy and Debbie Festari have been quietly clothing — and in many cases, grooming for success — generations of Houston businessmen, power players, athletes, and celebs at their Festari for Men store.
But as anyone who has attended “Una Notte in Italia” knows, there is nothing quiet about a Festari party.
More than 600 locals packed the ballroom of the Royal Sonesta for the 20th anniversary of the Festaris’ annual gala, which celebrates all things man and style — all for a good cause. The event — benefiting Houston Area Women's Center and co-chaired by Brigitte Kalai, Melissa Mithoff, and honorary chair Debbie Festari — started its pregame in the lobby, with Houston’s society set mingling by the bar and chatting up the celebrity models, including a contingent of Houston Texans players such as Kareem Jackson, Andre Hal, Jonathan Joseph, and Tyrann Mathieu.
Guests were ushered to the ballroom, where they enjoyed a sumptuous dinner and wine. As soon as DJ Senega spun Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie,” the hunky models, donned in suit and tie, were off and running on the runway. (At this point in every Una Notte, the atmosphere switches from refined soiree to all-out pandemonium.) Confetti cannons burst, eager fans waved cutouts of their model friends, and the women’s cheers rivaled the loudest Vegas bachelorette party.
As effortlessly glam emcee Dominique Sachse and Debbie Festari announced the models, which included Bashar Kalai, Ali Dhanani, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Tommy Khuranoff, Antonio Merlo, Ed Finger, Chip Lewis, Travis Torrence, and Marc Nguyen. Each gent manned up and hammed it up: Carmelo's Cucina Italiana chef Daniel Berg could’ve passed for superhero Bruce Wayne as he sauntered and pointed to the crowd. Finger surprised all with a twirl. (Speaking of twirls, attorney Torrence should consider a dancing side career, based on his runway moves.) Sheriff Gonzalez received a generous round of applause for his service.
Thunderous applause greeted Texans safety Hal, who has fought a dramatic and inspiring battle with cancer — and has scored a huge win: he’s now in remission after staring down Hodgkin lymphoma. Hal looked streamlined, suave, and best of all, a pillar of health as he confidently modeled. Mathieu lived up to his nickname; the "Honey Badger" showed he didn't care as he worked some signature struts. While some of the hunks may have stolen the show, grateful recognition was bestowed on the ever-dashing Rudy Festari, the picture of elegance in a black tuxedo.
So it was apropos, then, that after a lively auction hosted by Channel 2’s Andy Cerota, and raucous dance party afterwards, the event raised more than $400,000 for the Houston Area Women's Center — a record for the event celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"My husband and I created this event so many years ago as our way to help worthy charities in the community," Debbie Festari tells CultureMap. "We’ve raised our children and grandchildren to understand the importance of giving back and to always think of others in need."
Bravo, Debbie. One can only imagine what you have in store next year.
Fab faces in the crowd included Margaret Alkek Williams, Rachel and Jeff Bagwell, Hallie Vanderhider, Sippi and Ajay Khurana, Iraida and Danny Brown, Jennifer and Chad Pinkerton, Jessica and Michael Bertuccio, Jessica Rossman with Gordon Bethune, and Jane and Larry Wagner.