By day, the stylish and socially minded Houston power couple Rudy and Debbie Festari run their uber-chic style house Festari for Men, where they dress the city’s top professionals and athletes and quietly give back to the city without any desire for attention or accolades.
But, by night, wow, can this duo throw a party.
Oh, what a party, indeed. Or, as it’s famously circled on Houston’s society calendar, Una Notte in Italia — the city’s hottest men’s fashion runway event of the year — where those aforementioned hunks hit the catwalk in support of charity, all to the hoots and hollers of a positively electric crowd. In a city known for a good bash, this is the fall event no one in the know misses.
And why not? Una Notte features some of the hottest athletes in Houston and a who’s-who roster of the city’s most successful, philanthropic, and dashing gents as models, plus an always A-list crowd not afraid to get raucous in their support of the studs.
Each year, the Festaris put on a show that seems like it couldn’t possibly be topped; this year, it was. Una Notte 2021, boasting a crowd of more than 500 at the Royal Sonesta Ballroom, raised more than $428,000 — a record — for its chosen charity, Children at Risk, which works to liberate children from insidious sex trafficking and exploitation.
As guests entered, they were greeted by stunning Rolls Royce autos from sponsor Rolls Royce Motor Cars North Houston; attendees sipped premiere tequila from Veneno Tequila as they checked out the ultra-luxe rides.
A silent auction followed, then it was gala time. A sumptuous, Italian meal followed a welcome from Debbie Festari, who honored this year’s co-chairs, Melissa Holman-Juneau and Jennifer Pinkerton for their work.
Dignitaries received applause, including a beaming but shy Simone Biles, there to cheer on her Houston Texans player boyfriend/model, Jonathan Owens; and usual emcee Dominique Sachse, who took a break this year and yielded the mic to hype man/auctioneer Johnny Bravo.
Then came the main event. As upbeat dance music pumped from the speakers, Debbie Festari and Bravo introduced and told the story of each of the models, including Olympic icon Carl Lewis, Owens, Gow Media (which owns CultureMap) CEO David Gow, Jonathan Zadok, Adrian Dueñas, Houston Dynamo stars Zarek Valentin and Tim Parker, Houston Sabercats rugby pro Ken Nasoqeqe, Chad Pinkerton, Moez Mangalji, Drs. Matthew Brams, Stephen Chen, and Bob Sanborn, Clayton Katz, Hugo Guerrero, Mark Theissen, Al Lindseth, and more suave stars.
As each model strutted, danced, and posed in fine Festari fashions, the exuberant crowd jumped from their seats, waved giant head cutouts of some of the men, rushed the stage, and popped confetti. Scene stealers included Biles, who captured Owens on video, and Matthew Braums, who handed out “medicine” to the crowd and took every opportunity to work it onstage.
After a big close featuring all the gents onstage, Bravo literally flipped — Biles gave him a “10” score from her table — into the live auction, in which the crowd competed from hot vacations, treats, and more. High bidders included Hallie Vanderhider, Gary Petersen, Adam Tesanovich, Jose Orihuela, Pete Bell, and Lori Hood.
Ready to shake it with the hot Houston hunks, the crowd then made a beeline for the dancefloor for a bumpin’ afterparty fueled by cocktails and hot tunes. Celebs posed for pics and shook it on the floor, til late, closing yet another Notte to remember.
“We always try to make this event memorable,” Debbie Festari tells CultureMap. “But we were beyond thrilled that this year we broke a record with what we raised. Houston is back, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Fab and fabulous guests in the crowd included: Simone Biles, Rachel and Jeff Bagwell, Dominique Sachse, Francis and Tony Buzbee, Audrey Gow, Dr. Jorge and April Marie Salazar, Tina and Dan Silvestri, Ally Shell and Martin Van Kookwijk, Melissa and Michael Mithoff, Nicole and James Lassiter, Gena and David Rush, Brigitte Kalai, Courtney Hopson, Michelle Reyna Wymes, Tiffany and Randall Wong, Andre Hal, Katherine Orellana Ross, and many more.