Houston’s professional athletes are a diverse and dynamic bunch, but one thing that unites them is their ability to handle pressure in the spotlight. So it was an uncommon sight to witness top-tier stars in pro football and baseball a little uneasy before the annual Una Notte in Italia.
“I guarantee you they’re more nervous about this than going out for a football game,” Jeff Bagwell, baseball Hall of Famer and Houston Astros icon, told CultureMap on the electric night. “The main thing I tell all these guys is, make sure you take a good first step, that way, you don’t trip.”
Bagwell’s “don’t trip,” is sage advice for the male models of Una Notte. The vibrant soiree (it’s arguably the most raucous society event on the calendar) celebrates haute Houston men – all pillars of the business and sports communities, but most of whom are newcomers to runway modeling. Each year, the uber-stylish and socially minded power couple, Rudy and Debbie Festari, owners of the chic style house Festari for Men, host the gala that, in true Houston gentleman fashion, benefits the Houston Area Women’s Center.
“To be here and support them is just the right thing to do,” said Bagwell of his friends, the Festaris. The lively night was honorarily chaired by Debbie Festari and chaired by Rachel Bagwell and Sneha Merchant —and raised nearly $400,000 for the HAWC mission to help families affected by domestic violence.
Some 600 fashionable Houstonians — the ladies were especially dazzling — packed the newly remodeled Omni Hotel - Riverway for a cocktail reception and the main event, featuring the men’s-only fashion runway show. Dazzling emcee Dominique Sachse introduced the models which included Astros Bagwell and Lance McCullers, Jr. and Houston Texans Justin Reid, DJ Reader, Cullen Gillaspia, Dylan Cole.
Other models included Tony Bradfield and Kevin Black, Ben Berg, Mike Mahlstedt, Dr. Matthew Harbison and Dr. Kota Reddy, Rick Perez, Steve Johnson, Danny Brown, James Lassiter, Bill Baldwin, Steve Johnson, Kent Schaffer, and Nick Merchant, among others. The dashing gents strutted, sashayed, and spun across the runway, all to the whoops and hollers — and sometimes, all-out screams — of gleeful women.
The always debonair Rudy Festari received a standing ovation in appreciation for his work. “My husband and I created this event so many years ago as our way to help worthy charities in the community,” Debbie Festari told CultureMap. “We’ve raised our children and grandchildren to understand the importance of giving back and to always think of others in need.”
After the raucous show, the crowd packed the after party at the hotel’s Black Swan lounge to dance the night away, celebrating another record night for the fashionable fete.
The fab crowd included Sippi and Ajay Khurana, Hallie Vanderhider, Melissa and Michael Mithoff, Adrienne and Jared Crane, Brigitte Kalai and Courtney Hopson, Gary Petersen, Nina and Karun Magon, Duyen and Marc Nguyen, Dr. Roland Maldonado and Jessica Rossman, Lauren Ross and Josh Weinstein, and Nick Florescu.