Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

Dramatic and dazzling gowns, a shower of fluttering butterflies, and the elegant backdrop of the River Oaks Country Club marked what's known as Houston's spring fashion season kickoff event. Beloved fashion retailer Tootsies recently continued its colorful tradition with the Spring Is Served Fashion Show and Luncheon, the annual two-day event that's a time-honored part of the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Tootsies’ creative director Fady Armanious and chairwoman Terri Havens created a bright and beautiful ode to Mother Nature with fresh floral, bold colors with a "Le Jardin" theme and dramatic sweeping gowns.

“Not surprisingly, we are all about color, color and more color this season at Tootsies. Spring is bright and floral, feminine and fun,” Armanious said in a statement.

As part of the floral-laden them, event producers Lenny Matuszewski and Tamara Bonar incorporated fresh flowers into every look, with Bonar making each crown by hand just days before the show. The grand finale of the fashion show included the release of butterflies across the pool and into the crowd.

Tootsies and Tenenbaum Jewelers teamed up for looks on and off the runway, with jewelry provided by Lucrezia Buccellati during the show and in the Pop-Up Shop Boutique at The Courtyard at River Oaks Country Club.

Tootsies’ owner Norman Lewis says he is proud of the legacy forged over the last three decades between Tootsies and the annual fashion show and luncheon. “This marks the 37th year Tootsies has been involved in the Rivers Oaks Tennis Tournament Luncheon, and Donna [his wife] and I are so pleased to continue the tradition that brings the best in fashion to the best in Houston,” Lewis said in a statement.

The Tootsies creative team curated 81 looks from various designers, including Oscar de la Renta, PatBo, Versace, Hellessey, Borgo de Nor, Alex Perry, Alice+Olivia and Andrew Gn.

— Heather Staible contributed to this story.

The gowns and butterflies dazzled.

Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group
The gowns and butterflies dazzled.
Photo by Priscilla Dickson

Local A-listers shine at Houston Grand Opera's 'heavenly' $1.2 million white-tie gala

party watch

What: Opera Ball 2019: “Cielito Lindo”

Where: The Revaire

The scoop: Houston Grand Opera hosted its annual white-tie fundraiser, this year titled Opera Ball: Cielito Lindo. “Cielito Lindo” — loosely translated to “pretty darling” or “heavenly one”— is a traditional Mexican song written by Quirino Mendoza y Cortes in 1882 and beloved throughout the Spanish-speaking world and beyond as a symbol of love and unity. Chaired by Marcia and Alfredo Vilas, the evening saw over 450 guests gather at The Revaire for an evening of celebration inspired by Mexico’s rich, vibrant culture and an extraordinary mix of creative influences.

The gala raised over $1.2 million to support the internationally renowned performances and community programs that distinguish HGO as one of America’s greatest opera companies.

Guests arrived onto a Mexican pink carpet and through a tower of marigolds by The Events Company. Once inside, a migration of Monarch butterflies and a towering butterfly diva (created by décor vendor Mandarin Design Lab) seemingly summoning guests — and the Monarchs — to the cocktail reception featuring Tequila Ley .925 cocktails. A 20-foot-high sombrero wall, also created by Mandarin Design Lab) gave a nod to the inspired entertainment to come; and the silent auction featuring a highly curated collection of luxury goods, trips, and fine wines kept the gallery space a-buzz.

Once the doors for dinner opened, revealing a custom 60-foot-long calla lily chandelier and a great room framed out in Talavera blue tile and climbing bougainvillea, all by Mandarin Design Lab, the fiesta continued with the flavors of Mexico. Crafted by A Fare Extraordinaire Catering, the 3-course dinner featured huachinango (red snapper) and shrimp a la brasa to start; a duet of halibut al pastor and filet of beef tenderloin, black beans, charred pineapple and pickled cabbage slaw, and guajillo sauce (for the purists, warm corn tortillas were available upon request); and a chocolate tamale with dulce de leche, candied pecans, whipped cream, and horchata anglaise.

The sounds of Mexico were also center stage at Opera Ball including a special performance of “Besame Mucho” by guest artist soprano Ailyn Pérez, currently starring in HGO’s Don Giovanni opening April 20, and two sets by two-time Grammy Award-winning Mariachi los Camperos, last seen in HGO’s stirring mariachi opera Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. Los Camperos were joined onstage by local, lauded Latin music star Vanessa Alonzo who also starred in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna as Lupita and will reprise the role this December in HGO’s Cruzar prequel and holiday opera El Milagro del Recuerdo/The Miracle of Remembering. Elegant Latin ensemble Las Catrinas, the Richard Brown Orchestra, and salsa sensation Tumbaka also kept the dance floor full until the last Paloma was served.

One of the evening’s highlights was the Mariachi los Camperos final performance of the night’s theme, “Cielito Lindo”, bringing gala chair Alfredo Vilas to the microphone and the crowd to their feet in a spirited sing-along worthy of a grand opera.

Following “Cielito Lindo”, guests carried on with a festive, late-night celebration at the Encore After Party chaired by Lady Stephanie Kimbrell and Joshua Allison and featuring more dancing, two giant mojigangas hand-made by HGO wardrobe supervisor Judy Malone-Stein, a proper taco station, passed frozen mangonadas, and churros with chocolate sauce for dipping. The dancing to Tumbaka continued until the last salsa beat, and last ENCORE guest, left the dance floor at 1 am.

Who: Margaret Alkek Williams and Jim Daniel, Whitney and Jim Crane, Hallie Vanderhider, Sofia Adrogue and Sten Gustafson, Damon Chargois and Rebekka Peltzman, Fady Armanious, Joanne King Herring, Hannah and Cal McNair, Leigh and Reggie Smith, Brigitte and Bashar Kalai, Vivian Wise, Diane Lokey Farb, Cerón, Becca Cason and John Thrash, Nicole and Christopher Rose, Jennifer and Ben Fink, Sara and Gabriel Loperena, Rebecca Rabinow and Matt Ringel, John Caird, Tami Hiraoka and Louis Borrego, Sallie Sargent, Tom Ajamie, Jose Ivo, Zane and Brady Carruth, Betsy and Fred Griffin, Anne and Albert Chao, Dian and Harlan Stai, Beth Madison, Kelly and Steve Lubanko, Alan and Elizabeth Stein, Kristina and Paul Somerville, Ileana and Michael Treviño, Council Member Robert Gallegos, Kathryn McNiel, Kelly and David Rose, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Liz Grimm and Jack Roth, Tony Bradfield, Bobbie Nau, Liz and Tom Glanville, Sid Moorhead, Iris and Danny Shaftel, Rachel and Jason Volz, Kirby and David Lodholz, Kendall and Christopher Hanno, Valerie and Tracy Dieterich, Mary and Mark D'Andrea, Abby and Christopher Venegas, Gregory Morey, Grace Kim, Betty and John Hrncir, Myrtle Jones, Monica Fulton, Michelle and David Peck, Amy and Rob Pierce, June Deadrick, Kellie and Robert Collier, Mark Jacobs and Shae Keefe, Jo Dee and Cliff Wright, Ariana Grinblat, Ishwaria and Vivek Subbiah, Hector and Alejandra Torres, Adel and Jason Sander, Lady Stephanie Kimbrell, and Joshua Allison.

Becca Cason Thrash, Cerón, and Diane Lokey Farb.

Photo by Priscilla Dickson
Becca Cason Thrash, Cerón, and Diane Lokey Farb.
Photo by CatchLight Group

Former President Obama, Pitbull, and local A-listers star in our most popular Houston society stories of 2018

the top events of 2018

Editor's note: It was another gala year for Houston's society set, with the usual cast of characters (Lynn Wyatt, Hallie Vanderhider) donning their finest for swank soirees. This year's hottest headlines feature sports stars, glam gowns, and a former president's stately visit.

1. Local celebs surprise Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell with big birthday bash. Jeff Bagwell has achieved many a milestone as a member of the Houston Astros. But the Hall of Fame power hitter was completely caught by surprise when he recently reached a particular milestone: his 50th birthday. For his big 5-0, No. 5 was treated to a bash that was crashed by Mayor Sylvester Turner and a host of friends and family, including Craig Biggio, Debbie and Rudy Festari, and all of Bagwell's children.

2. 14 top spring events every Houston socialite must attend. From a festive Mardi Gras soiree, a thrilling Middle Kingdom-inspired fete complete with camel door greeters, to a lively Kentucky Derby party, and an amazing art car parade, CultureMap spotlighted 14 nonprofit events for society types to hit up early in the year.

3. Houston society set in glamorous gowns steal the show at Old Hollywood-themed Opera Ball. Hollywood glam mingled perfectly with the rock star life in true Houston fashion, as locals donned lavish gowns to party with 500 of their closest friends — and ’80s star David Lee Roth — at the Houston Grand Opera’s Opera Ball. The annual event, one of the most highly anticipated each year, raised $1.25 million for Opera Ball.

4. Houston's Women of Distinction shine at glittery Winter Ball. Each year, ABC13’s Women of Distinction annual Winter Ball (benefiting the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation) honors women who make a difference in the city. This year's event raised more than $600,000 for the organization that works to improve the quality of life of children and adults affected by Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. You’d be hard pressed to find a Hollywood red carpet more glamorous than the 2018 Winter Ball runway at the Hilton Americas Hotel.

5. Houstonians make a splash at new ZaZa's bubbly bash. An invite-only crowd was entertained by a champagne aerialist and a mermaid in a giant martini glass at the grand opening party of the Hotel ZaZa Memorial City. Guests went on a fun scavenger hunt and collected goodies at the end of the night. The VIP list included media celebs such as KHOU's Chita Craft.

6. Stylish Houstonians break a serious sweat at hot new fitness studio. Guests dressed to impress at SWEAT 1000’s grand opening, as the popular South African fitness concept made its official U.S. debut in The Heights. Ana Barron Strouse and Jordan Strouse, the Houston couple who partnered with SWEAT 1000 to bring the concept to the United States, hosted the evening. The South African-themed party featured dancing, DJ spins, and a fun silent auction.

7. Wildly wealthy Texas family returns with celeb-filled $10 million bash. The San Antonio-based Henry family made national headlines with their over-the-top, multi-million-dollar bashes this year. In the spring, patriarch Thomas J. Henry celebrated his birthday with a surprise performance by rapper Cardi B. In August, he flew in Maroon 5, The Chainsmokers, and Enrique Iglesias to perform for nearly 1,100 guests while George Lopez hosted his law firm's 25th anniversary. The mind boggles imagining the Henrys next soiree.

8. Cool kids christen new River Oaks bar at buzzy boss bash. More than 100 residents and guests gathered for the official launch party of The Center Bar by Bosscat, a private, resident-only bar on the ground level of The James luxury apartments in River Oaks. The newly minted bar had residents of the eight-story, 344-unit mid-rise buzzing as they enjoyed complimentary wine, beer, and specialty cocktails.

9. Pitbull rocks Rockets owner's Post Oak Hotel at massive children's charity gala. Can it get more "party" than rapper Pitbull showing up at a Tilman Fertitta event? Some 750 locals were treated to an opulent affair with the Houston Children’s Charity 21st Annual Gala. Highlights included an auction that boasted a BMW M5 and a knockout performance by "Mr. Worldwide" himself. The entertainer who preaches "don't stop the party" closed the night with confetti cannons and show-stopping tunes. A classic Houston society moment: Lester Smith was asked if he and Pitbull were twins.

10. Former President Barack Obama commands laughs and camaraderie at exclusive Houston gala. Those fortunate enough to attend Former President Barack Obama's visit to Rice University were treated to a civilized, frank, and charming political discourse. Obama was joined by former Secretary of State James A. Baker for a discussion moderated by presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham. The two statesmen traded stories and jokes, and love for Former President George H.W. Bush, who would pass away just days later.

Photo by Wilson Parish

Royal designer Jenny Packham graces Houston with regal visit

packham packs them in

The world, it seems, is in the midst of a royal moment — given the fervor stirred up by the recent royal wedding, the recent royal birth announcement, and locally, even the newly opened, royal-themed exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Perfect timing, then, for a Houston visit by British celebrity designer Jenny Packham. For the past 30 years, Packham has dressed starlets, Hollywood A-listers, and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton — who regularly steps out in Packham’s elegant, sophisticated designs.

Packham was recently in Houston as the main attraction of the annual Memorial Hermann Razzle Dazzle “Goes Royal” Luncheon, which raised a kingly sum of $500,000 for early detection and outreach programs at the Bobetta C. Lindig Breast Care Center at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. Chaired by Houston philanthropist Bobbie Nau, the event honored the legacy of Eileen Campbell, a longtime advocate for breast cancer awareness and education. (Even Packham has been touched by breast cancer; her mother was diagnosed when she 14.) The event drew more than 600 guests to the The Westin Houston Memorial City Hotel ballroom.

“I love the ladies here in Houston because they love dressing up,” Packham told CultureMap ahead of the luncheon. The designer was a guest of Julie Roberts, owner of luxe Uptown Park women’s retailer Elizabeth Anthony. “I’ve never seen evening wear departments like these,” Packham noted of Houston’s fashion showrooms. “Women here love sparkly things. You’ve got loads of things to go to. It’s a kind of a Jenny Packham heaven.”

The adoration is mutual. Houston women have clamored for Packham’s latest line, called “Today is Tonight.” The line was inspired by Hollywood tragic starlet Jean Harlow; Packham became familiar with the 1930s film star during a visit to the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles. “There was so much to her life. And so much gossip, intrigue and scandal,” said Packham, who added that Harlow, who died at 26, is even more relatable as “I have a daughter who’s now 25.”

After three decades of design life, the easygoing Packham seemed reflective about her impressive career. “In 30 years, you start off and you’re quite happy with some young singer wearing something,” she said. “And obviously as soon as you get an A-lister, you want another A-lister, really.” Packham recalled one of her first big red carpet moments: “Sandra Bullock wore one of our dresses to the Golden Globes,” she said. “I think for us, that was a jump to dressing a different sort of actress, really. And then when Angelina Jolie wore us, that was really exciting.”

Packham noted that she would “love” to dress British actress Tilda Swinton, but added that Hollywood can be a fickle friend. “I used to get so excited. You know, you’re having fittings and you know they might have chosen something, but you never actually know for sure that they’re going to wear it, because there are two or three choices. I’d think ‘Yeah, they’re going to wear it’ — then they don’t.”

Having dressed British royalty and America’s royal celebs, Packham joked that she never feels snubbed if one of her coveted designs doesn’t land on an A-lister. “I know what women are like. I know what I’m like — I change my mind at the last minute. I think that’s fine.”

Photo by Michelle Watson

Handsome Houston hunks rock the runway and think pink to fight cancer

party watch

A group of distinguished and accomplished Houston gentlemen recently rocked M Penner’s runway in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The 17 handsome heroes took to the catwalk in Uptown Park as part of the reveal of the Real Men Wear Pink kickoff, in which 60 local men have committed to raising a minimum $2,500 each.

More than 200 guests packed the show as the models, including Gow Media CEO David Gow, pulled off their best moves. After the show, co-chair Ben Rose went from suave host to auctioneer, boldly asking the enthusiastic crowd to help reach their $100,000 goal. A polite bidding battle ensued — many of the models joined in — with $10,000 raised on the spot for the American Cancer Society’s educational and research programs.

Before the event started, the campaign had already raised $75,000. With the sudden influx of donations, Rose and his mother-in-law (and co-chair) Leisa Holland-Nelson then upped the ante, raising the goal to $150,000. (As of October 1, the campaign has raised $91,872.) The gentleman who raises the most money during the month of October (some brave soles have pledged to wear pink every daily) will be crowned Man of the Year.

Those who want to spread the love can donate to the cause and hit up The Pink Party, which will raise funds and awareness for the Real Men Wear Pink/The American Cancer Society campaigns. The chic soiree will feature light bites, craft cocktails, and hot tunes at Shops at Arrive (formerly West Avenue).

The model men included Peter Remington, Brad Marks, Jason Cage, Benny Gates, Bill Baldwin, Bruce Padilla, Dan D’Armond, David Peck, Joe Davis, Joe Francisco, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Also in the crowd were Cyndy Garza Roberts, Monica and Joe Casiano, Shelly Reeves, Vicki Merwin, Ileana and Michael Trevino, Ellie and Michael Francisco, Tamara Klosz Bonar and Lenny Matuszewski, Lisa Appleby, Ginger Baldwin, and Fady Armanious.

Candidate Benny Gates.

Photo by Michelle Watson
Candidate Benny Gates.
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Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio returns heart to the classic tale

Movie review

There have been many instances of competing movies telling similar stories in the same year, but rare is the time when two movies try to tell their version of the exact same story. A few months ago, Disney released a “live action” version of their classic Pinocchio, an unimaginative, soulless film that should have never seen the light of day. Now, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio has come to save the day, bringing an allegorical story that has much more depth to it.

Co-directed by Del Toro and Claymation legend Mark Gustafson, and co-written by Del Toro and Adventure Time’s Patrick McHale, the basics of the film will be familiar. The wood toymaker Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) creates a wooden boy soon dubbed Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) who is looked over by a cricket, this time called Sebastian (Ewan McGregor). Pinocchio is brought to “life” by a blue fairy named Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), and Pinocchio soon causes all sorts of trouble for himself and everyone else.

But instead of going straight into that story, Del Toro and his team take the time to fill in some blanks about Geppetto’s life and give some meaning to his wooden creation. An opening sequence showing a tragic backstory sets the mood for the film, one that is serious while not being overwhelmingly dark.

Inspired by but not beholden to Carlo Collodi’s original fantasy novel, the film is a lively and yet somber adventure story, with Pinocchio’s impetuous nature leading to him getting in a lot of sticky situations. Del Toro has set the film in Italy during World War II, referencing real-world figures like Nazis and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to ground the often-fantastical story.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Geppetto and Pinocchio in Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio.

As the film goes along, the idea of whether or not Pinocchio is “alive” is confronted in a unique way, and also juxtaposed with actual life-and-death moments that go right to the edge of the film’s PG rating. While still appropriate for older elementary-aged kids, it is unmistakably a Del Toro movie, with creepy creatures, storylines, and more that make it much more than just something aimed at children.

The stop-motion animation, assisted by the Jim Henson Company, is a wonder to behold for a variety of reasons. The flow of movement is astonishing, and a testament to the level of detail and time spent perfecting every moment by the entire filmmaking team. The characters are clearly made of clay, and yet they quickly become believable as living entities, a fun comparison to the story of Pinocchio himself.

While the film has stars like McGregor, Blanchett, and Christoph Waltz, none of them are showcased in ways where their celebrity overwhelms their character. Geppetto and Pinocchio are played by lesser-known people, allowing them to be interesting just for their voice talent, and not a pre-conceived notion of them.

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is by far the superior version of the story to come out in 2022, returning the heart to the tale that is so clearly needed. With just enough off-the-wall elements and a style that’s all its own, the film from Netflix may just be a contender for best animated feature at next year’s Oscars.


Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio debuts on Netflix on December 9.

Giant sea creatures made of recycled beach trash wash onto Galveston Island in must-see new exhibit

inspiring sea change

A giant great white shark, massive bald eagle, oversized octopus, and more enormous sea life are invading Galveston Island — just in time for the holidays.

Washed Ashore, a compelling and traveling art of giant sea animal sculptures made of trash collected from beaches opens in Galveston on Saturday, December 10 across 19 locations.

The clever showcase features more than 20 pieces — most more than six feet tall and as much as 17 feet wide — such as coral reefs, jellyfish, penguins, sunfish, and more.

Sculptures can be found at museums, hotels, parks, attractions, and popular outdoor spaces. Thanks to a partnership between Oregon-based non-profit Washed Ashore and the Galveston Park Board, the exhibit, which is open though March 5, 2023, is free.

This innovative, powerful exhibit to educate the public about the hazards of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and comes at a touchstone environmental moment. Some 35 million metric tons of plastic entered the global aquatic ecosystems in 2020, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s research partners.

Similar Washed Ashore exhibits have been displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens, across the nation. Notably, this Galveston debut marks the first time the exhibit will not be behind a paid gate, per press materials.

“The sculptures are impressive,” Visit Galveston Chief Tourism Officer Michael Woody said. “But they’re even more impressive when you look at them closely. The artists at Washed Ashore placed recognizable objects – like buckets and shovels – at a child’s eye view. This way, hopefully, they will learn to take with them what they bring to the beach.”

For more information on the exhibit, visit the official site.

Photo courtesy of Visit Galveston

Meet Greta the great white shark.

Bad 'a' Hawaiian coffee shop brews up plans for 10 Houston-area locations

curiously strong coffee

A new coffee shop will brings the flavors of Hawaii to the Houston area. Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii has signed a development agreement that will bring as many as 10 locations to West Houston and Galveston in the next five years.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii was founded on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1989 to serve Hawaiian-sourced coffee to locals and tourists. Franchising on the mainland started in 1985, but an acquisition in 2019 paved the way for its current expansion. Currently at about 30 locations nationwide, Bad Ass announced plans to open five locations in Dallas earlier this year.

The cafe serves hot, cold, and frozen coffee drinks as well as tea and smoothes. Food options consist of a tidy menu of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and muffins.

Bad Ass Coffee’s colorful name comes from the donkeys who carried coffee beans along steep mountain passes in Kona, Hawaii. Locals named them the “bad ass ones” for their stubborn but friendly nature, the company states.

Houston franchisees Kyle Price and Heath Rushing bring experience from the health care industry to their new role as entrepreneurs. In a release, they explain that Bad Ass Coffee’s values help fueled their interest in bringing the brand to Houston.

“We love how the brand honors its Hawaiian heritage and creates a culture that differentiates itself by embodying its island roots,” Rushing said. “Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii also isn't just a brand, it's an identity and the vision is to fuel the inner badass in all of us. We hope to unlock inner badasses by fueling customers with energy and kindness every single day.”