By Patricia Wersinger
On April 11, more than 300 leaders in New York’s fashion, philanthropic and lupus communities gathered at the Plaza Hotel for the S.L.E Lupus Foundation’s Fifth Annual New York Bag Ladies Luncheon. A silent auction of stunning handbags donated by 50 top designers took place to help raise $300,000 for the fight against lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting more than 1.5 million Americans, nine out of 10 being women. In lupus, the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, creates antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues and organs — the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints. Lupus is difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat, and a leading cause of premature cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and stroke among young women.
Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Former First Lady of New York State, Founder and Chair of Mentoring USA and opera super star Jessye Norman co-hosted the event.
“I am here on behalf of all the magnificent women with lupus who wage an unimaginable battle against this devastating disease affecting not only the bodies of women but as often, their spirits” said Miss Norman.
Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt Group, an innovative e-commerce company offering luxury lifestyle products was the noted guest. “Three people near and dear to me suffer from lupus so I have seen some of the challenges it poses. Maintaining a positive attitude is not easy when battling such a difficult illness. But as someone entrenched in the fashion industry, I wanted to speak today to help inspire women to ‘Dress for Happiness,’ boosting their spirits and self-image.”
The reality of the disease was brought home through the heart breaking testimony of a young Lupus victim. The whole community is affected by this disease through a friend, colleague or family member she expressed. Funding is urgently needed to foster research to defeat the disease and support victims in their every day lives.
Luncheon guests included S.L.E. Lupus Foundation Founder and Vice President Susan Golick and Board members Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, wife of Senator Frank Lautenberg; Jennie DeScherer; Betsey Selkowitz; Carol Weisman; and Kate Kelly. Fashion luminaries included Danielle DiFernando, Founder of Danielle Nicole Handbags and Mary Belle, President, Licensing at The Jones Group and long-time champion for women’s causes, Gloria Steinem.
Formed over 40 years ago, the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation leads the nation in providing direct patient services, education, public awareness, as well as funding for innovative lupus research on the national level.
There was hope in the room in this spring day that with the yearly generous contributions from the New York fashion and philanthropic communities this most destructive disease may be one day eradicated.