The Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum isn't necessarily where you'd think to find New York's most glamorous figures. But on the eve of April 10th, the museum itself became a constellation of the city's brightest stars thanks to the 16th annual Jeffrey Fashion Cares charity fundraiser, the annual event kicking off the LGBTQ fundraising system founded in support of the LGBTQIA+ community to heighten awareness of those living with HIV/AIDS.
Hosted by Olympian and LGBTQIA+ community advocate, Gus Kenworthy, this year’s event benefitted three charities: The Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Ali Forney Center and Lambda Legal. The event honored acclaimed Broadway producer and fashion provocateur Jordan Roth and in attendance were non-conforming icons such as Titus Burgess, Leigh Lezark, RJ King, Timo Weiland, Henriques ‘Kiko’ Francisco, Chella Man, Marti Gould Cummings, Andrew Shirk and many more. It was truly star-studded, to say the least.
The event consisted of a cocktail reception with a luxury silent auction, an exciting live auction and a men’s fashion show featuring 40+ of the industry’s top models. Of course, not just anyone can pull off such a feat. To add some major glitz and glamour to the massive industrial structure, it took the magic touch of retail visionary Jeffrey Kalinsky of Jeffrey Atlanta and New York, who founded Jeffrey Fashion Cares New York 16 years ago and has since raised over $9 Million for respected charity organizations supporting LGBTQ civil rights, HIV prevention & research, and education for LGBTQ youth.
We spoke to Kalinsky about starting out his charitable venture, the key to running a successful chain of stores and where he hopes to take his vision in the future. And much like last night’s electrifying fashion show, he didn’t disappoint.
ABRAHAM MARTINEZ: What’s the first thing you do every morning?
JEFFREY KALINSKY: Wake up, turn the lights on, open the drapes, then adjust the temperature to warm up, because I sleep with the room very cold. I go to the kitchen, take out an English muffin, cut it in half and turn the coffee on.
AM: When did you first fall in love with fashion?
JK: When I was a child, I was fascinated by the shoes and the handbags in my dad’s shoe store. I was fascinated by the ladies who shopped there in general. At the time, I wouldn’t have identified that as “fashion.” I was quite a shopper and I had a certain way I wanted to look—I wanted to be the ultimate prep. Topsiders had to be from Sperry and if not, they had to be LL Bean. But I wouldn’t have identified that as “fashion.” My first real fashion moment was when I was working for Donna Karan and attended my first Donna Karan runway show.
AM: Do you remember the feeling of opening your first store?
JK: Yes! When I look back on the fact that I opened my first store on my 28th birthday, I can’t believe that at 27 years old, I had the strength, courage, and vision to want to have my own store. I remember the excitement and I remember the desire to succeed. I was driven, but not nervous. I wasn’t scared.
AM: You've had massive success. What keeps you grounded?
JK: Fear. I never thought it was a very admirable trait to become too big for your britches, and I really don’t like when I see that in others. I never wanted to like that.
AM: When did you first realize there was severe work to be done in the realm of LGBTQIA+ charity? How did Fashion Cares come to be?
JK: I started the Fashion Cares in Atlanta in 1991—I did an event in the store for free just for my customers. So many people came and I said to myself that night “You need to establish a benefit and charge people and raise money for AIDS.” The AIDS crisis was just terrible in 1991. I had a boyfriend at the time who’s brother had AIDS. People were just dying all around. It was a horrible time to be a gay man in particular.
AM: What have previous versions of the event taught you and prepared you for?
JK: I learned a lesson very early on, back in 1993. From my perspective, when people pay money to come to a benefit event, they’re not coming to hear me talk. They’re coming to be entertained and inspired and to have fun. So from then on, I wanted to create a memorable experience.
AM: How did you go about choosing the celebrity host this year?
JK: It was a group decision amongst my chair committee. Gus Kenworthy is a great example of a person from our community doing great things. I am so thrilled that he said yes. We were all so excited!
AM: Tell me about the selection process for the clothes featured in this year’s Fashion Cares fashion show.
JK: We just try to work with the amazing brands we have in our stores. We get the incredible samples and we try to put the right clothing on the right model. It’s a marriage of models and clothes.
AM: What’s a piece of advice you receive often that you actually follow?
JK: I receive a lot of feedback in life, not just in my work. I try to take it all in and then depending on the subject that we’re talking about, I either try to be self-aware and take in the advice, or I can also try to follow my gut and listen to my voice. I think you have to balance both.
View more images from the 16th annual Jeffrey Fashion Cares event below.
Courtesy of BFA