SEEKING PARADISE

SEEKING PARADISE

If you genuinely want to get away from it all, French Polynesia might just be the most perfect destination on the planet. Sunny, remote, and quite glamorous, you’ll see why these famous islands surrounding Tahiti beckon for a Jet-Set trip of a lifetime, according to our intrepid globe-hopper, Lance Avery Morgan.

UNUSUALLY UTOPIAN

If this isn’t paradise, then paradise really may not exist after all. Welcome to the land in which James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific and subject for the captivating images painted by Gauguin and Matisse that shocked the world. Yes, French Polynesia is an extraordinary land…a mythical place with mythical inhabitants that offers what some might consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience south of the equator.

 

Think of French Polynesia as the Hawaii of the 1950s before statehood–unspoiled, underdeveloped, and well, just a little untamed. With exotic island names like Bora Bora, Manihi, Tikehau, Moreea, and many more, each experience can be distinctive and always five-star. You encounter an authentic experience here, which is the islands’ specialty. Maybe that’s why the rich and famous love to escape their red carpet lives if just for a couple of weeks, to arrive at a sense of tranquility in such a secluded paradise.  

 

The region’s laissez-faire attitude, topped with a chic French accent, creates a unique and spectacular environment to satisfy any desire. Want to curl up in the lap of luxury and eat fresh fruit with a side of Poisson cru (raw fish marinated in fresh coconut milk)? That’s easily arranged. Enjoy endless spa treatments? That can happen. Think you’re up for an athletic vacation where you can snorkel, dive, kayak, surf, and do just about any other water sport? This is the place. Need some downtime away from your electronic device and spreadsheets to complete that unfinished screenplay, polish off that Great American Novel, or just paint watercolor masterpieces? Come here to do it and recharge your creative batteries. Think of it as, well, nature’s Botox. 

 

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

Once you land, relaxation sets in immediately. And getting there is a snap. Hop on a plane to Los Angeles, and then the easy part is flying directly from Los Angeles to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, the cornerstone of what is known as French Polynesia. Air Tahiti Nui gets you there in a quick eight hours–just a little more than what it takes to get to Honolulu (I learned this when my direct flight was canceled at the last minute and I hopped on another that took me to Honolulu first). You’ll feel rested upon arrival in the evening thanks to the airline’s luxurious amenities. There are even plenty of non-stop flights from Manhattan. Since you arrive at night, you can stay at the Sheraton Hotel Tahiti or Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti before moving on to one of the luxurious resort islands the next day. Visitors usually don’t dawdle in Papette since it is reputed to have a high crime rate. Once at your resort destination, you’ll be greeted with a fresh lei of fragrant Tiare (similar to a gardenia), a custom that’s implemented on every island you visit. And paradise will beckon you from every swaying palm.

 

To know the islands, you first have to be acquainted with their land and people. The extensive island chain of French Polynesia is home to only 250,000 inhabitants, 70% of which live in Tahiti. There are about 120 islands and atolls that comprise the area, much more than Hawaii’s eight islands, lending a feeling of tremendously remote tranquility when you get there. It’s hardly Gilligan’s Island, or even, Lost for that matter.

Polynesia has a dynamic and diverse culture. They are people who seek adventure. Because they are survivors avidly concerned with the environment, they love to have a good time and make visitors feel welcome. Although the French are not usually known for their over-friendliness, as many who have been to Paris will recount, they are known for creating an environment that’s above reproach. That is what they’ve done here since it became a French protectorate in 1842 before becoming an overseas territory in 1946.

 

Le Bora Bora is the ultimate Jet-Set lagoon destination. Over-water, thatched bungalows are the most common accommodations on the islands. From land, as you walk to the middle of the lagoon to your rooms at the Pearl Beach Resort as I did, you’ll see the marine life at your feet. Literally. Inside your teak wood suite of plush linens and original islander artist renderings, you’ll encounter what I call a Tahitian television: a glass floor coffee table where you can see all the exotic marine life swimming beneath you. These built-on-stilts suites are the perfect way to end either a sport-filled or relaxing day. Either way, you will know and quickly get used to the fact that you’re in paradise.

 

EXPERIENTIAL PLEASURE

The sporting life on the islands is mainly inspired by the turquoise blue water and entices you to embrace your inner Indiana Jones. A French Polynesian devotee told me, “I was snorkeling one day and swam right by a blacktip reef shark. Within five feet. What an experience. There are so many water sports to encounter in this tropical paradise.”

 

Want to go snorkeling? I hopped down the steps of my over-water bungalow and swam over to a coral nursery where I found fish of every imaginable color and size. Need to catch your own meal? Do as I did and go deep-sea fishing on a small craft to catch a grouper, then have a picnic on a remote motu with a group of both friends and islanders. Ready for dessert? There’s a coconut tree right over there. It’s the kind where I learned to climb to obtain fresh coconut: all you do is shuck it with your teeth, or simply crack it open with a sharp object to taste its nectar. Anything seems possible in the South Pacific, even for the most ardent city dweller.

 

It’s said the blue water is so rich in coloration that it’s not duplicated in any other part of the world. Even from an airplane window, it stunningly beckons each visitor. The fact that it is pristinely clear is a given. The fact that it’s home to some of the best coral reefs in the world is an added bonus. If you want to experience the best diving the world has to offer, this is the ocean for it. Marine life is healthy, abundant, and well protected. Take a champagne sunset boat cruise to find out about the sea and its inhabitants. Michael Chopard, the boat’s captain, told me, “This area is a gift from God. I’ve lived here since the 1970s, and to me, the lagoons are the most special. I fell in love with all of this the moment I landed back then.”

 

Part of that specialness is the pearls found dotting both tourists and natives. The pearl farms that cultivate those precious balls of marine perfection are sprinkled among the islands. Elizabeth Schneider, a Tahitian pearl expert, revealed, “About one in 10,000 pearls are naturally perfect, so most are cultured, like this one I’m holding. Even cultured pearls of high quality take about five years to create. We created one that was a jawbreaker size valued at over $20,000.”

So, pearls are big business, especially the black ones that are actually shades of charcoal grey.  If you are a diver and want to try your luck at obtaining perfect pearls, dive in. It can be done. Diving is serious business and has an amazing following here. The Pearl is the only luxury hotel chain for dive enthusiasts of all levels, to marry quality resorts with professionally run PADI dive centers at six of their resorts. My goal of diving for black pearls, which could be made into cufflinks and a stud set, was achieved, so anything is truly possible.

 

UNPARALLELED LUXE

The island’s guests appreciate the unique combination of being able to play at Robinson Crusoe with water and beach activities yet enjoy all the creature comforts of a luxury resort. Dining at Le Bora Bora is memorable for its subtle mix of the best of French and Polynesian cuisine, often accompanied by exciting Tahitian dance entertainment. Three restaurants at the resort satisfy any appetite: Miki Miki, Otemanu, and Poerava. Miki Miki is a quick dash from the pool or beach for a delicious lunch or a light dinner later in the day. Poerava serves gourmet cuisine in a romantic and cozy setting.  Situated at the highest elevation point at the resort, breakfast is usually served as a buffet, and dinner offers peaceful views of the lagoon and Mount Otemanou, where, every Monday, is a live Polynesian show. In fact, I was that guy they pulled on stage to learn the native Polynesian dance in front of the entire dining audience. Bongo drums and all. It was worth it because the cuisine on the islands is unmatched. I danced for my supper. Most of the food is shipped in since vegetation is rare on the islands due to space and logistics. Yet, the fish is fresh and often local. Fresh papaya juice and the best hot chocolate outside of Paris is de riguer for breakfast. A light salad for lunch is the perfect energizer in between sports activities or sunning. The vegetables, the fruit, and even the beef seemed to taste better on the islands.

 

Want to be pampered? There’s an island secret called monoi, a liquid blend of the essences of hundreds of flowers, oil, and indigenous coconuts  used in most spa treatments. The resorts offer a range of traditional Polynesian and other massage techniques and treatments using the purest natural oils and essences. During treatments, you’ll be ensconced by a new line of Manea Spa products made exclusively for the Pearl resorts in Tahiti. A formula that retains the intrinsic natural properties of flowers and plants. The Bora Bora, Tikehau, and Manihi Pearl Beach Resorts (all a Member of Leading Small Hotels of the World) and the Four Seasons Bora Bora offer treatments, scrubs, and massages to soothe both the soul and the senses. And all are traveled between by either boat or a quick plane ride. A favorite of honeymooners, you’ll see the resorts loaded with lovers. That’s the island way.

 

Islander folklore has that the French Polynesians honor dreams that occur here. They feel that dreams are planted and fed and not tossed away. They think dreams and love never die in Tahiti. Upon departure, I am given my last strand of shells around my neck, signifying the hope of safe travels and a beckon to return. The shells and trip symbolize the holiday of a lifetime, and I make a silent promise to myself to return one day…with much more sunscreen.

ROMANCING THE STONE

ROMANCING THE STONE

The art and precious jewelry worlds are simpatico: canvas meets carats. Both very collectible, they tell of stories of its collectors and their journeys together. It’s a match made in heaven. Here, we pair some of the most dynamic art and exemplary jewels that we love most. So colorful and captivating, let them inspire you and your own collecting.

Artwork by Anarte Gallery, Ana Hernandez Burwell, Richard Diebenkorn, Brad Ellis, Estancia del Norte Hotel, Allison Gregory, Kenneth Noland, Kelly O’Connor, Sarah Palmer, Carlos Rosales-Silva, Ruiz-Healy Art, Kathy Sosa and Tracy Williams.

Jewelry by Calvin’s Fine Jewelry, Korman Fine Jewelry, Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, The Menagerie Fine Jewelry & Gift Salon, Nicole Mera Fine Jewelry, Nini Jewels, and Sotheby’s New York.

DESTINATION: GLAMOUR

DESTINATION: GLAMOUR

Up, up and away we go in our spring fantasy extravaganza. Dressed deliriously diaphanous and very dreamy, we’re making plans to be whisked away soon. Here, in this season’s most eclectic choices, join us as we set our sights on the horizon for the brighter future ahead.

Photography by Mark Oberlin                Styling by Dion “Bleu” Drake

Make-up by Tatiyana Elias using TMF Cosmetics & Ipsum Skin

Hair by Candace Gallegos using Unite Hair Care

Model: Anna Iurkova, State Management, Los Angeles

Sittings Producer: Lance Avery Morgan

LOVE, ACTUALLY

LOVE, ACTUALLY

The Nuptials Of Sarah Elizabeth Requa and Samuel Finley Ewing IV In Carmel

By Lance Avery Morgan

Photography by Liz Banfield

An elaborate engagement proposal would set the stage for the spectacular wedding of Sarah Elizabeth Requa, the daughter of Penny and Paul Loyd, and Jack Requa, and Samuel Finley Ewing IV, the son of Beth and Fin Ewing. The Texans were married at the Redwood Grove at Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel Valley, near a home of the bride’s family. The bride had always dreamt of having her wedding in a ceremony surrounded by family, friends, and sky-high redwood trees. 

 

The bride, from Houston and a graduate of Southern Methodist University, and the groom, from Dallas and a graduate of Texas Tech University, are admittedly opposites that attracted. They have very different preferences in cuisine, entertainment, sports, hobbies, and thermostat settings, according to the bride. “It’s an interesting social experiment at our house, but somehow it just works, and we end up meeting in the middle and enjoying our time together,” mused Sarah Requa Ewing.

When Finley proposed to Sarah, after a courtship of three years, they were visiting her family in Houston. She thought she was getting dressed for a fundraising gala, and as they were about to depart, Finley proposed. A dinner had been planned afterwards with family and friends, who were waiting to celebrate the momentous occasion. “I wanted to make sure that Sarah was completely surprised. I told very few people until just before the big proposal day. Everything worked out better than I could have expected,” shared the groom, Finley Ewing IV. The exquisite wedding, adapted to COVID-19 protocol, was artfully curated by Sarah Fay Egan Events of Dallas, who helmed the nuptial’s logistical and creative planning from near and far. Pastel shades of blue and green, along with the venue’s indigenous Cypress trees, were artfully integrated into the décor. A floral arch, where the bride and groom gathered to exchange their vows, was gorgeously colorful and beamed in the middle of the redwoods’ ambiance, providing the perfect backdrop for the union. The Santa Lucia Preserve is located on 20,000 acres of stunning coastal California landscapes, just a few miles inland from Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The ceremony, officiated by Kit Case, was moving for all who were there to witness it, especially the groom as he saw his future bride for the first time as she walked toward him on the arm of her father, Jack Requa. She was resplendent, wearing an ethereal Monique Lhuillier gown, and a veil adorned with Alençon lace, while carrying a bouquet by Fiona Floral. “I am usually not a crier, but when I saw Sarah come around the corner from behind the giant redwoods, I couldn’t help myself. She looked absolutely stunning, and I felt like the luckiest guy in the world,” said the groom, who wore a custom blue suit. The groom even donned custom made boots by Roma, and also outfitted each of his attendants with custom made boots. 

 

Some of the wedding party were unable to attend due to the pandemic and California’s gathering restrictions, yet they were there in spirit. Jessica Requa Pinnell, the bride’s sister, served as her matron of honor, and the bride was also attended by Christie Loyd, Emma Rose Loyd, Lloyd and Gail Ewing, while Hayden Rome was unable to attend. They wore pale grey dresses and carried bouquets laden with silk ribbon streamers. The best man, Charlie Ewing, the groom’s brother, and groomsman Kelly Loyd were on hand, while the other groomsmen, Harrison Holmes, Matthew Requa, and Dodger Lambourn, were unable to attend. Hudson Pinnell and Parker Pinnell, the bride’s nephews, were the ring bearer. The duo’s dog, Phoebe, was also an attendant, with a specially made floral leash and collar. The couple and their families sent each guest a bottle of champagne and a pair of flutes to toast with them from afar while they watched the wedding ceremony online. 

The weekend’s festivities began with a rehearsal dinner held on the back lawn and poolside of the bride’s parents’ home, with a beautiful view overlooking the Santa Lucia Preserve. Following the ceremony, there was a seated dinner for 24, down from the originally-planned guest count of 350. The theme of nature was effortlessly entwined with the embroidered dinner napkins―female guests had a blue hydrangea, and the mens’ napkins sported a cypress tree design. And, anyone who knows the couple’s families were not surprised to see the groom’s father, Fin Ewing, sing a few songs, while the band, Entourage, provided other entertainment that evening. The bride, who is 25% of Japanese descent, was thrilled that her grandmother (who is Japanese) hand-crafted a thousand origami paper cranes herself that floated above the reception’s dining area, said to represent what the heart desires, offering another unique family tie to the momentous weekend. “This is proof that a small family ceremony can be even more gorgeous than the original plan,” gushed the bride, Sarah Requa Ewing. “We loved how the traditional elements of a large wedding were still perfectly infused into our own version.” 

 

The couple resides in Dallas, where the bride is a freelance artist and the groom is an executive with Ewing Automotive Group. They love to travel together and like to listen to music while playing outside with their dog. Sarah and Finley honeymooned in Cabo San Lucas and plan to visit Italy when international travel resumes. 

CULTURE CURATOR

CULTURE CURATOR

Texas is known for our dynamic personalities. Some are born with it, and for some, it develops over time. Here, our pop cultural chronicler, William Jack Sibley, a fifth-generation native Texan, reveals the almost-lost story behind legendary San Antonio philanthropist, Robert L.B. Tobin, and the extraordinary life he led in Texas…and beyond.

RARIFIED UNIVERSE

It’s no secret that San Antonio’s Robert L.B. Tobin lived an epic life. The opening of the downtown Tobin Center for the Performing Arts has led to an increased interest in the eponymous namesake as a heralded Texas family of vast wealth, stature, and notoriety.

 

Like so many old Texas clans for whom noblesse oblige was an assumed provenance, the Tobins of San Antonio orbited in a highly rarified universe. Robert Tobin’s father, Edgar Tobin, was a World War I flying ace who started the Tobin Aerial Mapping Company (later Tobin Aerial Surveys) to serve the oil and gas industry when no comparable business even existed. His first customer was Humble Oil, which then, of course, evolved into Exxon/Mobil. His wife, Margaret “Mag” Batts Tobin, was the daughter of Robert Lynn Batts, a former University of Texas law professor and Chairman of the U.T. Board of Regents (Batts Hall on the U.T. Austin campus is named for him). He also served as Chief Judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Robert, their only son, born in 1934, was a descendant of the Canary Islanders who founded San Antonio. Very few locals could match his inimitable pedigree. In 1954, when he was just 19, as a sophomore at the University of Texas in Austin, his father and Braniff Airlines founder, Tom Braniff, were killed in a plane crash in Louisiana. Remarkably, at that young age, Robert took over the operation of his father’s company and led it to unprecedented growth (eventually introducing color aerial photography, among numerous other innovations).

 

Diligent, accomplished, assured, and, yes, some would say entitled–Robert Tobin was not a man accustomed to being told no. When he was only 20, he was asked to serve as president of the local Children’s Service Bureau. In addition to becoming a member of the boards of the Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University, the Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the advisory board of the San Antonio Council for Retarded Children, Tobin served as a member of the National Budget and Consultation Committee, and the Santa Rosa Hospital Advisory Board. He also put in his time in the upper echelons of San Antonio’s exclusive social clubs: the Order of the Alamo, the Argyle, the German Club, and the San Antonio Country Club. But, because of his avid interest in the performing arts, he also volunteered to be a stage hand at the Municipal Auditorium, which in his 20s led to his being awarded an honorary member of Local Union No. 76 of Stage Employees. It was an honor he would cherish throughout his life.

 

One couldn’t ask a young man to be a more civic and socially engaged citizen. With his towering stature of six-foot-six, dramatic good looks, thick mane of prematurely graying hair…and a penchant for wearing black capes, Tobin was a strikingly memorable presence wherever he went. But soon after he became the youngest chairman of the Board of Managers of the Bexar County Hospital District, amicable feelings between some San Antonio civic leaders and Young Tobin noticeably transformed.

 

His mother, Mag, was a passionate opera devotee and arts patron, who not only served as the president of the McNay Art Museum but also sat on the board of directors of the New York Metropolitan Opera. In fact, in 1984, she funded the McNay’s Tobin Wing in honor of Robert’s 50th Birthday to house his growing theatre arts collection. Robert Tobin, a generous philanthropist himself, continued the tradition by serving as chairman of the McNay and donated his world-renowned extensive theater-arts collection to the McNay Museum of Art, including more than 8,000 rare books–some published in the early 16th century, 20,000 stage maquettes, and unsurpassed drawings, paintings, and posters, all acquired via an inveterate collector’s matchless taste and discretion.

 

 

RENAISSANCE MAN

Tobin’s views were more global than what San Antonio could offer him at the time. It wasn’t so much that San Antonio stifled his artistic aspirations–on the contrary, San Antonio was never meant to be the end game for Tobin. After a very public, and publicly chronicled, dust-up regarding the building location of the Southwest Medical Center in the early 1960s, the world became his venue. The Tobin’s family friend, Candes Chumney, who identified herself as “the daughter Mag Tobin never had” believes the Medical Center battle soured Robert on his hometown. “Here was a very dignified gay man, who at the time never discussed his sexuality in any open environment. Family and close friends knew, of course, but that kind of personal, frank disclosure simply wasn’t the norm then.”

 

Thereafter, he slowly withdrew from San Antonio’s public, social, and philanthropic scene. San Antonio’s loss was the world’s gain. Obligations and interests in New York, Santa Fe, Spoleto, and European capitals made his local appearances ever rarer. Robert became a managing director of the Metropolitan Opera for some 20-odd years, a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, president of the Spoleto and Glyndebourne Festivals and collaborated with his friend, John O. Crosby, in the early days of building the Santa Fe Opera.

 

As Robert’s health began to decline after a cancer diagnosis in 1990, he returned to his home town of San Antonio to set a course for his continuing legacy of philanthropic support for his various interests, including his beloved McNay Art Museum, the Santa Fe Opera, the arts, and other civic support for San Antonio. In 1998, Robert asked his long-time trusted advisors Leroy G. Denman, Jr. and J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. to oversee his various business and philanthropic endeavors, which after his death in 2000, evolved into The Tobin Endowment.

 

Since Robert’s passing in 2000, visitors to the McNay Art Museum can enjoy not only the Tobin Wing established by Robert’s mother in 1984 to house Robert’s Theater Arts Collection, but visit the new “Tobin Galleries” which opened in 2008 as well. Also, San Antonians enjoy the Tobin Library at Oakwell, the 100 acre Tobin Park and soon, the Robert L. B. Tobin Land Bridge in Phil Hardberger Park, among many other gifts by The Tobin Endowment in honor and memory of Robert Tobin. Under the leadership of the late Leroy G. Denman, Jr. and Chairman of The Tobin Endowment, J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., The Tobin Endowment has contributed over $65 million to the arts since 2000, including a $15 million naming gift to build The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio.

 

In fact, under the leadership of the late Leroy G. Denman, Jr. and J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., Chairman of The Tobin Endowment, The Tobin Endowment has contributed over $65 million to the arts since 2000, including a $15 million naming gift to build The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio. In 2017, in recognition of The Tobin Endowment’s philanthropic work in the State of Texas, it received the Texas Medal of the Arts by the Texas Cultural Trust.

 

In addition, The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund, established shortly before Robert’s death in 2000, has donated rare costumes and design materials to The University of Texas, San Antonio, among other gifts, and published a history of stage design and technology. Months before his death, Tobin personally donated more than 30 paintings by Robert Indiana, Paul Cadmus, Joan Mitchell, and other notable American artists to the McNay.

 

The former manager of the Argyle and Board Chairman of the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund, Mel Weingart, was a close confidante of both Mag and Robert. He lived for a time in the Tobins’ side-by-side Manhattan townhomes on Park Avenue and managed their New York dealings. “I think Robert would be in seventh heaven about the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts,” Weingart said. “He was humble. He would have never sought out name recognition on his own. This is a way to acknowledge the person and the family, who, for a significant period of time, honorably represented the city in the art world in a profound and noteworthy way.”

 

ESTABLISHING A LEGACY

Indeed. Visionary, aesthetic, discerning, and a consummate patron, Robert L.B. Tobin gave, and continues to give, more to his hometown than even he could possibly have conceived some 20-years since his passing. Iris Rubin, a close confidante and University of Texas college chum of Tobin’s, declared that “Robert was blessed with taste, intelligence, and the ability to apply it all successfully. He was a citizen of the world. We were lucky he was from here and especially fortunate that he graced our city with the gifts that he ultimately did.”

 

  1. Bruce Bugg, Jr. shared his memories of the man behind the legend. “Robert Tobin was a virtual kaleidoscope of so many interests. He had an intimidating public persona–as people remembered him wearing his black capes–yet in private, he was a kind and compassionate man, of keen intellect, whether in business, the performing and visual arts, or whatever topic a guest might wish to discuss. He had a wicked sense of humor, christened by a dry wit–he was a wonderful person as anyone lucky enough to have known him knew all too well–he is missed but remembered for his ongoing generosity to San Antonio and the arts he so loved.”

 

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, in the heart of downtown San Antonio, continues to thrive as a favorite venue of world-class performances and events. The eponymous Robert L.B. Tobin Society is the inspiration for recognizing those who support The Tobin Center. Membership in it provides the opportunity to join fellow community, philanthropic, and cultural leaders who demonstrate support for The Tobin Center and the legacy of its namesake.

 

For more information, visit McNayArt.org and TobinCenter.org.

LARGER THAN LIFE

LARGER THAN LIFE

Tireless fundraiser and society style icon, Houstonian Becca Cason Thrash, is known for many things, with being a legendary hostess for a myriad of regional and international causes topping the list of her many talents.

Elegant, ebullient, and always successful, she ensures these events are illustrious for not only doing good for so many, but also as memorable adventures. Join OUR Lance AVery Morgan as we venture to Mexico City, by way of Paris, for the decade’s latest Thrash Bash.

Photography by Alejandro Celez and Iván de la Luz

THE FUN IN FUNDRAISING

It was destined to be. Becca Cason Thrash’s heart was deeply affected when she saw Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris burning in April of 2019. Within the flames of her own heart, as she viewed the tragedy, she reacted immediately and committed to helping fundraise for the re-building of one of the most significant architectural landmarks in the world. She had been approached before the tragedy to help raise much- needed funds for the restoration, and after the fire, that motion was fast-forwarded. Thrash, like the rest of the world, viewed it as a catastrophe that anyone who knows Paris can confirm: it rattled the soul of the City of Love. Never believing in borders, Thrash sprang into immediate action and did what she does best: she hosted an astonishing weekend of events for the fabled structure, outside of France, in Mexico City, to encourage high-level donations for the restoration of the Cathedral.

“To replicate those medieval materials, some of them almost 900-years old, and to re-create the manufacturing of such stones, metals, and patina would be cost-prohibitive after the fire,” confides Becca Cason Thrash. “So, the Notre-Dame team called and asked, ‘Please, we really need your help.’” She continues, “I said, ‘I’ll do it, but under one condition.’ I’m not bringing everybody back to France because I’ve hosted five fundraising events there for the Louvre, and I’ve always wanted to do something in Mexico City. So, if you’ll allow me to create a fundraiser, I’ll do it my own way, in my own style, and with my list. They said yes, and we were off to the races.”

Thrash is certainly no novice to fundraising and is absolutely not a stranger to hosting epic fundraising events on an international level. After all, she continues to raise millions and millions for the Musée de Louvre and Venetian Heritage organizations. Never one to rest on her own successful fundraising laurels, Harlingen native and Houston resident, Thrash, was inspired to create a multitude of new experiences for the latest Notre-Dame gala endeavor. The 12th-century Gothic structure would rise again, thanks in part to Thrash’s gala expertise.

It’s that point of view that earned Thrash the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 2011 for her philanthropic talents at home and abroad, her tireless fundraising for the Louvre, and her ongoing championing of Franco-American relations. Becca Cason Thrash has a natural affinity for international culture, including Latin culture. She was raised in South Texas and lived in Mexico City while working for Vogue En Español, as she started her career in marketing. These experiences prepared her for a very public life both in Houston and across the globe.

Perhaps Thrash’s most important secret to entertaining at a high-level is the energy of the room she encourages based on the invitation list. Highly curated, like Thrash’s couture wardrobe, her secret sauce is having a mix of guests. She always schedules time to focus on the laborious task of creating a seating chart for the coterie of international jetsetters, philanthropists, business leaders, contemporary art collectors, and social swells. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Thrash readily admits she’s hosted countless more events in Houston for a plethora of her passionate causes, ranging from Best Buddies, on which she serves as a board member, to the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, The Menil Collection, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Holocaust Museum Houston, and many, many more charitable and civic organizations of all kinds. Whether hosting at her home, or in monumental international venues, her events attract hundreds of guests who arrive to support five-star cultural institutions with an intention to also have fun. Her fundraising, by the Thrash’s estimation, is likely north of $100 million so far, and that might be a conservative assessment. “People support people. It’s that simple,” shares Thrash about her hard-won fundraising success. “Plus, to me, it’s so important to have a uniquely, hand-selected, and eclectic mix of guests. I know everyone who is walking in the door that evening. They must be fun, interesting, generous, and bring their own brands of enthusiasm to the party. It doesn’t matter if they are moguls or not. They know why they are there…to have a one-of-a-kind time…and to raise money. People support the charity, of course, but people really support people.”

 

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING

The planning, like all of Thrash’s previous social triumphs, begins early, with months and months of advance preparation…and doesn’t end until the last guest has successfully departed. Mexico, a favorite locale of Thrash’s, is known for its colorful celebrations, and these, with Thrash’s own colorful personality, are a perfect combination of elements. Only the best will do. “I made seven trips to Mexico City to prepare all the details and met with many people including the six hosts and dear friends who opened their homes and collections for the special weekend,” Thrash confides. As in galas past, fellow Houstonian Richard Flowers, and his event design team of five, were enlisted to bring Thrash’s vision to life. Locally in Mexico, Diego Del Río Zepeda and his team were on hand to collaborate for the events’ success. The best tableware, flatware, linens, and flowers, thousands upon thousands of flowers, would need to be implemented to create the regal setting for this triumphant to-do.

Before the Mexican soirées, the fundraising efforts actually began in Houston, with a preview dinner event hosted by Steak 48, the hot Houston eatery that could accommodate the 160-plus guest list. Thrash proudly donned her favorite Zara sequined dress, instead of couture, and added a million dollars of Van Cleef & Arpels jewels to complete her hosting ensemble. The grand total raised for the kick-off night was $100,000.

 

ONWARD TO MEXICO CITY

One hundred and fifteen guests, paying $6,000 per ticket, began arriving in Mexico City from Paris, Vienna, Milan, London, NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, and an equal number of glamorous, enthusiastic Texans from across the state, and especially from Thrash’s hometown turf of Houston.

Now, where to place each of the guests attending the soirée? No problem. Thrash arranges seating charts like an eminent chess expert at a championship match: play to win as if it was the most important thing to accomplish. Having attended and chronicled many Thrash Bashes, I can attest she will place a guest next to a fellow participant that the guest will invariably find interesting and remarkable in their life’s pursuits. This cadre of attendees at the Mexico affair would be no different.

The three-day series of events began with an intimate dinner hosted by the French Ambassador to Mexico, Anne Grillo, at her residence in Mexico. Her Excellency greeted the internationally-based guests upon their arrival. The Embassy of Mexico in France, based out of Paris, is the primary diplomatic mission from the United Mexican States to France. It also represents Mexico to the Principality of Monaco, as well as to the Council of Europe. The palace itself is resplendent with a abundance of both French and Latin culture.

The next day an alfresco afternoon luncheon was held in the exquisite home of megawatt art collectors Tato and Gaby Garza. Guests chatted and mingled, admiring the art everywhere they turned in the residence. Chapultepec castle, the Frida Kahlo home, Casa Azul, the Diego Rivera collection at Anahuacalli, and the home of famed artist Pedro Friedberg were just a few of the stops made by the well-heeled crowd. Additional visits, cocktail receptions, and other dinners were arranged in the homes of Mexican entrepreneur Sergio Berger, along with Rodman Primack, and Rudy Weissenberg.  Stopping by the Barragan stables, designed by renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragan, was also a delightful treat for the attendees.

 

VIVA BECCA

The last evening’s fête was widely anticipated. Hosted by Eugenio Lopez, the sole heir to the Jumex fruit-juice fortune, he is considered to be one of the world’s top 200 art collectors. In his extraordinary, art-filled mansion, cocktails and canapes were served as guests chatted and greeted each other. The attendees were dazzled by the white glove-served, five-course seated dinner, but most especially by the extraordinary design and architecture.

These ancillary events bookended the high point of the weekend, La Grande Nuit, as Thrash titled it. Held in the Casino Español–a 19th century building in the Districo Histórico, complete with a 60-foot Tiffany ceiling and a Grand Salon rivaled only by Versailles itself. The venue was decorated as a million-dollar raising gala should be: over the top. Guests descended a grand staircase upon their arrival, fitting for both the venue and the occasion. Following the lavish, multi-course dinner, Becca Cason Thrash took center stage, donned in a beaded Naeem Khan gown, topped with a fuchsia Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda full-length coat and plenty of her own, favorite jewels, and presided over the live auction like the pro she is.

For those who have never seen Thrash in action, as she passionately raises funds for events dear to her heart, it’s a tour de force to behold. A financial goal always in mind, Thrash knows how to read an audience. Part of that special skill is to understand what guests would be interested in buying at a live auction, from art to fashion, to experiences. Then, she goes about acquiring them with supporting brands she knows well, thus promoting these brands with this elevated exposure. Uber collector Eugenio Lopez prevailed on the final bid for a five-night cruise in Egypt on the private yacht owned and donated by Parisian designer Christian Louboutin. Houstonian Lynn Mathre bid the highest on a Naeem Khan bespoke gown and Buccellati necklace. British artist Chris Levine’s limited edition of a gold-dusted portrait of Queen Elizabeth, along with ten lots of art, trips, and jewelry, took in more than $700,000 in less than, yes, fifteen minutes. Talk about light speed for a live auction that can often exhaust audiences at other galas for an hour or more. To make the weekend even more special, Thrash was surprised with a mini birthday celebration amidst the revelry.

Among the decidedly stylish notables were the French Ambassador, Anne Grillo, the Former Minister of Culture, Sari Bermundez, along with Sergio Berger, Christine Holzer, Alejandra Redo, Rodman Primack, Rudy Weissenberg, Lucas Somoza, Ben Aguilar, Andres Carretero, and Guillermo Ordorica. Other bold-faced names in the crowd included Duran Duran’s John Taylor and his fashion icon wife, Gela Taylor, who jetted in from London, blue-chip art collector Tracey Amon from Paris, Christopher Forbes from New York,  collector Eva Dichand from Vienna, Kathleen von Alvenslebenn from Berlin, and philanthropist Joseph Blount from Palm Beach. Amin Jaffer, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on jewels in from Paris, to name a few. The world’s foremost expert on royal jewels was joined by notables hailing from Texas, including collectors Christen and Derek Wilson from Dallas. Sixty of the more than 115 guests supported the Thrashes from Houston, including Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Reggie and Leigh Smith, Leslie and Russ Robinson, Barbara and Michael Gamson, and many more, along with John Thrash, Becca’s beloved husband, and thirty Mexico City notables.

The action always seems to move to the dance floor to keep the party going. Songstress and ingénue Jane Fontaine, from Los Angeles, entertained guests at the after party that went into the wee hours of the next morning. Seen on the dance floor were Randy Powers and Greggory Burk, Rose and Dave Capobianco, Tony Bradfield, Marc and Duyen Nguyen, Fred Heredia and Cassidy York, Elizabeth and Will Galtney, Valerie Fuller and Andree Aboolian, while the Mexican artist Denise de las Rue was spotted in deep conversation with Ford Hubbard.

By the end of the action-packed weekend, more than $1.3 million had been raised for the restoration efforts of Notre-Dame de Paris, the venerable 850-year-old symbol of French culture. “If you create a once-in-a- lifetime experience for guests that they are happy to support, then its win for them and the charity,” confides Becca Cason Thrash. “So that is what I’ve always tried to do:  focus on the experience. Like my events that have had Tom Brady, George Clooney, Cindy Crawford, Prince Albert, Duran Duran, Marc Anthony, and many other similar honorary guests and celebrities, not to mention Willie Nelson playing in her great room to benefit Best Buddies one evening…people will show up. Let’s face it…people want the experience of being a part of something special, and so I try to give that to them.”