The Social Detective

By staff January 1, 2007

The other day in the elevator at the Asolo, here’s what three women were wearing: a serviceable pair of open-toed wedges (totally boring); a pair of round-toed Ferragamos (totally classic); and a pair of exquisite stilettos (totally stunning). At the same moment, the two shoe pikers glanced at each other in recognition of their appalling footwear inferiority. Fab shoes that not everyone can wear were the essence of the invitation by Forty Carrots Family Center to their Wine, Women and Shoes luncheon at the Ritz back in October. 

Initially, I was a little nervous about the event because the invitation read “Be There and Be Fabulous.” Three hundred and eighty women at the sell-out event knew exactly how to respond, but I wasn’t one of them. My shoes have always been paired with my feet, or secondarily with my outfit. In the impossible pursuit of a little extra height, my toes have been tortured as cruelly as political dissidents. So these days, the last thing in the world they want is to be forced into clever footwear designed to make people look even farther down on my vertically challenged person than absolutely necessary.

As with all other things, women fall into two categories: They are either into fancy shoes or they are not. Same with wine. But no one in the world can be indifferent to the need for helping young families develop healthy, self-confident children. Forty Carrots is not just a school; it is the only agency in Sarasota uniquely committed to early childhood/parenting education to strengthen family life and reduce child abuse and neglect. That’s the cause that drew the crowd—and the crowd roared.

Wine, Women and Shoes was the brainchild of Napa Valley vintner Elaine Honig, who was sick of all that pairing of vino fabuloso with designer food and wanted to start pairing it with other passions that (many) women can’t resist: charity and shoes. There are 12 Wine, Women and Shoes events around the country supporting different charities, and more are coming.

Diane Weiss, co-executive director and co-founder of Forty Carrots, put the concept this way: “Great wine gets the ladies to drink, to get out the credit cards, to buy the shoes, to help the families be the very best that they can be.”

At the Sarasota premiere of this event last year, 250 women shelled out almost $100,000 to support Forty Carrots’ programs. Co-chairs Lynn Morris and Nora Johnson, along with Forty Carrots’ other co-founder, Betsy Kane-Hartnett, brought the dream magnificently to life again this year, with the Ritz-Carlton ballroom looking like the shoe department of Bergdorf Goodman. A number of people mentioned their love of the TV series Sex and the City as a catalyst for that shoe passion, and there was a wonderful air of sensual indulgence to the whole affair. “Sole men,” like SARASOTA Magazine’s publisher, Jeff Lawenda, and fashion plate Stew Bitterman, modeled the shoes on trays—not on their feet—and the ladies clapped and whistled and shopped and ate a hearty lunch that included mousse-filled chocolate stilettos.

Even though most people don’t drink at lunch, it was pretty nice tasting in the ballroom, too. The wine was outstanding, and all the shoe lovers were there. I had them taking off their shoes right and left to identify the designers they’d selected for that day’s event. When I asked Betsy Kane-Hartnett how many pairs of shoes she had, she asked, “That I’m proud of, or including sneakers?” Betsy, who isn’t any taller than I am, started collecting and wearing heels only last year in response to this very event. Her shoes of choice that day were Max Mara.

Honorary chairs Janet Kane and Kim Githler were there, but the crush was so great I couldn’t see their feet. Nora Johnson wore her Sergio Rossis with the mink pom-poms. Leslie Tilton said she had 60 pairs of shoes, but that most of them were flip-flops. Maureen Hoyt, who was wearing (at least) five-inch red heels, admitted to being very short. She said shoes at the Ritz made women act like men in a strip club. And yes, it was true.

Nikki Feldbaum was the only one to admit to owning more than 70 pairs of shoes. She said she had 100 pairs of black shoes and one pair of blue shoes, but maybe she was kidding. She was wearing the blue ones. Eileen Wallace said she had 65 pairs of shoes but wore the same few pairs all the time. Jane Summerville said 25 and was wearing her Stuart Weitzmans. Emily Walsh said she was wearing her only cool shoes—Pradas—but I didn’t believe her. Kathryn Carr told me she had six pairs of black shoes, “because you can’t wear the same pair every day,” and one pair of blue shoes. On her feet were Manolo Blahniks—what else?

Kitty Cranor, who womanned one of the volunteer tables, told me where her shoes came from and how much they cost but swore me to secrecy. Lee Barsky was wearing TOD’S from New York. Karen Grierson always wears sandals and long skirts, so you can never see her feet. Suzann Soran has no idea how many pairs of shoes she has and was wearing Ferragamo. Eileen Curd, who bought a belt, was wearing her Stuarts, too. Margaret Wise, Isaac; Joan Brand, Clea Bottier. I caught up with Christina Pfahler at valet parking. She has a bazillion pairs of heels and is always quite tall. That day: Chanel.

Belts, purses, and great silver jewelry were also snapped up in the buying frenzy, and Saks gave everyone gift cards. The Ritz ballroom wasn’t big enough for everyone who wanted to go.

A more sober group rose at dawn the next day to attend the Women and Money power breakfast at the Ritz, presented by Wall Street Live and Gulf Coast Community Foundation to benefit Forty Carrots. Many of the same people came to hear Terry Savage, author of The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need To Retire?, talk about investing, insurance and managing husbands. The topic was riveting. Kim Githler, queen of the money show, and Teri Hansen, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, talked about money, philanthropy and the power of collaboration. The two nonprofits proved their message, raising $60,000 to add to the previous day’s shoe fest.

Leslie Glass is a playwright and the auther of 14 novels, including hte best-selling crime series featuring the NYPD's April Woo.              

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