With the New York charity circuit on hiatus, here is how some philanthropists and society figures are spending their time and resources during the coronavirus crisis.
André Leon Talley
Occupation: author, fashion journalist
Favorite Charity: Housing Works
Where have you been sheltering?
I’ve been in my house in White Plains. It’s an old house, you can feel a chill. But it is my sanctuary. I’m happy to get up in the morning, go downstairs and try to have a bowl of oatmeal with strawberries. Then I open my Amazon boxes to see which new books have arrived.
Is reading a refuge for you, or an escape?
Books are my saving grace. “Promised Land” is here on my table. So is “Shear Elegance,” a visual history of the life of Kenneth Battelle and his salon in a townhouse on East 54th Street. The ’60s were all about Kenneth and his relationships with clients like Jackie Kennedy and the former Vogue editors Polly Mellen and Babs Simpson.
Your recent memoir, “Chiffon Trenches,” was a best seller. Why do you think it resonated?
I wanted to write a sincere book. I didn’t want to hold back. It was written out of pain and joy. Readers responded to that. People thought it would be a condemnation of Vogue. But it wasn’t that at all.
You had some damning things to say about Anna Wintour. Has your perspective changed?
In this serious moment of the pandemic and upheaval, Anna is flying high. She put Lizzo on Vogue’s cover and, this month, Harry Styles wearing a Gucci dress. She is creating a series of firsts and being first is what Vogue is all about.
What are you looking forward to after the pandemic?
I’ll be happy to go to restaurants, to see my friends for lunch at Sant Ambroeus and Majorelle. I look forward to visiting some of my favorite stores, John Derian, Sprouse and Rizzoli. I haven’t been in a store since February. I miss those things.
You spoke feelingly during the Housing Works virtual gala last month about the election. What prompted that?
For those of us suffering the gravity of the pandemic and the tragedy of George Floyd, this year’s brightest moment was the election. I don’t care how much stress you were under. For many of us, the albatross we’ve carried for four years is gone.
Occupation: actress, singer
Favorite Charity: Unicef
Where have you been hunkering down?
Socially, I’m fully quarantined. I’m in lockdown with my sister Paulina in Los Angeles. Our family has been separated. My parents live in Florida. The distance has been difficult and painful. But my sister and I have each other. It’s a blessing.
You were part of the Unicef Changemaker benefit this month. What was a highlight for you?
I performed a song that I learned when I was 8, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I’ve always loved a rainbow. It will be forever nature’s universal symbol of hope. We raised over $5 million that night for children suffering this pandemic.
How did you come by your sense of social responsibility?
I got it from my mother. When I was 10, she took my sister and me to a shelter for battered women in Colombia. While we were there, I met an 11-year-old girl, Maria. She had just given birth to her stepfather’s child. That put everything in perspective for me. Children became a priority. I made a promise to myself that if one day I was fortunate enough to have a platform, I would use it to give back.
You recently became a global ambassador for Revlon. What do you hope to accomplish?
This relationship isn’t about physical beauty — it’s about encouraging young women to be bold, to celebrate women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and backgrounds.
Are you celebrating your Hispanic heritage?
Until recently, I traveled a lot. I loved when I met girls in Mexico, Argentina and Spain. I love being able to speak to them in Spanish. I was at a premiere in Mexico and I heard a little girl at that event tell her mother, “See, she looks like me.” Representing my heritage is the most important role that I will ever play.
What inspires you now?
We shot “Songbird.” That experience heightened everything, because we were shooting a story about a pandemic during a pandemic. I got to channel all my fears into this film. We did find ways of keeping safe. When we weren’t in front of the camera, everyone wore masks and shields. We were tested during filming four or five times a week. It was all worth it. When times are painful, we gravitate to the arts.
Occupation: shoe company founder, entrepreneur
Favorite charities: World Monuments Fund; New-York Historical Society; National Museum of American Jewish History
Where have you been staying?
I’ve been in Greenwich, Conn., with my wife, Jane. She is very cautious. She won’t even go down the road to get the mail. I tell her, “If I survive this thing, honey, it’s going to be thanks to you.” As for me, I don’t have any trouble being entertained. This is a very rural community. We see deer. I have a horseshoe pit in my backyard. I play tennis a couple of times a month. I can’t wait till they get some snow in Vermont. I’m going to head there and do some skiing.
What was the high point of your work with the World Monuments Fund?
That experience goes back eight or 10 years. The cultural minister of Cantabria, Spain, took me through the cave of La Garma. We were privileged. I realized that most people are not going to be able to visit; it’s too fragile for that. Human existence goes back 300 years in this cave.
What most impressed you?
The wall paintings aren’t primitive. There is taste and human expression. After seeing the art on these walls, I realized that everything since then is decadent. To make it visible to the public, we made an immersive virtual video that was shown at the fund’s 55th anniversary gala.
You sold your shoe company several years ago to Tapestry. How are you spending your time?
When you haven’t got a business to run, there’s a lot you can do. Two or three times a month I lecture kids in design school about entrepreneurship and starting a business. With my partner Barbara Kreger, I’m sponsoring a David Copperfield show at the National Museum of American Jewish Heritage. Copperfield claims to know all of Harry Houdini’s tricks, and he’s going to perform them on Saturday night. That will help me enjoy my evening. I don’t want to be tied to Netflix.
What will your life be like once this pandemic subsides?
I’ve got seven ribbons on my fingers reminding me, “Don’t do this. Be careful of that.” I’ll be happy not worrying about whatever I do, wherever I go, every moment of the day. For now, I keep telling myself, “If you want to be here tomorrow, you’ve got to play the game.”
Interviews have been edited.
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