Atlanta dresses up for the city’s 19th annual Jeffrey Fashion Cares benefit

“This is for our very special guest,” B-52’s frontman Fred Schneider explained as he glided past the VIPs sipping pricey Casa Dragones tequila with a white plate of artfully arranged cheese morsels in the 26th floor Loews hotel presidential suite Monday night. The Fashion Cares pre-party reception was for New York designer and the evening’s honoree Jason Wu. But the “Love Shack” singer continued past Wu and presented the snacks to Violet, After-Party chairwoman Cathleen Smith-Bresciani‘s beloved golden retriever service pooch.
Welcome to Fashion Cares 2011, one of the city’s most fashionable (and wildest) social gatherings of the year. If there was a dull moment at this year’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Atlanta AIDS Fund benefit, we didn’t observe it. We were too busy scoring scoop.
For example, Wu’s heralded return to Fashion Cares was in question due to Hurricane Irene until co-chair Lila Hertz arranged a chartered flight Monday. “I couldn’t miss this!” Wu told us backstage. “But I was ready for that hurricane too. I bought two weeks worth of groceries and I never buy groceries! I’m just glad the weather is so much better here.”
Wu rocketed to international fame after first lady Michelle Obama turned up at the inaugural ball wearing one of his stunning gowns in 2009. For Wu, it was like winning the lottery. “You have two options when you win the lottery,” he told us. “You either spend the money or invest it wisely. We’ve opted to invest and grow the business wisely. It’s not about taking shortcuts. It’s about putting in the extra work now.”
And ladies, two trends for Fall from Wu? “Mens formal wear as womens wear is very in,” Wu says. “Look for a lot of tuxedo-style jackets. Also, I’m seeing a lot of lace out there this year. Lace is back in a big way.”
Also back in a big way this year on the 36th floor of 12th and Midtown, the locale of the Fashion Cares runway show? Snippy socialites sparring over the coveted (albeit assigned) $500 front row seats. After Intel and our old pal AJC Peach Buzz columnist Jennifer Brett overheard one longtime Fashion Cares supporter announce in a carrying tone: “I am a past chair of this event. I am most definitely phoning Lila!,” we guiltily relinquished our front-row media seats (awarded to us, incidentally, after a seating snafu in 2009 left us chair- impaired) and hastily retreated to some unclaimed seats in the back.
As the crowd applauded its approval of the fall fashions arriving on the runway (dramatic capes, black, longer hemlines and red trenchcoats are back, btw), we kept busy camera phone stalking “Real Housewives of Atlanta” one-woman trainwreck/memorist NeNe Leakes, who sat in the front row with girlfriends fanning herself.
Smith’s tiki-themed After Party at Opera nightclub resembled a B-52’s song come to life, complete with fire dancers, hula girls and lei-accented bartenders. Celebrity DJs Schneider and Vicki Powell kept the crowd entertained, spinning selections to sip pina coladas to at the tiki torch-lit outdoors soiree. By midnight, the thirsty crowd had drained every last decorative coconut shell drink glass dry. Smith sidled up to us and whispered, “I think that means everyone had a good time!”
Or as  the evening’s founder Jeffrey Kalinsky observed: “I already can’t wait for next year: Fashion Cares at 20!”