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“One Gesture Can Really Help,” says David Rockwell on Broadway-themed Picnic By Design auction for DIFFA’s fight against AIDS

On Wednesdays, we wear pink with a Mean Girls-themed locker full of glamorous goodies for auction at DIFFA’s Picnic By Design

Zoë Zellers

A cast of twenty-three New York designers took a turn towards the theatrical this fall, all in the name of supporting an important cause – the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) joined forces with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to throw a high-style picnic bash. Designers and firms partnered with sponsors to create festive picnic baskets for auction, each of which was chock full of glamorous goodies and themed around a Broadway musical as part of an auction to help DIFFA’s longtime mission to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. For this year’s Picnic By Design, Hunter Douglas collaborated with designer Patrick J. Hamilton, of Patrick James Hamilton Designs, who reimagined a pop-y and bright Mean Girls-themed basket that had the crowd seeing pink.

Guest bid on baskets full of glamorous goodies to benefit DIFFA’s grants to fight HIV/AIDS. Hunter Douglas collaborated with Patrick J. Hamilton on this Mean Girls-themed basket. Photos courtesy of Patrick J. Hamilton.

Hamilton played with the theme by using a hot pink school locker as an alternative “basket,” stuffing it with coveted items like a $300 gift certificate to see Mean Girls on Broadway, a $200 gift card to the hip restaurant Cafeteria, a martini set by Tuscany Classics, and makeup and gift cards by Ramy Cosmetics. Spilled out onto the display table were gorgeous pink and orange ombré placemats and clever gold hashtag-shaped coasters by Kim Seybert, a sleek, golden sheen flatware set by Lenox, cocktail shakers and wine tumblers by Kate Spade, and linen sets of Lip Service Napkins. Other designers created imaginative tributes to shows like Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, The Lion King and Kinky Boots, offering plenty of eye candy for the 300 or so guests who gathered at the Viacom Terrace overlooking “The Great White Way.”

This year’s Picnic By Design was the largest edition ever, raising $57,000 to support DIFFA’s fight against HIV/AIDS.

Co-chair David Rockwell, founder of Rockwell Group, Dawn Roberson, executive director of DIFFA, and Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, each made opening remarks. Rockwell discussed the organization’s unique programs, which began at the height of the AIDS crisis, as “a kind of cathartic way for designers to see that creativity made a difference.”

“And my fantasy,” Rockwell added, “has always been that Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which is such an extraordinary organization, and DIFFA, would find a way to do things together, so I’m very grateful that this worked out. Those are my two great passions… They’re such amazingly creative industries, and I think we often don’t think about how just making one gesture can really help, and it’s just something I’m in awe of, being part of this creative industry. I want to thank every designer who participated.”

“We often don’t think about how just making one gesture can really help, and it’s just something I’m in awe of, being part of this creative industry. I want to thank every designer who participated.”
– David Rockwell, founder of Rockwell Group

The successful Picnic By Design, which was the largest edition ever, raised $57,000 to go towards DIFFA’s grantmaking efforts to support HIV/AIDS organizations nationwide. Since 1984, DIFFA’s chapters and partners have raised more than $44 million to support hundreds of HIV/AIDS organizations nationwide. Learn more about Picnic By Design, and click here to see each designer’s dazzling take on hit Broadway musicals.

We sat down to talk inspiration with designer Patrick J. Hamilton who, with a bright pink locker, composition notebook, gold hashtag-shaped coaster and upgraded cafeteria tray, made us nostalgic for Back to School season.

HD: Mean Girls is an iconic movie, turned wildly popular Broadway musical. With a lot of material to choose from, where’d you get the idea for a #CafeteriaChic theme? And, what are some of your favorite design moments?
PJH: I confess, I haven’t seen the Broadway production… yet! But I do watch the Tonys, and the number they showed this year from the show was the cafeteria scene. The staging was super smart, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw used those real, rolling cafeteria tables brilliantly. I loved the idea of that sort of humble thing being elevated, just because someone looked at it in a different way. And while school cafeterias are generally pretty far away from “chic,” I thought, “Well, if anyone can make the experience a little glam, it would be Regina George.” Plus, the cafeteria is the epicenter of high school politics, isn’t it?

The other part which inspired me, as it always does, was color. The palette of the branding for the show, and of the entire production, was way more amped up than the movie. Color is always one of the places I start on with any project. Nothing defines “vibe” better than color.

“The creative community has lost so, so many brilliant, creative people to the AIDS epidemic… and the New York theater community was hit extremely hard. It only seems right to use creativity, beauty, and camaraderie to honor them.”

– designer Patrick J. Hamilton

HD: What inspired you to join the roster of designers helping DIFFA fight HIV/AIDS?
PJH: I was thrilled when Hunter Douglas invited me to design their picnic basket for so many reasons. DIFFA has been at the forefront of fundraising for the HIV/AIDS community for decades. Even better, the event this year also brought Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to the (picnic) table… I love that collaboration among these fundraising powerhouses. And, I loved the idea of Mean Girls, the theme Hunter Douglas had landed on before I came on board.

The creative community has lost so, so many brilliant, creative people to the AIDS epidemic… an entire generation of arts and design, and the New York theater community was hit extremely hard. It only seems right to use creativity, beauty, and camaraderie to honor them, to say “You’re not forgotten,” while also simultaneously celebrating the Broadway world they populated. Maybe this was my audition for DIFFA’s Dining by Design – now that’s a part I’d love to play!

“Color is always one of the places I start on with any project. Nothing defines ‘vibe’ better than color.”

– designer Patrick J. Hamilton

HD: What was one of the most memorable reactions you overheard about the Mean Girls picnic basket?
PJH: I loved that the minute we put the pink locker on the table (my stand-in for the picnic basket), you could hear people walking by saying “Mean Girls!” That’s the power of an object and a color to tell a story, something I try to bring to every interior design project.

“While school cafeterias are generally pretty far away from ‘chic’… if anyone can make the experience a little glam, it would be Regina George. Plus, the cafeteria is the epicenter of high school politics, isn’t it?”
– designer Patrick J. Hamilton

HD: What other favorite baskets at Picnic By Design caught your eye?
PJH: There was something really great about the sharp simplicity of Lo Chen’s Times Square basket. It managed to convey so much with a really chic, edited approach, but still capture the energy. And Gensler never, ever disappoints — their Kinky Boots basket was uber chic. It totally got a bidding war going on! I love when great design can do that.

 Mean Girls display photos courtesy of Patrick J. Hamilton.

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