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Disco Inferno

Picture this: A hot, young designer. An exclusive list of gorgeous guests. Runway models. A midnight breakfast to get the party rolling. We call it the Party of the Year. With the economy soaring, Houston knows how to toss a grand soiree, and nobody hosts it better than Becca Cason Thrash. This time it’s for fashion designer Zac Posen, to benefit Best Buddies International. So buckle up for a wild, sexy and very fashionable night.

There are parties and then there are parties. It’s after 2:30 a.m. Cigarettes with lipstick stains lie in ashtrays. Double old-fashioned glasses dot every surface, the ice melted long ago. A stray cufflink has rolled under the glove-leather daybed, unmissed. The scene of a crime? More like the scene of a hot time. The time of everyone’s lives, in fact. The sold-out winter event was appropriately titled Zac Attack!, and Posen indeed attacked Houston with his great design, style and wit, leaving a legion of fans in his wake. While Becca Cason Thrash ruled her glamorous and wild kingdom with exceptional finesse. And all to a disco soundtrack…

I Love The Nightlife. “Yes, yes, of course I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” was the first thing I said to Thrash in July when she mentioned her idea of a party to honor designer-boy-of-the-moment, Posen. “I’m inviting the long-time supporters of Best Buddies along with the chic fashion pack to round out a perfect mix for Zac and his Posen Posse,” she said. Then the notion hit me: to feature the event for the magazine so our readers could get a fly-on-a-champagne- glass view of how Houston entertains these days. With the recent “Houston Chronicles” feature in W magazine, the entire world got a glimpse of the city’s social powers that be. And according to many insiders it was rather conservatively written, because Houstonians like to have a much better time than the feature suggested. Austin socialite Julie Thornton, an event attendee remarks, “Everyone in Houston is as kind as they are chic. I guess it's in the water there…these are the best-groomed women I've ever seen.”

The ringleader of that front-and-center fun - and fund raising - is often Thrash, a hostess of renown on an international level. In between a gala for the Prince Charles Foundation, an Elton John benefit in New York, a board meeting for the American Friends of the Louvre and the Arthouse Texas Prize gala in Austin, Thrash’s schedule during the weeks surrounding this party rivals just about anyone of great social significance. She operates at two speeds: fast and faster. And all her work is for charity. Helping others. And part of helping these charities is raising money while helping its donors have fun.

So it comes as no surprise that the true north of Thrash’s internal compass is her innate ability to make every guest feel welcome in her home. She listens intensely and laughs appreciatively. Seated next to me recently at another event, she confided to me that she gets inspired by reading five different types of books simultaneously. She genuinely wants to know what people are doing and thinking. She is much like other immortal hostesses of the past, women like Hollywood star Jennifer Jones (who, like Thrash, changed outfits several times an evening), Pauline de Rothschild and C.Z. Guest. Thrash believes in always doing – and looking – one’s best, no matter what the circumstance.

Hot Stuff. There’s now enough awareness about the Best Buddies organization − and Thrash’s successful events − that tickets for this particular evening sold out this summer. Simple key lime green Plexiglass cards were sent the week before the event as a reminder of the impending fun. Early on, she told me this particular evening would be special, “It will all be very sexy,” Thrashed gushed. “Elegance is always beautiful, but sexy is more modern. I hope you agree that you can do a unique and different story on modern entertaining. No one loves a seated, multi-course dinner more than me. Yet this event with Zac for Best Buddies has to be edgy, and it will be. Because he is a young and forward-thinking designer. Exciting and sexy,” she explained. Exciting and sexy is exactly what it turned out to be.

This particular event benefited Best Buddies International, which is one of Thrash’s favorite causes. The organization was founded by her longtime pal, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who created the Special Olympics, and Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps. Best Buddies enhances the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-on-one friendships and employment. Shriver is passionate about his founding role in Best Buddies and told me his motivation for it began by having a relative who was born developmentally disabled. “I remember going to church with my Aunt Rosemary, and people would stare. But my mom stood tall, and walked down the aisle, and took communion with her," recalls Shriver. “She said, ‘People might stare, but if you’re doing the right thing, you should just keep doing it.’"

Let’s Get This Party Started. Act One. The Party unfolded in two acts and all the swanky swells of Houston were the players. The double-bill extravaganza began early in the evening at Neiman Marcus. Weaving through the store adorned with holiday decor, and up the escalators, we arrived at the main event in honor of Posen for cocktails, crudités and to view his 2006 Spring collection. Thrash and the guest of honor were there to greet everyone as they arrived, mobbed by the throngs of well-wishers.

In a word, his latest collection is seductive. Think peek-a-boo cut outs and see-through fabrics. If all women wore Zac Posen for Spring 2006, then the world would be a much sexier place. Some of the most beautiful women in the world wear Posen and consider him a great friend, as well. Movie stars like Claire Danes, Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman all clamor for his creations, as do Texans such as Thrash, Allison Sarofim, Kimberly Schlegel-Whitman, Debra Grierson and Andrea Minnis, to name but a few. Social fixture Minnis has worn Posen for years and declares, “He is an unbelievable talent for his age. He has an incredible eye for color and detail because he can finesse a piece of fabric to make a woman feel so very feminine and beautiful. Did I mention that he’s precious, too?”

You Make Me Feel Mighty Real. “Texan women are incredibly sophisticated, feminine, and fabulous. Absolutely daring. I love them,” Posen tells me. And women love donning his clothes because of his of-the-moment sexiness, which incorporates bias-cut silhouettes in sweeping and strapless evening gowns, with ruffled satin draping and long, mermaid hems. He produced magic like this again in his spring collection – mostly in hues of taupe, bronze and teal, frequently topped off with big picture hats. “My inspiration is from the naughty cool of actress Monica Vitti and twinges of my summer collection with a faint exoticism of the Ballet Russe. The Zac Posen woman is on a perpetual Capri vacation. She’s spontaneous, delightful and carefree,” Posen revealed. It’s this sort of collection that leads fashion experts to compare him to yesteryear’s Christian Dior and Madame Vionnet. This ensemble of outfits has Posen, at the ripe old age of 25, considered one of the hottest designers in the world. “Zac has soul,” says Thrash. “He’s evolved into a gifted fashion designer with a broad reach, and commercial, as well as artistic, success. He’s here to stay.”

Before the runway show started, and while everyone sipped and chatted, the guests swiveled their necks, commenting on each person’s wearable homage to Posen. Many of his clothes were worn this particular evening as a tribute to the designer’s talents. Thrash, standing at the entrance to greet her guests and introduce them to Posen, wore the designer’s gunmetal gray embroidered pants paired with a Ralph Rucci jacket and a necklace of south sea pearls, aquamarines, emeralds and turquoise, with a vintage Fred Leighton turquoise and diamond cocktail ring. Posen, at her side in head-to-toe black Gucci, exuded rock star cool and youthful confidence.

It’s Raining Men. The charming Posen, lithe in spirit and figure, makes friends easily upon first acquaintance. His firm handshake and direct eye contact immediately endear him to all. And his appeal extends beyond Houston. Dallas resident and event guest, Doss Alexander recalls, “I remember first meeting Zac several years ago, on his first trip to Texas. He was overwhelmed by the response of the women in Dallas to his collection. I think Zac keeps coming back to Texas because girls here aren't afraid to try new things. And he clearly adores Becca.”

The Neiman Marcus portion of the night ended with a successful live auction. As Thrash told me, “It made $50,000 in less than two minutes.” Two Continental Airlines tickets to New York, two tickets to Zac’s next New York show, including invitations to the exclusive after party, and two nights in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel sold twice for a total of $30,000. A dinner in Thrash’s home with local celebrities as waiters and Jackson & Co. catering went for a whopping $20,000. The event, in total, made $250,000 for Best Buddies. Houston socialite and Posen fan Debra Grierson says, “Becca makes the most money of anyone with her live auctions. She’s so good at getting people revved up.”

Turn The Beat Around. Act Two. After the show, it was off to the private after party at Thrash’s contemporary home in Houston. John Thrash designed the home for entertaining, and on this night the winding drive was lined with Tiki torches, welcoming guests and beckoning them to come inside to the action. Walking in to a Thrash party is a fantastic experience, much like walking into a Hollywood party or a Fifth Avenue fête. You see, the people are the thing to the Thrash’s. They are the centerpieces on their table of life. Celebrities and royalty (beyond the River Oaks-kind) are frequent guests. Tonight was no different, with Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, in from his New York base, as just one such distinguished visitor.

Thrash intrinsically understands that it’s the guests that make a lively party. Two words not even remotely in her entertaining vocabulary are “lull” and “quiet,” so the guests have to be fascinating. They often range from tycoons and socialites to the creative trendsetters who add the style, wit and charm to the Old Guard. Perennial Thrash guest and Houston interior designer Randy Powers explains, “Becca and John are the most amazing hosts. The attention to detail and the level of comfort they lavish on guests make their parties the highlight of the season. The energy that comes from those parties should be sold like bottles of Petrus.” And guests at the Thrash’s enjoy their Petrus, as well as other cocktails, too.

Play That Funky Music. Becca changed into her second outfit of the evening: a flirty, gunmetal gray Posen cocktail dress, garnished with estate Cartier diamond clips and modern-day Cartier diamond earrings. DJ Sean Carnahan mixed the 70s and 80s disco hits in a booth custom made for the event. To launch the social season in her home, Thrash explains, “I teamed up with Richard Flowers of the Events Company to create that feeling of not-so-distant discos of Studio 54 and Paris’ Le Bain Douche.” Along with the cream Mies van der Rohe chaise lounges that surrounded the pool, Flowers placed individual cream suede stools around the Eileen Gray steel-and-glass cocktail tables. Sleek bars were custom made with the identical beige suede fronts and black laminated tops – five of them throughout the residence served the crowd of 300.

The party streamed from room to room while in the dining room, in the center of the house, a silent auction offered luxury items worth a small fortune, another substantial fundraising component. The home’s contemporary palette consists of rich, textural contrasts: steel and glass, fire and water. “The home is the perfect backdrop for a stage of high spirits and haughty pleasure. I had no idea of what to expect, so the whole evening blew me away,” shared first-time Thrash guest, Houston photographer and model John Conroy. As they say, it’s not a party unless something gets broken or well, wet. And that happened when John Evans took a dive in the indoor pool fully clothed. “This confirms Becca really knows how to make a splash with her parties. I’ve never seen anyone dive into a pool like that. Right down to his skivvies. And there was Becca close by, terrycloth bath robe in hand,” said New Yorker-turned-Austin socialite Carla McDonald.

At the bewitching hour of midnight, no one had turned into a pumpkin, but guests had worked up an appetite from dancing and dishing. The two buffets, sprawled across the black granite counters, showcased a menu that was very festive, and according to Thrash, “I wanted to serve something that Zac doesn’t ordinarily get in New York, so I had a Mexican-inspired breakfast buffet with migas, homemade tortillas, guacamole, refried beans and rice. With little sopapillas and taquitos passed around on the dance floor.” At 1 a.m., the dessert bar was opened, offering giant platters of pralines, Mexican wedding cookies and brownies, while waiters began passing brandy freezes to the guests, which were the hit of the party.

Shake, Shake, Shake. Shake Your Booty. Like all good things, any stellar evening must come to an end. At 2:30 a.m., when the music stopped thumping and as Thrash took her final spin on the dance floor, she slipped on the black granite surface and fractured her tailbone. Most would agree “that girl really busts her ass to have a great party,” and we’re all counting the days until the next Thrash extravaganza.