By Carita Rizzo | October 8, 2013 | Lifestyle
Walker and her mother, Barbara Feder, in Paris in 1985.
Frequent Pink Party host Jennifer Garner at The Pink Party â€™12.
The latest fashions are showcased on the runway at each yearâ€™s fundraiser.
Elyse Walker (right) and Dr. Beth Karlan, director of Cedars-Sinai Womenâ€™s Cancer Program, at the eighth annual Pink Party in 2012.
Elyse Walker was still in college when her mother lost her battle with ovarian cancer at just 42. Facing mortality at such an early age could make anyone feel helpless, but not Walker. Determined to battle the disease that took her mother and was threatening the health of her and her family, she created The Pink Party, an event to benefit women’s cancer research. “I played sports my whole life before working in retail, and I just love team building,” says Walker, whose eponymous boutique has been a style staple on the Westside for the past 14 years. “I just knew I could build a really good soccer team, and we could maybe make it to the state finals.” From the very beginning, her “soccer team” included friend and client Jennifer Garner and Katie McGrath, wife of J.J. Abrams. Walker figured she could raise at least $100,000 with the help of the clients at her Pacific Palisades shop. “The first year, we raised $479,000,” marvels Walker. “It kind of took on a life of its own.”
What started as a one-off event soon transformed into the hottest annual ticket in town (now nine years strong)—the kind of fête where people dance the night away, sometimes on the tables. “A lot of parties are kind of sad,” says Walker. “And here we are celebrating women, celebrating our fight to stop this insidious disease, celebrating sisters and best friends and mothers. That’s what we really do.” Though dancing is still encouraged, The Pink Party has in recent years evolved into a high-fashion event, where the latest creations from designers like Chloé, Barbara Bui, and Lanvin are featured on a runway set up inside Hangar 8 at the Santa Monica Airport.
And, as always, there is a two-minute limit on speeches. “It’s not an educational night,” says Walker. “I do think there’s a lot more to the science that we should be sharing with the audience, but our party’s just not the time and place for it.”
The moratorium on heavy sermons may sound frivolous considering the cause, but people shouldn’t underestimate the importance of looking good in order to feel good, says Dr. Beth Karlan, director of the Women’s Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai, who partnered with Walker to create the first Pink Party in 2005. “We always feel better when we look good, whether you get your hair done or you buy a new outfit, and it gives you that little boost of confidence. And that really rolls over to women when they’re sick,” says Karlan, who was appointed last year to the National Cancer Advisory Board by President Obama. “Those thoughts were in the back of my mind when we initially spoke about what kind of event would be fun and a bit different from what Cedars had done before—and that would also raise awareness.”
Karlan, who met Walker after the Pink Party initiator decided to get gene tested at the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai in her early 30s, was immediately struck by her patient’s determination. “Elyse came with this energy and vision to do this party that reached out to a demographic that was very different from who was classically involved over at Cedars,” says Karlan. “I felt that they could have a halo effect on their friends, children, other employees, and employers who could help spread what I believed is potentially life-saving information.”
The funds raised—more than $8 million to date—have also made a great impact on the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. “We have used these funds to really build a unique world-class program,” says Karlan. “A lot of the groundbreaking discovery work requires money for good ideas before they are truly breakthroughs. And, I’ll be honest, there are lots of strikeouts. But with each one you learn something.”
The scientists aren’t the only ones learning. Walker recalls: “One of my best, best, best Pink Party moments was when, after one of the parties, someone called me on Wednesday morning and said, ‘The party was so cool. I had so much fun that I realized I’ve been so negligent, and I called my gynecologist. I need a mammogram.’ It’s great to raise funds for research, but I think we’ve really raised a lot of awareness. When Kate Beckinsale takes the time to come to our event for three hours, it goes global.”
Through Walker’s events, celebrities like Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, and Michelle Pfeiffer have become voices for early detection and not ignoring warning signs because you are too busy or afraid of what you will find out. “Women are the pillars of our society,” says Karlan. “Nothing crushes a family more than when a mom gets sick. Women must realize that they need to take care of themselves and take a moment from driving carpool, making dinner, and caring for their families and their communities to make sure they will have the longevity and ability to be there in the future.”
The goal for this year’s fundraiser, hosted by Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway and featuring designs by Lanvin, J. Mendel, and Valentino, is an ambitious $1.5 million. “What an honor to have Anne do this. Now I’m ruined for life! Who else can I have?” jokes Walker. But looking back at the past decade and what she and her “soccer team” have been able to achieve, Walker can’t help but smile: “I’m really happy, and I’m really, really proud.”
The Pink Party 2013 takes place at 8 pm, on Saturday, October 19 at Hangar 8, Santa Monica Airport, 3100 Donald Douglas Loop North, Santa Monica.
photography by jason merritt /getty images for pink party (karlan); photography by christopher polk/getty images (mann, runway); john shearer/getty images (garner)