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PEN America, facing criticism over its response to the Mideast war, gathers for annual gala

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PEN America, facing criticism over its response to the Mideast war, gathers for annual gala
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PEN America, facing criticism over its response to the Mideast war, gathers for annual gala

2024-05-17 12:39 Last Updated At:12:51

NEW YORK (AP) — Like a political convention held amidst an intra-party rift, Thursday night's PEN America gala was a call for unity, dialogue and a renewed sense of mission at a time when PEN's priorities have been called into question.

“Our assembly is disassembling,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel acknowledged Thursday night. “People of good intention and staunch conviction are wracked by a wrenching conflict. We are haunted by destruction, death and suffering that has caused some to question PEN America’s words, deeds and purpose.”

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Candace Bushnell attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Like a political convention held amidst an intra-party rift, Thursday night's PEN America gala was a call for unity, dialogue and a renewed sense of mission at a time when PEN's priorities have been called into question.

Seth Meyers attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers, left, and Suzanne Nossel, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers, left, and Suzanne Nossel, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Suzanne Nossel, left, and Andrea Mitchell, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Suzanne Nossel, left, and Andrea Mitchell, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Suzanne Nossel, Andrea Mitchell and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Suzanne Nossel, Andrea Mitchell and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Andrea Mitchell, left, and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Andrea Mitchell, left, and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Leo Greenberg, Suzanne Nossel, Eliza Greenberg and David Greenberg attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Leo Greenberg, Suzanne Nossel, Eliza Greenberg and David Greenberg attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

The literary and human rights organization has faced ongoing criticism over its response to the Israel-Hamas war, with hundreds of writers alleging that PEN showed limited concern over the suffering of Gaza residents and the deaths of Palestinian writers and journalists. PEN has already canceled its spring awards ceremony after dozens of nominees withdrew and its World Voices festival after hundreds signed an open letter saying they wouldn’t participate.

Some had wondered if the gala would take place, but the event is the organization's major annual fundraiser, with more than $2 million coming in from Thursday's event, and key donors remained. All five major New York publishers — Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan — were listed as sponsors, along with organizations ranging from Bloomberg and Barnes & Noble to the National Basketball Association and the David Geffen Foundation.

“There was zero discussion about us not attending,” Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Many attendees had to clear three checkpoints before entering the American Museum of Natural History; if dissenters were inside, they were not speaking out. Nossel received a standing ovation, and she was among several speakers who emphasized common PEN goals such as opposing book bans and the imprisonment of writers, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russia. PEN President Jennifer Finney Boylan stated that PEN America was “determined to amplify the voices of all writers at risk — from Israel to Ukraine, from Palestine to Russia, from Florida to Texas.”

Seth Meyers, the evening's host, joked about the “super chill and laid back” moment for PEN. One honoree, Paul Simon, consoled with words and music. Simon, this year's winner of PEN's Literary Service Award, brought an acoustic guitar to the stage, and performed a gentle, even fragile version of his 1973 classic about a generation's strife and exhaustion, “American Tune.”

“There are songs that can inhabit two eras and speak truth to both,” he said, adding that the “mood today is uncomfortably similar to those days.”

Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour was presented the Business Visionary Honoree Award and dedicated much of his speech to Gershkovich, saying he was being held in Russia simply for doing his job and noting the hundreds of other journalists in similar peril worldwide. “The grim reality is that there are scores of Evans everywhere,” he said.

Authors at the gala included Candace Bushnell, Jay McInerney and Andrew Solomon, a former PEN president who joined Salman Rushdie, Jennifer Egan and other onetime PEN officials in publishing a letter in April urging “writers to keep faith in the community that we have built together so that PEN America can continue to evolve in ways that serve and elevate the writers as a vital force within society.”

Around 650 were in attendance, roughly 100 less than 2023, according to PEN. Some who came acknowledged ambivalence.

“I won’t say it didn’t occur to me about whether I should go,” said novelist Dinaw Mengestu, a PEN vice president who has been highly critical of the organization. “But I feel it’s important that we can continue to move forward and try and learn and change.”

Protests against PEN have continued, and writers have publicly clashed. On Thursday night, around 20 protestors stood in front of the museum, calling out names of Palestinian civilians killed and chanting “Shame!” as gala attendees arrived. Earlier this month, Author-journalist and PEN board member George Packer condemned what he called the “authoritarian spirit” of PEN critics, alleging in The Atlantic they were pressuring others not to back the organization. Mengestu responded on Instagram by alleging that Packer's essay “perverts and distorts the legitimate and necessary criticisms against PEN” and trivializes the Gaza war.

Last week more than a dozen writers who withdrew from PEN events held a benefit reading at a church in downtown Manhattan, with proceeds going to We Are Not Numbers, a youth-led Palestinian non-profit in Gaza that advocates for human rights. When the opening speaker, Nancy Kricorian, referred to the PEN cancellations, audience members shouted and clapped. Another speaker, writer-translator and “World Voices” co-founder Esther Allen, criticized PEN for continuing with the fundraising gala while calling off the awards and World Voices.

“The priorities could not be clearer,” she said.

Two honors Thursday night were dedicated to those under siege in the U.S. and abroad.

PEN's Freedom to Write Award, for imprisoned dissidents, was given to journalist Pham Doan Trang of Vietnam. Accepting on her behalf, her friend Quynh-Vi Tran praised Trang as a “symbol of bravery and perseverance, inspiring countless young people to envision and strive for a Vietnam where freedom and human rights are upheld.”

PEN's Courage Award was presented to Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, "Shaye” Moss, both of whom faced violent threats after President Donald Trump falsely accused them of manipulating ballots for the 2020 election.

“I still struggle with fear. It has a way of just rearing its head and interrupting my life. I would love for it to stop, but what I want most is for people to understand the truth that has been buried beneath so many lies,” Moss said.

“But here tonight, with all of you, I’m filled with hope again.”

Candace Bushnell attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Candace Bushnell attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers attends the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Protestors gather outside the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers, left, and Suzanne Nossel, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Seth Meyers, left, and Suzanne Nossel, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Suzanne Nossel, left, and Andrea Mitchell, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Suzanne Nossel, left, and Andrea Mitchell, right, attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Suzanne Nossel, Andrea Mitchell and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Suzanne Nossel, Andrea Mitchell and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Andrea Mitchell, left, and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Andrea Mitchell, left, and Almar Latour attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Leo Greenberg, Suzanne Nossel, Eliza Greenberg and David Greenberg attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

From left to right, Leo Greenberg, Suzanne Nossel, Eliza Greenberg and David Greenberg attend the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

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Chanel goes to the opera in a gleaming but designer-less couture collection

2024-06-26 05:57 Last Updated At:06:00

PARIS (AP) — The show must go on, with aplomb. Chanel’s latest couture display Tuesday was a finely executed collection channeling theatricality.

Few Parisian fashion houses can fill the Paris Opera and gain applause from Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and other luminaries without even having a designer. It's a testament to Chanel’s enduring power and its world-renowned atelier following Virginie Viard's abrupt exit on June 5.

Here are some highlights of the fall couture displays:

Guests clutching Chanel opera glasses got happily lost as they explored marble staircases to find a stage in the Opera’s outer corridors, filled with red velvet opera boxes designed by French movie director Christophe Honoré. The stage was set with silhouettes evoking the opera and its heyday: dramatic capes, puffed sleeves and richly embroidered pieces.

The designs’ gleam rivaled only that of the sumptuous 19th-century atrium itself, with shimmering buttons and brilliant threads reflecting the light.

There were moments of drama, with guests reaching for their cameras (being too close for the opera glasses) to capture a black gown with puff sleeves whose feathers, beading and ribbons gleamed provocatively.

This season, there was a welcome move to less accessorizing, a departure from the hallmark of former designer Viard. The focus was on the garments themselves, highlighting the intricate craftsmanship and luxurious materials. Feathers, tassels, embroidered flowers, precious braids, lacquered jersey, supple tweeds, silky velvet, illusion tulle, taffeta, and duchesse satin adorned myriad looks befitting the venue.

Although the necklines were a standout feature—scooped or raised mini-turtle necks—alongside banded, accented shoulders or busts, the collection as a whole had a slightly disparate feel that sometimes seemed to lack a singular aesthetic anchor.

Chanel paid tribute to the ateliers of the “petites mains," or the dozens of artisans who work in six ateliers a stone’s throw from the venue.

For a house that prides itself on perfect image execution, the news that arrived in the middle of the night felt less than polished. Chanel faced its first major event Tuesday without its creative director, who abruptly left after over 30 years with the brand. The announcement was highly unorthodox, just weeks before the couture show.

Later, it emerged that the French couturier would be absent even from her final couture display, with her team stepping in to take charge.

Viard succeeded Karl Lagerfeld upon his death in 2019 and was his closest collaborator for decades. She had overseen record sales for Chanel, reaching a reported $19.7 billion last year. Ready-to-wear sales reportedly increased 23 percent during her tenure.

Yet in the fickle world of fashion, strong sales are not always enough. Viard’s tenure was dogged by controversy, most recently with criticism of her collections, including a poorly received mid-season show in Marseille. Viard faced backlash for runway shows that critics said lacked the grandiose flair defining Lagerfeld’s era, and she often received critiques for underwhelming design choices.

Though her appointment was initially seen as temporary, she was only the third creative director in Chanel’s over 100-year history after Lagerfeld and, of course, legendary founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

The fashion world speculates on her successor. Names like Hedi Slimane, Marine Serre and Simon Porte Jacquemus circulate, suggesting potential shifts in Chanel’s creative direction.

To nostalgic jazz music, 89-year-old fashion veteran Giorgio Armani returned to his touchstones of the Art Deco period — the 1920s and ’30s — and romance for a slow-burning and brightly gleaming couture display at the Palais de Tokyo. It was called “Pearls.”

Models donned berets in a show that glowed not only with pearls but also with velvets, silk chiffons and tulle, and ended in froths of sparkle. The meticulous craftsmanship, with embellishments like sequins, crystals and rhinestone embroideries, gave Armani's pieces a luminous, ethereal quality for fall that dazzled the eye as it was showcased by slow-walking models. On occasion, Armani was victim to his romantic spirit when he veered into the literal, such as one diamond-encrusted beret.

But tailoring — a design cornerstone for Armani, who cut his cloth in menswear — was a powerful theme in the show. A black angular jacket captured the collection theme perfectly, with its curved, graphic-lined lapel gleaming with myriad pearls adorning the shoulders.

Armani is often linked to the word “timeless” and praised for his ability to create pieces that remain stylish and relevant across decades. This strength reassures the audience, but while always beautiful, the pieces on display Tuesday sometimes lacked the surprise seen in other couture shows this season.

What remains relevant is the Italian runway icon’s enduring influence on the fashion and entertainment industries, as seen by the swath of top editors and stars such as Cate Blanchett, Jodie Turner-Smith, Naomie Harris and Eva Green, who lined the front row. So iconic, in fact, th at there was a new adjective for him revealed in the show notes — “Armanian.”

Bubbles are never far away from the effervescent couturier Alexis Mabille. Guests sipped champagne, with champagne-filled ice buckets even on the runway in a celebration of luxurious excess.

Unfurling, undressing, and plays on corsetry were on the drinks menu this season, starting with an opening number featuring a gleaming bustier that resembled an opening flower. The intimacy and ritual of getting dressed is a theme that pervades Mabille's work.

Varied looks sometimes surprised guests, such as a Bob Mackie-style feathered headdress that out-Cher-ed Cher. The extravagant piece had an almost equestrian flourish and was a real feat of couture execution, showcasing Mabille’s flair for Hollywood-inspired glamour.

A golden bullet creation, and a gleaming metallic power cape with an armor-like bustier, gave the collection a lot of attitude, if not always coherence. Mabille’s collections often embrace a wide array of silhouettes and themes, sometimes leading to a lack of unified narrative. However, the diversity is also part of his charm.

Charles de Vilmorin, the 27-year-old wunderkind of the Parisian couture scene, has once again proven his mettle with a spellbinding show that merged experimental silhouettes, dark musings, and eye-catching color palettes. Known for his vibrant use of color, de Vilmorin’s palette often evokes the sumptuousness of Christian Lacroix’s 1980s work, making him one of the most buzzed-about couturiers in Paris today.

On Tuesday, the audience was transported to a gothic dreamscape where Anna Cleveland emerged as a bewitching figure, trapped in a black straight-jacket gown that screamed both asylum and Tim Burton. De Vilmorin, known for grappling with the pressures of creation and the lofty expectations of the fashion world, channeled these tensions into his collection.

Another ‘straight-jacket’ gown appeared adorned with massive black and red plumes, like a satanic phoenix rising from the ashes. The storytelling that followed was nothing short of a sartorial saga. A gigantic rat scurried down the runway, followed by a model donning an oversized witch’s hat with a fringe of hair.

Adding to the darkly whimsical narrative was a nobleman figure, clad in a crisply wrinkled white bow shirt tied with whimsical flair. This juxtaposition of elegance and dishevelment was pure De Vilmorin. The show’s crescendo was a color-blocked blue and red chiffon Renaissance gown, a nod to historical opulence with a contemporary twist.

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Models prepare backstage at the Thom Browne Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Monday, June 24, 2024 in Paris. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Models prepare backstage at the Thom Browne Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Monday, June 24, 2024 in Paris. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Models prepare backstage at the Thom Browne Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Monday, June 24, 2024 in Paris. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Models prepare backstage at the Thom Browne Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Monday, June 24, 2024 in Paris. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

A model wears a creation for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Models wear creations for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Models wear creations for the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Tuesday, June 25, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

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