I’ve long thought that 826 Seattle couldn’t get any cooler. The nonprofit’s founder, author Dave Eggers, has come through town to check on things and raise some cash. So has literary heartthrob Michael Chabon. And the wonderfully morose Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler.
Add Susan Orlean to that roster of rainmakers. The flame-haired writer read from her 2011 book, “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend,” the other week at a fundraiser held at the welcoming and well-appointed home of Microsoft GM Jeff Olund and his wife, Silvia Furia. (Lovely people, amazing art.)
Invitees munched on steak bites and sipped wine and talked about schools and anxiety attacks, their favorite pens and their beloved dogs — not in the same conversation, of course.
826 Seattle Executive Director Teri Hein brought her sterling staff members and some of the kids who make the back room of the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Store so magical.
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Hein was thrilled to have Orlean reading from “Rin Tin Tin,” about the German shepherd that went from a battlefield in France to television fame.
“I’m an Eastern Washington farm girl,” Hein said, “and anything having to do with animals just grabs me.”
What grabbed me was Orlean’s pink wool Commes des Garçons skirt, which wrapped around her tiny waist like she was a bouquet of market flowers.
“I wore it on my book tour,” she told me warmly. “It’s my security blanket.”
Orlean should be feeling pretty secure, one would think, after scoring a staff position at The New Yorker and publishing several books, including 1998’s “The Orchid Thief,” which was made into the 2002 film “Adaptation,” written by Charlie Kaufman.
Meryl Streep portrayed her in the movie, for Pete’s sake. What more could you want?
Nothing, Orlean said.
“Knock wood, I’ve been so fortunate,” she said. “In my dreams, I’m doing exactly this.”
Orlean — who lives in Los Angeles and keeps a home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. — is currently reading Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” And what did she think of that Pulitzer-winning novel?
“I don’t want to say anything critical,” she hedged. “I’m not grooving on it.”
It was then that Hanouf Grandinetti walked up, hugged her friend and started grooving on — what else? — that skirt.
“Oh, you look so gorgeous!” she said, then turned to me.
“Susan always delivers.”
In 2001, the first WestSide Baby Benefit Tea was held in a hall in the Fauntleroy neighborhood of West Seattle. Ten tables. Maybe 100 people.
Twelve years later, the nonprofit packed a ballroom at the Hilton Seattle Airport & Conference Center, where 550 people helped raise $225,000 — $50,000 more than just the year before. The mimosas and cupcakes probably helped.
And it’s so simple. WestSide Baby provides low-income mothers with essential items not covered by the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program: diapers, soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper.
That those things aren’t readily available has struck a chord with people. People have asked for donations instead of wedding presents, and donated in the names of the kids killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” explained board member Amy Daly-Donovan. “It has strong meaning for people because it’s so local.”
Executive Director Nancy Woodland used the tea to announce plans to extend WestSide Baby’s reach to Seattle proper, specifically the Central District and Georgetown neighborhoods.
She also recognized Patricia O’Leary, who has made fleece blankets for babies all over the city.
How many? I asked her as I kneeled beside her table.
“I don’t keep count,” she said.
But her friend Nancy McDonnell sure does: “One thousand, one hundred and fifty seven over five years,” she declared.
The two women have grandchildren the same age, and when McDonnell told O’Leary about the need for blankets, she said, “I can do that.”
“When I can, I get the material on sale at fabric stores.”
“… and she washes them all,” McDonnell said.
O’Leary waved us both off.
“I’m happy to do it.”
I then went to a table headed by Rick Jump of the White Center Food Bank, a longtime sponsor.
“We used to be the ‘Man Table,’ ” Jump told me. “We’d bring our own beer and barbecue sandwiches and they’d keep us in a corner.”
‘Look’ at us
This, I can tell you: “Evening Magazine” on KING5 has produced its own version of “Project Runway,” called “The Look,” which follows a gaggle of local designers through a maddening series of challenges, including one in which they create dresses out of wallpaper. Gulp.
But I can’t tell you who won. You’ll have to see when the finale airs next Monday.
The series, which started shooting in November and airs on “Evening” every night this week, is being co-produced by style and PR maven Rose Dennis and Monir Zhanghoreishi, the fashion-design and merchandising program chair at the International Academy of Design and Technology.
The finale featured three designers, and was shot the other week at The Bravern in Bellevue, and catered by John Howie Steak. (Howie himself stopped in.) Staffers laid out platters of Kobe meatballs and tempura bacon (that’s what I said), among other things, for a crowd that, reputedly, doesn’t eat.
Of course, “Evening” reporters Jim Dever and Michael King had no qualms about finishing off the food while the filming went on in the other room.
“My big job is to shoot off the confetti cannon at the end,” Dever declared. (It’s a living.)
Judge Carole McClellan, a leather-loving designer who has created for Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, told me she just made a leather jacket for actress Toni Collette, who is in Seattle filming the feature “Lucky Them” with Thomas Haden Church. It was the film Paul Newman was working on when he died in 2008.
“It’s her signature piece in the film,” McClennan said of the coat.
McClellan seems to know what works: In the last several months, she won two fashion competitions, one at the Bellevue Collection and another at EMP Museum.
“I’m looking for something that is not Seattle,” McClellan said when I asked what was “The Look,” exactly.
“I’m hoping someone busts out some really rocking sportswear, beyond just puffy down coats and REI, because that’s what will make people say, ‘We dress in this town!’”
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