Home About town An Evening With Joy Venturini Bianchi, Celebrating A Life Through Fashion

The black-tie Helpers fundraiser showcased Bianchi’s 41-piece collection that spanned six decades and over a dozen designers.
Images by Laura Morton for Drew Altizer Photography
Joy Venturini Bianchi stands next to one of her favorite gowns designed by Ralph Rucci.

Joy Venturini Bianchi stands next to her favorite gown designed by Ralph Rucci.

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When Joy Venturinini Bianchi talks about fashion, it’s best to stop and to listen. The Director of Helpers uses her seasoned history with fashion as a vehicle to uplift those who are developmentally disabled, and for guests of the Helpers Fundraiser, Celebrating a Life Through Fashion, A Retrospective, Bianchi’s class on style was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The black-tie celebration at Hedge Gallery was a mini-museum of Bianchi’s most meaningful ensembles, a 41-piece collection that spanned six decades and over a dozen designers, including Ralph Rucci, Tom Ford, Balenciaga, Bill Blass and many more. For those dwelling in San Francisco society circles, it is a regular occurrence to witness Bianchi’s fashion prowess, as she is photographed at high-profile events in these very dresses.  On the evening of October 17th, however, guests at the couture Retrospective had access into something special – jewels of wisdom that only Bianchi could impart.
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Bill Blass designed this gown with Bianchi

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The fete began with a personal tour narrated by Bianchi, beginning with a Christian Lacroix dress that stood at the opening of the gallery.  As she spoke, guests remained fixated on the stories that were woven into the fabric of every dress. She sprinkled tidbits about her childhood, time spent with her mother and just how deeply rooted she is in the world of fashion.  She recalled, pointing to a Bill Blass fur-lined gown, “Bill Blass was one of my favorite designers growing up.” She continued, “I was in London while my mother was in San Francisco, and I fell. I was in the hospital for 10 weeks, and I was going to a black tie.  So we worked with Bill Blass to have this dress made and I wore black velvet crutches with it.”

As she walked past another dress, “This is from the day when Valentino was designing.”  The stories continued until she arrived at the final piece, her personal favorite from designer Ralph Rucci, an architectural red gown that has become Bianchi’s signature.

Bianchi's Ralph Rucci gown stands next to the portrait by...

Ralph Rucci gown

A sampling of the photography gallery curated by Tim Whalen

A sampling of the photography gallery curated by Tim Whalen

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Planning the Retrospective was no small task.  Bianchi spent an entire year preparing for the evening, and there were thousands of gowns from which to choose.  Her right-hand-man for the job was Tim Whalen, Visual Stylist at Saks Fifth Avenue. Incredibly, Whalen managed to edit the collection to the 41. Each dress was displayed on its own custom-made mannequin made in New York and flown to San Francisco for the event.  Whalen was also tasked with curating the the photo gallery, which featured Bianchi throughout the years donning each of the chosen ensembles.  Joked Bianchi, “I had no say. If your picture isn’t in one of the frames, it’s not my fault!”
Her vibrant spirt reverberated throughout the evening, as she found the extraordinary in each guest. She acknowledged Dr. Dennis Snyder, founder of Medical Missions, Roxanne and Alex Najafi of Alex’s Dry Cleaning Valet, and photographer Drew Altizer. That evening, Bianchi also payed tribute to Milan-based artist Paolo Troilo, who honored Bianchi as his muse for his first color portrait  (The photo was then used on the invitation for the couture celebration).  “The emotion that Joy expresses is incredible. I think that that since I met her, I’m always trying to fix on that particular soul and light that she has. It’s like being hypnotized by a presence,” said Troilo.
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Portrait of Joy Venturini Bianchi by Paolo Troilo

Portrait of Joy Venturini Bianchi by Paolo Troilo

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Paolo Troilo

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Paolo Troilo

Since the start of her involvement with Helpers in 1953, Helpers has opened three residential homes for those who are developmentally disabled, Helpers Bazaar in Ghirardelli Square and Helpers House of Couture, which receives donations of high-end men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, handbags, shoes and linens. Helpers House of Couture has become a local treasure chest garnering donations from elites of San Francisco and around the world.
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So it was no surprise when notables like Vanessa Getty, Wilkes Bashford, Senator Mark Leno and Karen Caldwell showed up in support of the Retrospective fundraiser. Chef Gary Danko, who hosted the hors d’oeuvres reception, made an early appearance. No matter which guest entered the room, the presence and camaraderie that Bianchi always exudes was contagious and felt by all.  She has a way of making each person matter.
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Surely, it’s no coincidence.
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Joy Venturini Bianchi and Paolo Troilo reflect on the portrait that he painted for her.

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Paolo Troilo reflect on the portrait that he painted for her.

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Bianchi highlighted the blue ruffled Balenciaga dress (second from left), which she wore to the D’Young Museum Balenciaga Exhibit Opening in 2011.

Tom Ford

Tom Ford

Silent Auction items

Silent Auction items

Onlookers of the live auction.

Onlookers of the live auction.

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