The 'Joy' of SF Couture

For fashion connoisseurs in San Francisco, the motif of "Celebrating Life Through Fashion," was a welcomed invitation by Joy Venturini Bianchi. For one night only, a retrospective and fund-raiser, featuring a collection of 41 gowns was displayed at Hedge Gallery. It benefitted the developmentally disabled through Helpers, a cause and an organization Bianchi has worked with for 62 years. During her lifetime, Helpers has opened three residential homes for those who are developmentally disabled (1963), a workshop, Helpers Bazaar, Ghirardelli Square (1966) and Helpers House of Couture, San Francisco (2008). The couture-pieces were curated by Saks Fifth Avenue visual stylist Tim Whalen, who had to sort through "thousands of gowns in the house" from her private collection spanning six decades and more than two dozen designers (Balmain, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent-to name a few). He settled on eight categories, with five gowns each. One of the evening's highlights was the fall 2013 zebra dress by Tom Ford.

"Fashion is a personal expression of the inner beauty of each of us," Venturini Bianchi said. "It is a vehicle that Helpers uses to bring attention to the inner beauty of those precious, special people who are developmentally disabled. The fashions purchased at Helpers House of Couture are ambassadors in themselves for those who have no voice."

She began volunteering at Helpers at its inception in 1953. She had been attracted to the silent obstacles of the developmentally disabled and decided to devote her life to being their champion. Her efforts were supported by her parents, Salvatore Ferragamo shoe designer Joseph Venturini and his wife, Josephine. When asked what inspired her impeccable fashion sense and the reason for her life-long crusade for the charity, Venturini-Bianchi humbly replied, "I was raised in a household that focused on the importance of community. It was never about fashion itself, but individual style...It was simply a way of life."

Through out the years, wearing couture has been a sort of "magical magnet," for her, because of the people and conversations it's attracted to her devotion. Which is why she praised and honored: Vanessa Getty (socialite), Roxanne and Alex Najafi (Alex's Dry Cleaning Valet), Drew Altizer (Drew Altizer Photography), Milanese artist Paolo Triolo (who flew in for the event) and Tim Whalen (Saks Fifth Avenue)-for their years of support and love.

Although the retrospective was only on view for one night, admirers of Venturini-Bianchi's style might see them again, as she is known to wear pieces on more than one occasion. Also, there are rumors of a sequel for next year. But, if you can't wait until then, there's always Helpers House of Couture, a 9-room, 100 percent charity, by appointment only boutique. It features several rooms for: couture, men's apparel, jewelry and one where everything is under $100. It was named one of the 10 best fashion stores in Vogue's Best Dressed special edition. There's also a Helpers Bazaar, located at the famed, Ghirardelli Square. Every item was carefully curated by Joy herself, along with her charitable companions.

"To be honest," Joy Venturini Bianchi said, "this is only a small taste of what the collection really is."