Monday evening, on the stage of Carnegie Hall, Julia Roberts was performing the role of celebrated actress, making a delightfully amusing yet touchingly self-deprecating speech at Glamour magazine’s annual Women of the Year Awards. She held up a shiny red trophy composed of interlocking dinner-plate-size rings and asked what the heck it was supposed to be.
Of her presence on stage, Ms. Roberts said: “Proof — all you have to know is how to play ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on the piano, and you can make it to Carnegie Hall.”
If only it were so easy. The event happened to be celebrating its 20th year and in its signature fashion included tributes to a diverse cast of women of remarkable achievement: actors, athletes, pop stars, designers, humanitarians and heads of states.
This might have been the sole occasion when you could find the president of HSN seated in the same row as the president of Liberia, and the speeches could veer from inspiring tear-jerkers to flat-out comedy routines. After a two-hour ceremony, a dinner for 250 followed at the Museum of Modern Art.
“I was an emotional wreck before I was even onstage,” said Stacy Ferguson, otherwise known as Fergie, once the party had moved to MoMA. “I cried three times.”
Ms. Ferguson was wearing a sexy red one-shouldered Zac Posen gown, from next spring’s collection, she noted. Her mood was now approaching that of her dress. As Kate Hudson, wearing gold-flecked one-shouldered Lanvin, approached to sit down next to her, Ms. Ferguson whispered, playfully, “She wanted to wear one-shoulder, too, so I said it had to be the opposite shoulder.”
Though it was not a black-tie affair, many of the guests wore tuxedos or dinner jackets over their gowns, as did both Hilary Swank and the singer Estelle at Donatella Versace’s table. (Ms. Swank was covering up a large hole that had been ripped in the side of her dress, when another guest stepped on it.) Cher also seemed to be wrestling with a long black Ann Demeulemeester skirt that kept getting tangled under her shoes.
One honoree who looked flawlessly comfortable in a monkey suit, custom made by Isaac Mizrahi, was Constance McMillen, the Fulton, Miss., teenager whose high school canceled its prom rather than allow her to bring her girlfriend as her date. Both had wanted to wear tuxedos.
“I tweeted about her when that whole incident occurred,” said the young singer Janelle Monáe, who routinely wears tuxedos as part of her act.
“I could not imagine what it would feel like for someone to tell me I couldn’t go onstage in a tuxedo,” she said.
Toward the end of dinner, Ms. Roberts clinked on a glass. The entire room shut up. She announced that, in 33 minutes, it would be the birthday of Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee” and the director of “Eat Pray Love.” As 250 guests sang in chorus, Mr. Murphy looked somewhat harassed.
“I wasn’t picking on him,” Ms. Roberts said as they left. “I was heralding.”
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