On Thursday night, a collection of New York’s most noted philanthropists, PhDs, and fashion luminaries gathered at the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle to witness the marriage of a microscope to a sewing machine. The Vilcek Prizes—which highlight foreign-born contributors to biomedicine and the arts—have seen Nobel laureates honored alongside dancers, architects, musicians, and sculptors; this time it was fashion’s turn. Anna Wintour, Thom Browne, Baz Luhrmann, Julie Gilhart, and Harold Koda applauded as Jan and Marica Vilcek (in a glistening Chanel jacket) honored innovators in two fields that, at first glance, seem worlds apart.
“The Vilcek Prize unites fashion and biological study through creativity,” said Peter Walter, a German-born molecular biologist being recognized for his research into cell function. “Practitioners of both have the goal of breaking out of the box, to let our creativity fly into the unexplored. We hope eventually that we land back on terra firma, adding to society.”
While Walter took top honors in the biomedicine category, prizes for creative promise were shared by Sun Hur, whose work at Harvard Medical School (where she became a professor at 29) investigates the immune system; Rob Knight, a leader in the field of microbiomes; and Franziska Michor, whose mathematical models are helping to treat cancer patients.
The young innovators in the fashion foreground were Ukrainian-born Natallia Pilipenka; Siki Im, who was born in Germany to Korean parents; and Vietnam-born Tuyen Tran. “I think a lot of it had to do with the philosophy behind my work,” said Tran, who focuses on functionality in her designs. She posed withCecilia Dean, who was on one of the two fashion judging panels, along withThom Browne, Bon Duke, Patricia Mears, Jeff Staple, and Shelley Fox (Fox wore a dress of her own design—her wedding dress in fact—covered by a Boudica sleeveless warrior’s top.)
When it came to the night’s foremost creative honor, the judges were unanimous in their selection of British-born Andrew Bolton, curator at the Costume Institute and the man behind Met showstoppers “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” and “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” “To walk through one of his shows is to experience the thrill of a runway,” said Wintour in a speech. “He has the genius to charm that art off the walls. Andrew has done that again and again at the Met.”