The 2015 Vilcek Foundation Prizes Gala

Fashion and science mingled in more ways than one on April 2, 2015.  Leaders in both fields gathered at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City to celebrate the winners of the 2015 Vilcek Prizes, recognizing immigrants in fashion and biomedical science.

Presenting the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science was Günter Blobel, a German-born immigrant and a Nobel laureate.  Before conferring the trophy to Peter Walter, Gunter’s former student and winner of this year’s prize for discoveries on the unfolded protein response, Gunter urged for deeper collaboration between the two fields: “For those who work in fashion — I wish you would look into electron microscopes,” he said.  “You would get fantastic ideas for design.” 

Peter also commented on the overlap between fashion and science.  Members of his research team had inquired whether he was being recognized for fashion or science. “Sadly, I must now seriously wonder about their observational capacities,” said Peter, in a modest appraisal of his sartorial sensibilities.

On a more earnest note, Peter reflected on the commonalities of science and art: “Both in science, as in design and art, we need to continually break out of the box of conventional thinking, and allow our curiosity and creativity to fly into the unexplored and hope that, eventually, we land back on terra firma,” he said.

Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and winner of the Vilcek Prize in Fashion, also spoke of the need to stand on terra firma.  Of his relationship with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who presented the Vilcek Prize in Fashion, Andrew said: “When it comes to exhibitions, Anna has taught me the value of editing, of focusing on the bigger stories, the bigger picture, and to not get bogged down in the footnotes.  Almost every meeting with Anna ends with her advice – edit, edit, edit.”

He also spoke about the ease with which he settled into his new home, both in New York City and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Moving from London to New York was a rather seamless transition, and to be honest, I never really felt like an immigrant, mainly because New York is such a multicultural city.”  In fact, these days, Andrew says, “I feel more like an outsider in London.” 

Echoing the sentiment was South Korean-born Sun Hur, one of the winners of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science.  “I’ve been in the United States for 15 years now, but I still have moments where I feel like an outsider,” Sun said.  “Today is one of those days that reminds me of why I came to the United States in the first place, and why I am still here, and that is the openness to differences — different views, different cultures, and different people.”

Contributing to the warm and celebratory atmosphere were many notables from the arts and sciences.  Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, designer Thom Browne, and fashion journalist Alina Cho cheered on the fashion winners, while former National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus, cell biologist David Sabatini, and President of the New York Academy of Sciences Ellis Rubinstein were present to congratulate their colleagues in biomedical science.

Cecilia Dean, a fashion juror, wore a dress designed by Creative Promise Prizewinner Tuyen Tran, and was joined by Shelley Fox, Julie Gilhart, Harold Koda, and Thomas Campbell.  And we were delighted to welcome, amongst others, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of Rockefeller University, and Craig Thompson, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Past Vilcek Prizewinners Ruslan Medzhitov, Alice Ting, Harmit Malik, Mansour Ourasanah, Thomas Jessell, Inder Verma, and Titia de Lange attended the gala to welcome the latest cohort of prizewinners.  And, in anticipation of the 2016 Vilcek Prizes in Theatre, theatre pros Sade Lythcott, Michael Robertson, and Kristin Marting were in attendance to enjoy the festivities and to take notes.

Stop by our Facebook page to see more photos from the event, and check out our current news archives for feature articles and videos on each winner!

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