Houston philanthropist and style luminary Becca Cason Thrash reveals all about her latest parties of the century, with our social chronicler Lance Avery Morgan, as they discuss galas, the international scene and how to deftly handle challenges while hosting Texas-sized events.
Photography by François Goizé (France) and Matteo de Fina (Italy)
THE BECCA FACTOR
Several hundred guests, 55 last-minute cancellations and $3.7 million raised from ticket sales and auction items. When Duran Duran took the stage at the Liaisons au Louvre IV gala, Becca Cason Thrash’s most epic tour de force to date was only half-finished. A mere day before, in the sweltering Parisian heat, Thrash, in her inimitable event-hosting wisdom, decided to make a significant change at the venue. At the Louvre Museum. Originally envisioned for the elaborate dinner party under the stars of the I.M. Pei-designed pyramid at the world-famous museum, the party got down. Literally. Downstairs among the treasures in the basement, amongst the medieval moats, where the Sphinx lives. Two great symbols of grandeur, Thrash and the Egyptian icon, hosted the party to end all parties. Until the next gala the following week in Venice, that is.
Back in 2008, in what now seems like another world, Houston philanthropist and style icon Becca Cason Thrash’s first Liaisons au Louvre event was a triumphant international debut for her and her husband, John Thrash. The night was dazzling and as I look at images from the after party I attended at Café Marly overlooking the Louvre, the energy of tremendous fun is a recurring theme by which Thrash derives her constant inspiration.
With her entertainment acumen at a legendary status by now, the woman knows how to host one heck of a party, known as a Thrash Bash by insiders. Longtime friends of mine, the Thrashes hosted a birthday event at their home, in my honor in the mid-2000s, which the fifty attendees are still reminiscing about to this day. To say it was magnificent would be an understatement. The attendees glittered among the flowing champagne, Versace tableware and glints off the interior pool’s lighting that set off the radiance of the guests.
Thrash admits she’s hosted more events than she can recount in Houston, many of which I’ve attended, for a plethora of Thrash’s pet causes like Best Buddies on which she serves as a board member, to the Houston Ballet and many, many more. Whether hosting at her home or in monumental venues, her events attract hundreds of guests who arrive to support five-star cultural institutions, raising north of 85 million dollars, likely a conservative estimate.
STYLE FOR MILES
When Thrash, raised in Harlingen as the daughter of a homemaker and a San Francisco 49r’s pro football star-turned-sportscaster, was young, reading Vogue magazine was her passport to the life she envisioned for herself. So, working for Vogue en Español and then returning to Houston to create Cason-Moore Public Relations 35 years ago with pal Holly Moore was a natural choice for her eagerness. Houston in the Go-Go 70s and 80s was a force to be reckoned with and Thrash was on the scene for her PR clients that included retailer Tootsies and Boccaccio 2000, the swank nightclub of the era. Guests could count on a memorable time thanks to the them, whether it was a designer launch or dinner with Prince Albert of Monaco. As Houstonian Neal Hamil, Thrash’s close friend since 1976 says, “Everyone who meets Becca wants to be in the glow of her halo.” She and Moore then created Paper City magazine when the Houston Post folded and after they (and therefore their PR clients) fell out of favor with Maxine Mesinger, then the powerful, gossipy society column doyenne of The Houston Chronicle newspaper. In fact, Mesinger’s obituary in her hometown paper stated “Mesinger watched Houston grow from a dusty cowtown to a sophisticated international city.”
The same can be said for Becca Cason Thrash and her own meteoric ascent that included her successful marriage to business tycoon John Thrash. “Darling, ya’ll must be there. It will be so much fun,” are words that many know Becca to speak when beckoning a guest to be a part of the event action in their home. Thrash confides, “The energy of the room and the mood of the guests, eclipses anything else. It all comes from the host. If you’re being very regal and grand, the guests will be the same way, which is never the atmosphere I want. If, as a host, you say ‘Isn’t this so fancy and fun?’ then everyone gets loose and feels compelled to be more of themselves. They’ll be relaxed and have a great time. That’s what I want most for anyone I invite. It makes or breaks the party. And of course, having gay men, lots of gay men.”
Thrash is a total pro and goes on to say, “I have girlfriends who labor over the invitation, the flowers, and the menu. To me, a hostess and guests who are ready to make a contribution to the evening by bringing their personalities, enthusiasm and wit create a far better formula for the success of a party.” Hamil agrees by sharing, “Becca is just not a diva. She has the uncanny ability to make her guests feel comfortable, plus, she remembers all their names by heart and is a supreme listener.”
No shrinking violet, Thrash is a strong Texas woman who rarely takes no for answer. She’s seen the ebbs and flows of many economic rises and falls, and with them, many of their professional and social leaders who contribute to it. To watch her in action at a live auction is priceless: she’s masterful at inciting her audience into bidding on one-of-a-kind items and experiences that most people, even many of the attendees, have never dreamed of. She’ll entice where a guest just can’t say no, as many of her celebrity guests she’s had in her home like George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Tom Brady, Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Wintour, Christian Louboutin and Charlie Rose, to name a few, can attest. Thrash’s attention to detail, especially to fundraising, is flawless, which has served her well on an international level as her trajectory beyond the borders of Houston and Texas society continues to soar.
THE VELVET TOUCH
Not everyone receives a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, by any means, like Thrash was bestowed in 2011 for her philanthropy at home and abroad for her tireless fundraising for the Louvre and her ongoing championing of Franco-American relations. In fact, her acceptance speech was delivered in part French, which she’d studied for two years, and also English. I well recall her being in an immersion class in France the summer before the award was to be given. Like everything, she put her mind to it to make it happen.
So, when the American and International Friends of the Louvre called for her to recreate her magic for a fourth time, she was hesitant. If she was to take it on, after, as she says, “I thought I retired four years ago,” she wanted this time to be different. So she added another venue, Venice, to the mix to also support the Venetian Heritage organization in the canal city. For the Louvre, proceeds from the event went toward the restoration of the apartment of Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, and the Louvre’s efforts to make the museum more accessible to all. The Dowager Queen’s former suite is being refurbished to house the Louvre’s unparalleled collection of Etruscan art. For Venice, the event funds helped to restore the Gallerie dell’Accademia 2nd Wing. The State Museo delle Gallerie dell’Accademia opened in 1807, modeled after the Louvre, and the collection was enriched over the course of the nineteenth century by some important bequests and public purchases. In fact, it is now the temple of Veneto paintings. “It is brought together for like-minded people from around the world who wish to support one of the world’s most important art museums and one of Italy’s foremost protectors of cultural heritage,” enthused Thrash about her gala’s goals.
A tour de force it would be. “I had to make sure that for five nights, with the same people who are paying a lot of money and want to be wowed, were dazzled. I was the only one who knew what every single venue was in every city and had to choose every menu and theme to make sure it was all different. So, I decided to work with Richard Flowers of The Events Company in Houston,” confided Thrash. She goes on to say, “With Richard and his team, whom I trust implicitly, we designed every single solitary night from Houston and then we sent menus and photographs, even videos, of how to put these tabletops together to the people on the ground in Paris and Venice for these massive seated dinners. Then, Richard and his team perfected it there.” Knowing the importance of serving liquid spirits to raise a room’s spirits and bidding, Thrash likes to have some home state advantages on hand with Tito’s Vodka and Patrón Tequila to enliven the festivities.
PLACES EVERYONE, PLACES
When the guests from Texas and across the U.S. arrived in Paris on a Saturday, they gathered at the recently renovated Hotel Ritz’s Jardin à la française al fresco venue, easily one of the most dazzling courtyards on the planet. The next day, Sunday, it was off to the Picasso Museum at the Hôtel Salé, only open to Thrash’s guests for viewing, with a tour led by Thrash’s pal, film producer Oliver Picasso, the artistic family’s scion. That evening finished at the Petit Palais Museum, across from the Grand Palais, for a dinner that was sponsored by renowned French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels, a brand Thrash has supported in the past with many fundraisers.
“It was a blistering 98 degrees that day as I arrived at the Palais to oversee the event,” recalls Thrash. “Then, I heard gunshots fired on the nearby Champs-Élysées that pretty much shut down the city, with streets blocked off and every venue was evacuated. Of course, I wasn’t sure it would even re-open in time for the party at the Petit Palais that evening. So, I got on the phone and email and let all our guests know that dinner would be at 9 p.m. instead of 7.30 p.m. to allow more time. A few didn’t show, yet everyone else just said ‘let’s have a martini.’ And you know, you just get up and go.”
The first night gala was summery citrus-color themed with pomegranates spilling open and a plethora of lemons, oranges and hydrangeas signifying the feast it promised for all the senses, complemented by an evening stroll in the venue’s opulent garden before dinner. “On with the show” is Thrash’s motto in trying times, as she experienced in Europe with a non-stop trauma du jour, as she called it, to manage each day and night’s festivities while keeping cool under fire—that night dressed in a festive gown by Giambattista Valli Haute Couture.
With a successful gathering completed and guests dazzled by the evening before, Tuesday started with a VIP tour of the Louvre for guests, where they viewed the sumptuous apartments of Napoleon III and the stunning Crown Jewels made for the Empress Josephine. With the rest of the day left for leisure and touring, the gala guests had no idea what the hostess was encountering with the last-minute adjustments. The stifling heat meant that the entire event was moved from the original scene under the Louvre Pyramid where the almost 100-degree heat would have been unbearable for attendees, to an alternative venue down below where the much more comfortable climate added an element of mystique to the event.
HAUTE GETS HOT
The glamorously clothed participants, dressed in haute couture, were none the wiser to the last-minute changes when they met back at the Louvre at 9:00 p.m. in very formal high black tie. “It was all lavender and I mean all,” said Thrash. “Even the red carpet, which set the tone for the evening, was in lilac with lavender-hued lighting. It was so dreamy. The mixture of floral that contained mauve delphiniums sprayed like elaborate fountains from the tables set by candlelight.” Thrash herself kept cool wearing an icy silver Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano number over a Gianni Versace vintage gown selected from her archive.
As guests entered the museum through the Borghese Galleries of the Greek Etruscan and Roman Antiquities departments, they found a close-up view of the newly renovated Winged Victory and the mosaic of the Seasons in the Sphinx Courtyard discovered during the French-American excavation campaigns in the 1930s. Walking through Anne of Austria’s summer apartments, guests spent an intimate moment with the Venus de Milo in the museum that was cleared of all but the gala’s attendees.
Then it was on to dinner, impeccably reconfigured the day before, down one level down to the recently renovated medieval moats, with a view of the historic Great Sphinx. With the elegant seated dinner, a performance by Duran Duran kept the guests entertained (Thrash counts the group’s John Taylor and his wife, Gela as close friends and often stays at their English estate). To add more drama to the evening, there was little, if any cell phone coverage in the Louvre, so Thrash felt she was swinging without a net when the band’s lead singer Simon LeBon shared the sad news that his mother passed away earlier that afternoon. Thrash says, “Simon told me his mother would want the show to go on, so it did with his performance, but with the communication challenges, it was all up in the air.” After the posh dinner, the guests ventured into the Pyramid, which had by then cooled off, for the spirited live auction of five-star art and experiences. The evening continued well into the wee hours of dancing and frolicking, with the after party at nearby Café Marly, before the next adventure would begin.
As the attendees hopped from Paris to Venice for round two of the Thrash Bash, they were able to experience the abundant palazzos as well as visit the Jewish Museum and Synagogues in the Venetian Ghetto, see Venetian Heritage restorations of some of Venice’s most important landmarks, and tour the biannual 57th international Venice Biennale of contemporary art happening simultaneously. On Thursday guests had insider entrée to a spate of palazzos that most humans just don’t have access to seeing, like Palazzetto Alvisi Gaggia, hosted by owners Andrea and Nancy Chiari Gaggia, a pre-seventeenth century home that was refurbished in the 1920s, all of which Thrash arranged as a gift to her guests. The Palazzo Gradenigo served as a tour venue, as did the Palazzo Giustinian Recanti. The Gallerie dell’Accademia Museum, which benefitted from the gala as part of Venetian Heritage, was also a favorite stop.
That evening’s opulent dinner was hosted in the ballroom of Palazzo Rezzonico, the 18th century museum, at an event hosted by Bulgari, the most Italian jeweler of them all. Guests arrived in white dinner jacket cocktail attire at Ca Rezzonico for the seated dinner that represented the tone of the ancient city as Thrash wore a Moschino gown that flowed like the Venetian breeze.
As with Paris, drama continued to unfold for Thrash. On the last night of the entire endeavor with the Venice finale dinner, Thrash had a wardrobe emergency. “I had this elaborately feathered headpiece with a mask, and I decided to instead have the mask sewn into the hip of my dress, which the hotel sent out to be tailored,” shares Thrash.
“Naturally, it was delivered to the wrong room and they couldn’t find it, so for hours I had nothing to wear while deciding how to make do with what I had, and attend to all the last-minute needs of the party. The stress. Nobody called down to say, we have a mysterious dress in our closet, and I had 15 minutes before I had to be in the water taxi to finish the seating placement. So, I called the person in charge of the Venetian characters appearing at the party to borrow a headdress from one of them so I could adapt the prior night’s outfit enough to get by. Then a knock on the door and, voilà, my missing dress appears.”
The La Dolce Vita Masked Ball, the centerpiece of the Venice events, was held in the Scuola Grande Della Misericordia. “It’s a 900-year-old building that had been closed for a hundred years until the city restored it in 2016, so it was a true honor to create an event there,” shares Thrash. The invitation read: Think formal but fantasy, splendor and exotic while creating your attire. Participants donned masks, headpieces, feathers, pearls, jewels; anything opulently baroque…and contributed greatly to the décor of the evening’s mysteriously gleeful atmosphere. Fittingly, Thrash arranged for for the luxe automaker Maserati to donate a bespoke car to the auction. That dress that finally transpired moments before the gala was a vintage John Galliano for Oscar de la Renta gown and was worth the stir when Thrash made her entrance.
At the Paris festivities, the live auction that dialed in works by contemporary greats Anish Kapoor, Mat Collishaw and Retna, raised over a million dollars and the ticket sales were around $2 million dollars. An amazing feat considering the record heat and the fear of ongoing terror attacks in Europe with guests canceling at the last minute. “It was truly against all odds, but it was one of, if not the best one yet, raising $3.7 million dollars in all for both causes. How we achieved that is nothing short of a miracle,” confessed Thrash.
With the success of these extravagant events in mind, Becca Cason Thrash is reflective. “Despite the stress and traumas of these events, I love creating and realizing them,” she confides. “It was probably my swan song internationally, but I would do almost anything for my beloved Houston. For now, I’m going to be a guest and go to other hostesses’ events. But, never say never…I’ll probably take on another project down the road. After all, I mean really, my whole life has been a party…but a party with a purpose.”