We are walking up a steep, U-shaped pink stone speckled driveway, away from the Mediterranean – style villa surrounded by lush palm trees and foliage, in Vancouver’s tony Point Grey. Jacqui Cohen, voluptuous in a midnight blue silk Les Habitudes sheath dress, leans on my shoulder to remove her high-heels; barefoot, she continues her meet & greet. But not with the 240 invited guests who have donated $2,500 a ticket to her Face The World 25th Anniversary Gala that gets underway in an hour. First she must meet the young men and women providing valet parking, security, the DJ perched on a rooftop stage and a myriad of excited hostesses and wait staff.
“Hi – I’m Jacqui Cohen. How’s it going? Are you all ready? ”she asks like a coach energizing her team before the big game.
“My parents and grandparents, were always involved with fund-raising for charities and a big inspiration to me,” says Cohen, President and CEO of the downtown Eastside’s iconic Army & Navy department store, founded by her late grandfather, Samuel Cohen in 1919. She keeps an office there and continues to work the floor several days a week. In keeping with family tradition, her daughter, Kasondra has started a spin-off charity, Face Of Today in both Vancouver and Chicago.
Cohen started Face the World Foundation in 1991 specifically to make a difference to people struggling in Vancouver’s Eastside with all proceeds delegated to about 60 organizations in that community. Over $15 million has been donated since then, with particular emphasis on those that support abused women and children, the elderly and homeless.
She literally lives by the old adage that ‘charity begins at home’; opening her house she purchased 30 years ago, to the most prominent community and corporate leaders as well as celebrities (Academy Award -winner, Goldie Hawn; Tom Jones, British author, Jackie Collins, Gene Simmons and family – even a newly discovered Michael Bublé ,) who have come together for the past 25 years to raise money for Face the World Foundation. “Holding the annual Gala at a hotel is out of the question,” she says adamantly. I love to entertain here but usually it’s a lot more informal,” laughs Cohen.
Designed by Vancouverite, the late Robert Ledingham, one of Canada’s premier interior designers, Cohen bought an existing two-storey home on the 30,000 sq. ft. property with 150 sq. feet of unobstructed waterfront, in the mid 80s. “We kept the same footprint and the U-shaped driveway and when the front door is open, you see fantastic views right through to the pool and ocean. Robert flipped what was previously a bedroom, into a kitchen on the first floor,” says Cohen. The five-bedroom, 11-bathroom home “has been through many transformations since then, with help from Lauren Persson, the owner of Fino Lino in Vancouver, amongst others,” she explains.
Cohen’s home is an eclectic mix of modern and antique with warm ochre, taupe and white walls throughout so as not to compete with colourful art and the spectacular floor to ceiling views of ocean and nature. “I have a beautiful collection of Lalique glass that belonged to my sister that’s very important to me, “ she adds. (Both Cohen’s sister and brother died tragically at young ages.)
“We temporarily moved out almost every piece of Jacqui’s furniture for the 25th Anniversary Gala, and added white leather sofas to create intimate lounge seating areas,” said event organizer, Simon Cooksley of Simon Cooksley Design. The amicable Brit who has created the event for 13 years at Cohen’s home, came up with the Gala’s spectacular purple and silver colour palette from a piece of exquisite silk he saw on a trip to London last year. The foyer’s enchanting 8-foot-high centrepiece of lavender roses, purple hydrangeas and towering mauve gladiolas, was constructed on a round mahogany table strewn with orchid blooms in every hue, like blossoms after a tropical rain. Cooksley’s vision extended to a dramatically draped tent from which crystal chandeliers were suspended over a floor covering Cohen’s outdoor pool. Vivid centerpieces of orchids and hydrangeas flown in from California, Holland and Thailand, festooned 24 tables. Of course the pièce de résistance was Cooksley’s bespoke dinner jacket made at London’s New & Lingwood, from that original piece of hand-woven floral silk that inspired the decor!
The 25th Anniversary Gala went on to raise $1.5 million dollars that evening.
“I’ll be re-building my home soon,” says Cohen. “I’m currently working with architect, Russell Hollingsworth, (he apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright,) who actually designed our mid- century family home at UBC and also the home of Lululemon founders, Shannon and Chip Wilson in Point Grey. I’d like to make better use of that huge driveway space to give me more ocean view and space in the back for entertaining.”
“I’m really an outdoors girl, admits Cohen. “I swim every day, my daughter visits often, I have my dog Martini and there is nothing more beautiful than watching the sunset from our terrace with my partner, Rob Menard. I’m truly blessed.”
TOP PHOTO: Academy Award-winner, actress, Goldie Hawn who owned a home in Vancouver while her son played hockey there, was a guest at the Face the World Foundation Gala. Hawn is the founder of her own children’s charity, MindUP. Photo courtesy Face the World Foundation Gala.