Louis John Almarez and Erin Graffy rally the crowd to bid on a hat from Leslie Ridley-Tree's collection during the live auction. | Credit: Alma Rose Middleton

What better way to celebrate an iconic woman who loved fashion almost as much as philanthropy than with a charitable estate auction?

Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, who passed away in October, was known in Santa Barbara for her colorful wardrobe, personality, and incredible generosity. To continue this giving spirit, a hat and wine auction was held by Miss Daisy’s Consignment & Auction House and Louis John Boutiques on June 8. All the money raised will go toward hats and wigs for patients at the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center.

Glenn Novack and Roach, owner and general manager of Miss Daisy’s Consignment & Auction House, respectively. | Credit: Alma Rose Middleton

“She [Ridley-Tree] was just luminous, lovely, fun,” boutique owner and auction host Louis John said. “You can see all of this in her collection, in her clothes, the hats — she sees fashion as art and architecture.”

Through a silent and live auction of 51 hats and more than three dozen wines from Ridley-Tree’s estate, more than $11,000 was raised. The event served as a launch party for an online auction, which will feature designer clothing pieces from her opulent wardrobe.

Erin Graffy, a friend of Ridley-Tree, served as a hat auctioneer for the evening. Before beginning the hat auction, she told the crowd a few stories about the late philanthropist, who she said “wasn’t afraid to get her fingernails dirty.” 

Graffy explained Ridley-Tree’s involvement with the cancer center, to which she donated $10.7 million and which now bears her name. She also made sure the patients didn’t have to stare at a blank wall while undergoing painful treatment.

“She [Ridley-Tree] had the vision to say this isn’t how you heal,” Graffy said. “So if you go to the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center today, you will see where the bay is where you’re going to get your infusion … and you’re overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden.”

According to Glenn Novack, the owner of Miss Daisy’s, choosing the cancer center as the auction’s beneficiary seemed only natural. For veteran wine auctioneer Jim Fiolek, it was also personal. He has been getting treated there for prostate cancer since 2006 and feels lucky that hormone therapy has allowed him to remain stable.

Longtime auctioneer and wine expert Jim Fiolek prepares to auction off 12 lots of Lady Ridley-Tree’s wines. | Credit: Alma Rose Middleton

“I know it sounds corny, but I wasn’t thinking about myself [during the auction]. When I go into chemo, I see people who may not make it out,” Fiolek said. “My wife had pancreatic cancer in 2020 and she didn’t make it. So it’s for people like that that this is really important, not for me.”

He was overjoyed to see how generous attendees were at the auction, some even bidding against themselves.

“I don’t remember when I [ever] saw this many people who just give. There’s always one or two people … but there’s so many more tonight [thanks to] Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree [and] the effect that she’s had with the cancer center.”

It seemed guests took his opening remarks to heart:

“I would like you all to give ’til it hurts so that the patients there won’t.”

The biggest talk of the night, by far, was the silent and live hat auction, which brought droves of fashion and particularly hat enthusiasts from all around.

Hiroko Benko, a friend of the late Lady Ridley-Tree, tries on one of her many hats from the silent auction. | Credit: Alma Rose Middleton

Georgia Nevarez is a regular at Louis John Boutiques who took home three hats. She won the highest bidding war of the night, securing a black and Kentucky Derby–esque white polka dot hat for $500.

“I remember my mother when she’d have a little argument with my dad … she’d say, ‘Come on,’ and we would go to town, and she would buy a hat,” Nevarez said. “I just love hats. They’re fun, they’re fun, they’re feminine, they’re me.”

She now has more than 30 hats in her collection and wears a different one each day. She encourages everyone to step out of their comfort zone and not be afraid that wearing extravagant hats will draw attention.

“I don’t ever think anyone is looking at me. Why would anybody want to look at me? I dress for me,” she said.

Other attendees, such as Carolyn Gargano, came to support the cause. 

“What a wonderful woman [Ridley-Tree] was, and just someone who … not only appreciates style but someone who gives back to the community, at that level. How can I not go down?” Gargano said.

She thought she might bid for the fun of it, but she never imagined she’d walk away as the owner of eight new hats from the silent auction.

“They opened the doors, and I felt like I was transported back [in time] … I never grew up in this time when women dressed like this,” Gargano said. “So when I see it, I just would like to embody it … you have to try it on — and then the hat becomes you.”

The rest of Ridley-Tree’s fashion estate collection can be bid on here and household items are available for purchase at Miss Daisy’s Consignment & Auction House.


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