Revelers reign in the rain at the Charity Preview

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Downtown Detroit was a sodden, cheerful mess Friday evening as the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview kicked off, and thousands of expensively dressed revelers dodged the rain to crowd into Cobo Center.

This year the black-tie “auto prom” sold 13,075 tickets yielding $5.2 million for eight children’s charities, a bit less than last year’s $5.3 million on 13,350 tickets sold.

“To raise more than $5 million for charity in one evening is a pretty special accomplishment,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, walking the Cobo floor.

Dressed in a simple black tux and a black tie, Duggan said he didn’t spend much time planning his wardrobe. “I’ve got one tuxedo,” he said. “If you’re looking for style commentary, you’re going to have to find someone else.”

Jennifer Gilbert, wife of Quicken Loans honcho Dan Gilbert, was spotted looking hip and comfortable in a glittery, feathery Chanel skirt, topped with a light brown fur top that went well with her glass of bubbly.

She said “the people watching” is what she was most looking forward to, and after the preview she and her husband planned to hit a fashionable Corktown restaurant and yet another party.

Women’s fashions seemed a little muted this year, heavier on black, white, silver and gold than bright, bold colors. Also muted but rather racier were the occasional “nude illusion” dresses — flesh-colored gowns usua

lly overlaid with black lace — that have been popular for several years.

Style-wise, Pastor Spencer Ellis of Detroit’s Citadel of Praise said he likes to keep things “easy,” so he opted for a basic black tux with satin lapels and a regular tie. “I’m more of a conservative person — I’m not flashy,” said Ellis, who was attending Charity Preview with wife Tracey.

Few couples enjoy the connection to Charity Preview that Brian and Kelly Bennyhoff do. The Lake Orion couple had their first date at the 2014 event, and they came in 2015, too.

“We’re an auto family,” Kelly said. “I work for Fiat Chrysler, my dad works for GM, and my brother is at Ford. “So we visit all the car stations at the preview.” (Brian works at Ernst & Young.)

Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP and pastor at Fellowship Church, said he’s been coming to Charity Preview forever, and always looks forward to the auto capital’s big January blow-out.

“You get to see people looking good and feeling good,” said Anthony, dressed in a black tux edged in gold. “It’s an opportunity to forget about the mess in the world, just for a moment.”

He smiled. “It’s a beautiful occasion.”

Anthony may be an old hand at these things, but Dayan and Myra Douse, of Northville, were there for the first time and suitably psyched. “We’re very excited,” said Myra, who works for Toyota and Lexus Financial Services.

“And we’re thrilled about Detroit’s comeback,” she added.

Another first-timer, University of Michigan student Kelly Christiensen, was dazzled by the glamour of it all. The native Californian was at Cobo to perform with her a cappella group, Compulsive Lyres.

“I’m blown away,” she said.

Smashing in a black-and-gold dress was Heidelberg College junior Ayako Hampton, who drove up from Ohio with her father, Donald, president of the North American Interiors Division for the French auto supplier Faurecia.

Both father and daughter see 2016 as another record year for the auto industry.

“Everybody needs a car,” Ayako said.

Melody Baetens, Adam Graham and Felecia Henderson contributed.