The No Tie Dinner, ASD’s big fundraiser, gets a new chair in style maven David Nelson


TIE DIED | David Nelson plans to add some surprises to this year’s No Tie event — but keeping it unstuffy will remain a constant. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Over the years, David Nelson has accumulated a rackful of neckties, plenty of them too dull or too garish to ever wear again. If anyone understands the appeal of a tie-free event, it would be him.

But this year, the No Tie Dinner isn’t a time for Nelson to sit back and relax. He’s had to replace his necktie with his thinking cap.

For seven years, the No Tie Dinner (its title riffs on the Black Tie Dinner sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign) has been the baby of Dennis Kershner, who has chaired the fundraiser that benefits AIDS Services of Dallas, which provides housing and support for people living with

HIV/AIDS. Last year, Kershner stepped down … and Nelson stepped up.

“Dennis first got me involved as a patron,” Nelson says. Now he’s leading it.

It’s a complicated event to produce. Unlike Black Tie, which takes place at a single venue, the No Tie Dinner is actually a series of dinners held in private residences across the city. Volunteers agree to host meals in their homes, asking guests to make donations to ASD. Then around 8 p.m., they all converge on the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field for the gala dessert party and auction — a reception that caps off an evening of food and fundraising.

Nelson is a stylist and designer who has thrown more than his share of gala events (he chaired the 2006 DIFFA Collection). Still, taking over the reins from its founder was a daunting task — he’d never even hosted one of the dinners before. But he’d felt passionate about support for ASD since he first attended the event several years ago.

“I remember the first time I learned about No Tie,” he says over a meal in the Design District. “It was maybe the second year of the event. I was invited to a party at Dennis’ house and didn’t even know what I was going to.”

That’s when Nelson first realized what an important role ASD provides to the North Texas community.

“It’s like six degrees of separation — if you don’t know someone personally, your neighbor’s sister-in-law has a brother who has been at ASD,” Nelson says. “Housing is so very important [to people living with AIDS].” ASD has 124 units serving 225 men, women and children; 300 are on the waiting list. The No Tie Dinner is the non-profit’s No. 1 fundraiser of the year.

The pre-party dinners are something of a mystery to Nelson, even at this point. Every host plans differently: Some cook, some cater; Nelson knows of one volunteer who plans to have a food truck parked outside his house.

It’s somewhat nerve-racking to plan, knowing that your guests (about 1,500 are expected to attend) have dinner engagements before they come to you … and not knowing exactly what the tone of each of those dinners will be. Coordinating it is akin to herding cats.

“People don’t want to budge,” Nelson jokes about dinner attendees. “It’s the host’s job to leave and get them all to go [with him].”

It’s when they begin to arrive at the museum that Nelson’s magic takes place.

“Dennis has been very supportive. He said, ‘If you wanna change it up, let’s change it!’” he says. “He made no conditions.”

Nelson is playing some of the innovations close to his vest, planning to dazzle attendees (and get some buzz going). He does tease a few ideas, however.

“We’ve never had any entertainment other than a DJ,” he says. “There’s still a DJ, but also some surprises. It’s not about fashion, but about style — anyone can be stylish.”

Don’t mistake style for stuffiness, though — it’s still a casually fashionable event. They take the “no tie” part seriously.

No Tie has always had silent auctions and an announcement and presentation of an award. But Nelson has added a live auction and a video component to keep the festivities moving along. He’s added the skills of Dallas Sound and Light to customize the event.

“It’ll add a whimsical energy. It’s a grand building, too. Once you walk in, you’ll get it.”

And there will, of course, be the delicious desserts (and creative cocktails).

“We have some [restaurants and caterers] who have been with us since the beginning, but the slate changes. This year, nine dropped out, but we gained 11 more,” he says.

That’s another reason to leave the tie at home — after all the desserts, you’re gonna want to undo a button or two.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2012.