Running Noir et Blanc, a fabulous Flat Iron boutique, the Thrifty HOG, a high-end designer thrift store, and Hearts of Gold, a Manhattan non-profit that has helped tens of thousands of homeless mothers and their children, is all in a day’s work for Deborah Koenigsberger. This inspiring woman somehow found some time to chat with us (on the day she was throwing a Hearts of Gold Thanksgiving party for upwards of 80 families, no less) about being an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and fashionista!
Deborah’s original venture, Noir et Blanc, is a chic women’s clothing store tucked away less than a block from Madison Square Park. Packed with beautiful dresses, stunning accessories, and other classy clothes. It will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. Hearts of Gold came about five years after Noir et Blanc, and Koenigsberger used the profits of the store to fund this labor of love in its first three years. Now, almost 20 years later, Hearts of Gold has grown exponentially, having raised over $500,000 for homeless mothers and their children at this year’s annual gala. True to her fashionable roots, Koenigsberger throws a fashion show and charity auction each year to help fund the organization's philanthropic endeavors. She lovingly recounted Hearts of Gold’s first charity fashion show, which took place at Noir et Blanc almost 20 years ago, “I remember the first event I did, which was when I was still solo. I did it in my store with was down on 23rd street. We packed 100 chairs and a runway and we did a fashion show/fundraiser and we raised $3,500. And we were over the moon!” It easy to get passionate about helping mothers and children, but Deborah’s effervescence inspires even further inspiration.
When asked about her motivation to start Hearts of Gold, Koenigsberger says, “I was basically at Radio City, having slept on the sidewalk with scalpers for seven nights. I bought my tickets for third row-center, and I just kept hearing this song. ‘Take the Time Out,’ addresses that whole issue of homelessness. Basically what he said is that person out there, at some point something went wrong. So you can walk by them and judge them, or you can do something about it.” And true to nature, do something about it she did. Starting with raising money to fund a private medical examination room for the frail elderly at a shelter, Koenigsberger simply wanted to do some good for those in need. It was her original passion—styling and fashion—that helped her find her true philanthropic calling. Deborah began as a stylist and model, and found it inspiring to help women dress for interviews and daily life. She realized she could do more to help young mothers and their children, because she was a mother as well. This is when Hearts of Gold truly took off, and it hasn’t lost momentum since. Koenigsberger’s daily tasks run the gamut from supervising the store, collecting donations, interfacing with outside organizations, planning events for the families, and simply being there for the moms.
Koenigsberger discussed her favorite parts of her work, and her answers all revolved around having a positive impact on the lives of others. At Noir et Blanc, she said “dressing a woman and having her say ‘Wow!’ in front of me, and leave feeling good, that is my favorite part of my job.” At the Thrifty Hog, she enjoys a similar chance to dress women who may not be able to afford Noir et Blanc clothes, yet they still leave feeling like a million bucks. When asked about Hearts of Gold, Koenignsberger answered without pause, “My favorite, favorite thing is when I see the kids and they run up to me, and they hug me. And they know that I matter to them and they matter to me.”
If you want to help with the Hearts of Gold cause, you can donate here. You can also donate gently worn, designer items and goods to the Thrifty HOG, or call and volunteer your time at a shelter, an event or the store. Deborah made the point that the holidays are a time when people remember to donate and volunteer, but Hearts of Gold can use volunteers and donations any time of year. Get your friends and family involved; run a lemonade stand or bake sale and donate the proceeds. There are uncountable ways to show support. You can find out more about volunteering, donating and getting the word out on the Hearts of Gold Facebook and website.
Deborah Koenigsberger’s empire is a feat to be admired, but she would much rather you get involved and be part of the work instead. So take the time out, and in the words of Deborah, “like the Stevie Wonder song says, I can’t cure the world but maybe I can cure my world. And if my world is 10 people I can cure that. For me, if you walk this earth something was made better, it doesn’t matter how small it is, than I feel that I was here for a reason. That is what I am about.”