John Johnston

The Importance of Being Holly

Holly Kylberg needs no introduction, but a friend offers one anyway: "This is Holly. Isn't she fabulous?"

Fabulous is right. Just don't tell her that unless you want to make her blush, because Holly may be a bold name, but she's also shy, even humble. The 38-year-old balks at the term "socialite" and shrugs off the suggestion that she's the reigning queen of Denver society. But she is both of those things -- and more.

Holly is as complex as Lily Bart, the protagonist from her favorite novel, The House of Mirth. Like Edith Wharton's classic heroine, Holly battles the jealousy and judgment that come with upper-class life. As glamorous as it may seem to be featured in the society pages almost every day, there are shadows in the spotlight. Holly's every action is scrutinized, her every innocent flirtation noted. And, of course, people tend to assume that a blond, buxom beauty like Holly doesn't have brains.

But Holly isn't just a lady who lunches; she works countless hours planning charity events. Her daily schedule is an exhausting mix of meetings, phone calls, primping and cocktail parties. And when she's not chairing a benefit, she's supporting friends who are, by donating time, money or the use of the D&F Tower, which she and her husband, Rich Kylberg, partly own.

This 21st-century Lily Bart is also full of contradictions. Although Holly goes out five or six nights a week -- often without Rich, which raises the eyebrows of gossips -- she is intensely private. She's insecure about her looks, despite being constantly complimented on her clothes, her hair, her overall charm. And though she hobnobs with the social elite, Holly is no snob; she frequently hangs out with her stylist and personal trainer, and she is just as comfortable at Don's Club Tavern as she is at Mao.

In other words, she's not your mama's socialite. She's a socialite of the people.

It's 2:25 p.m. on March 23, and Holly is getting ready for the kickoff to one of the most visible charity events in Denver. More than a hundred A-listers, including Judi and Marvin Wolf, David Alexander and Edie Marks, will gather at Mao to sip martinis, shmooze and paint masks for auction at the every-other-year Mask Project gala benefiting the Hospice of Metro Denver. In the weeks leading up to the May 1 event, masks painted by local notables and national celebrities (or their assistants) will go on display at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, a partner in the big to-do. Holly is co-chairing the gala for the first time this year, along with sportscaster Les Shapiro and Joshua Hanfling, CEO of Qube Visual, a sign and graphics company. But before she can toast the hard work that's already been done, she must get a blowout.

Holly comes to Planet Laboratories in Cherry Creek North two to three times a week to get her long blond mane styled by Matthew Morris. It's an extravagance, but a necessary one in Holly's world, where image means everything. Holly has the routine down to a science, and she jokes that "it takes a village" to keep her looking so good. After Morris rinses deep conditioner through her hair, blows it dry and curls it until she looks supermodel hot, Holly hops into her pale-green Jaguar XJS for the two-block drive over to Salon Posh, where Gina Comminello does her makeup. Holly also gets a French manicure once a month at Vito Pini Salone, which nicely sets off her 4.5-carat diamond wedding ring; has her hair highlighted at Salon Posh; works out with her personal trainer, Kevin Hodgson, twice a week; does tae bo three times a week; and has custom gowns made by local designer Gabriel Conroy. And her sexy, just-off-the-beach glow requires regular applications of tanning lotion.

With hair and makeup perfectly in place, Holly zips back to her stately brick home in the Country Club neighborhood, where she changes out of her day outfit of a white lace bustier, pink suede jacket, tight jeans and stilettos and into a stunning pink Roberto Cavalli dress. She grabs her matching quilted Chanel bag and heads off to Mao for the Mask Project kickoff party.

As soon as Holly arrives, Mele Telitz, public-relations manager for Hospice of Metro Denver, asks her to go on television to promote the event, but the thought of doing so makes Holly anxious. She is so shy that she usually has to have a glass of wine as soon as she arrives just to psych herself up. Holly is relieved when Judi Wolf agrees to go on camera in her place. About thirty minutes into the party, emcee Kelly Ford of KYGO announces the event co-chairs, and Holly waves from the back of the crowd. She's glad she doesn't have to speak in front of everyone.

"Planning a charity event is far more than wearing a pretty dress and having your picture taken," Holly says. "It's a year or more of planning and organizing an event, often by volunteers who are underwriting large portions of the program themselves because of their support of the charitable organization. I think sometimes people have an image of women sitting around sipping tea trying to decide which color ink to use on an invitation. Nothing would get planned that way."

As soon as the last Mask Project ended, event organizers began planning this year's fete. "The last event was on May 15, 2002; we met on May 16 to do a recap of what worked and what didn't," says Lisa Herzlich, marketing director of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. "Holly was on the mask ticket committee in 2002, and we wanted her to co-chair it this year because we thought she'd bring in new people. Nonprofits are no different than any other business; you have to look at who your audience is, and you have to keep expanding. You may get 80 percent of your funds from 20 percent of your audience, but you still need the other 20 percent, because someday they'll be the big givers. That's where Holly comes in. She brings an audience to nonprofits that we haven't had before."

In 1999, when Holly chaired Do at the Zoo, the Denver Zoo's annual summer fundraising party, attendance went from 1,500 to more than 2,000, and revenue grew by more than $100,000 over the previous year. That growth was "directly because of a new young constituency," says Rosanne Elkins, the zoo's vice president for development. "Holly really set a benchmark for the event. She brought in a young, hip audience, and the event had a wonderfully fun edge that was exhibited in the invitations, in the way the auction was conducted, and in the entertainment. She made it hipper by getting people to dance instead of just having background music."

Once Holly proved that she could pull off a major fundraiser, she started taking on more. She helped establish the Wild Things Society, a zoo membership for young professionals that has raised more than $250,000 since its inception in 1999. And in 2000, she chaired Zip A De Do, a fundraiser planned by and for kids; that year, it won the I.CON Award for best nonprofit social event in Denver. In Zip A De Do's first year, 700 people attended the event; between 1,500 and 1,800 kids and adults are expected to attend this year's party on May 14.

It wasn't long before people outside the zoo started noticing Holly's talents. Last year she was asked to co-chair Planned Parenthood's annual Choice Affairs with Sally Armitage, and the two women are organizing the event again this year. Rather than have one big benefit, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains holds several small fundraising parties that run from April to August. Sometimes it's a dinner party in someone's home; other times it's a gallery walk, concert or hike, for which people pay $50 to $100.

"This is the seventeenth year of Choice Affairs," says Lisa Tadiri, the local Planned Parenthood's vice president for development. "Because we've been doing it so long, the same folks have been on the committee, and the typical cast of players has been hosting it again and again. In recent years we've been trying to access different people and get younger people involved."

Getting Holly involved was a smart move. In 2002, the year before Holly chaired Choice Affairs, there were thirteen events; last year there were fourteen, and this year there are nineteen. "Not only has she increased the number of events, but she's hooked us up with new hosts -- people we never had access to before," Tadiri says. (One of those new hosts is Charlie Price, owner of Planet Laboratories.) "We wanted to balance traditional parties, like garden walks and Lannie Garrett concerts, with new, edgy ones. Last year was the first year we had two fashion shows, and both were overbooked."

At the end of one of them, the male models dove into the host's swimming pool. "There was quite a fervor about that," Tadiri says. "It was Holly's idea of a grand finale."

Adding an element of shock has become Holly's trademark. She figures that if people are going to pony up big bucks, she'd better show them a party. "I don't want to do a typical fashion show; I want it to be a spectacle," she says. "I think I feel an internal pressure to make things new and innovative."

Sometimes her ideas are viewed as too provocative. For the fashion-show part of the Mask Project gala, which will feature Roberto Cavalli's youthful designs, Holly envisioned a circular runway with models parading around a drag queen. But there's a fine line between attracting younger donors and turning away older, more traditional ones. "We'll have people from age twenty to eighty at this event," says Herzlich, who nixed the idea. "If this were just for nineteen- to 25-year-olds, it would be different. We're a family mall, and I'm just not ready for a drag queen yet. But I'm thrilled that she pushed the envelope, because what comes when you do that are different ideas."

Instead of a drag queen, the mask-project planners agreed to a Britney Spears or Beyoncé impersonator -- if Holly can find one. There may also be Joan and Melissa Rivers look-alikes on hand to interview guests and provide style commentary. But, Herzlich is quick to point out, they'll be much gentler than the rancorous Rivers women.

So what is it that makes Holly so successful? It's simple: She makes friends wherever she goes. And friendships often lead to partnerships. Case in point: At a recent party at Rise Nightclub, Holly and her husband hit it off with Craig Peña, co-owner of Suavecito's, the Santa Fe Drive store that specializes in zoot suits and Latino urban wear. After smacking a sticker for his Chingaso Gear clothing line firmly on Holly's behind and insisting that she wear one of his red Che Guevara T-shirts over her little black dress, Peña pitched the idea of a benefit for North High School's theater department. Holly readily agreed. It's an odd pairing if ever there was one; were "Uptown Girl" a movie instead of a song, Holly could play Christie Brinkley to Peña's Billy Joel.

Holly understands what appeals to twenty- and thirty-somethings. Whenever a new restaurant or club opens in Denver, which is often, she's among the first to try it. She knows the latest pop music, whereas a lot of event planners don't know the difference between RuPaul and Sean Paul. That means she also knows how to attract the demographic nonprofits so heavily covet.

"I realized at the last Mutts & Models that in this age of e-mail, a lot of young people only get invited to things by e-mail," Holly says, referring to the benefit she created three years ago for Harrison Memorial Animal Hospital. She's also begun using e-vites as a cost-effective alternative to traditional mailings. But getting young adults to RSVP is a challenge, so she's had to revamp how events have traditionally been held. "Typically, people in their twenties don't want to plan too far in advance, so I've pushed to let people pay at the door the night of an event."

Planning committees rely heavily on Holly's insight and creativity to develop catchy themes and new features. When Harrison Memorial, on whose board Holly sits, decided to replace its annual birthday fundraising bash with something more high-profile, it was Holly who came up with the idea of Mutts & Models, a fashion show in which both people and their pooches prance down the catwalk. "I wanted to create something young and fun," says Holly, who also helped select hip venues such as Mile High Station and the Gothic Theatre. For the first two years, Gabriel Conroy and owners of small boutiques supplied the outfits; this year, fashionistas modeled creations by New York designer David Rodriguez, whose clothes have been worn by Kristin Davis on Sex and the City. As a result, the theme this January was "Pets in the City." In its first year, Mutts & Models attracted 300 people and raised $30,000; in its second year, almost 400 people showed up, bringing in $50,000; and this year, 550 people came and $100,000 was raised.

But no matter how fashionable an event, young people won't show if they can't afford to. "Even with Mutts & Models, the $125 ticket price is too high for some people," Holly says. "What I'd like to do next year is let people come in after eight, forgo the dinner beforehand and do a cash bar instead. That way, we'd be able to give them a ticket price that's more affordable. The challenge will be to figure out how to do that without alienating the people who paid full price."

Born Holly Kay Lucas on Christmas Day 1965, this future society doyenne grew up in a middle-class family in middle America, the youngest of five children. Dad worked for Hamilton Sundstrand, an aerospace company in Holly's home town of Rockford, Illinois; Mom was a homemaker. There were no debutante balls, no trips abroad -- just the typical Midwest family vacations to the lakes of Wisconsin.

Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Holly was convinced that she was unattractive. "You know how a lot of people say they were skinny, awkward children? Well, I was the epitome of that," she says. "My brother still carries a picture of me when I was a skinny, ugly eight-year-old."

In high school, Holly weighed just a hundred pounds -- not much for her 5'7" frame -- and classmates called her "bones," so she wore sweat pants under her jeans to look bigger. While at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, she took advantage of the college town's all-you-can-eat buffets, but even that didn't help her bulk up. Neither did seeing a nutritionist. Lifting weights finally added some muscle, but she's still slight of build.

In addition to feeling physically awkward, Holly often felt socially awkward as a teen. "I was never part of any particular group; I was always an independent child," she says. "When I went back to my high school reunion, people didn't recognize me."

Even her future husband was nonplussed the first time he met her. When Holly was seventeen, she spent the summer in Colorado with a brother and volunteered at Channel 12, where his wife worked. It was there that she was introduced to Rich Kylberg, the station's program manager. Although Holly's sister-in-law thought they'd make a good couple, Rich wanted nothing to do with her. "I was 21. She was too young, and she was related to someone at the station," says Rich, now 42.

When Holly returned to Colorado two years later, her sister-in-law convinced Rich to take Holly, one of Holly's girlfriends and a friend of his on a double date. "He made it clear that he was doing her a huge favor," Holly laughs. "He took us to Thirsty's, a 3.2 bar."

Rich wasn't expecting the lanky teenager he remembered to have transformed into a bombshell. "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he says.

He quickly became Holly's first -- and last -- boyfriend. They moved in together in Boulder, where Holly worked and took classes at the University of Colorado. After about eighteen months together, Rich went to Harvard to earn his MBA, and Holly returned to SIU to finish her journalism degree. They carried on a long-distance love affair until they both graduated and returned to Colorado, where Rich started the Bayard Fund to acquire television stations.

A Denver native who had attended Colorado Academy and earned a bachelor's degree in English and communications from Stanford, Rich was a natural for the broadcasting industry. After his parents divorced when he was fifteen (his dad owned a ski and marine shop near Sloan's Lake), Rich's mother married Ken Palmer, owner of the once-legendary Denver rock station KIMN. Palmer sold the radio station, then bought three others out East and converted them to Christian formats. When Palmer died of cancer in 1984, he left his broadcasting company, Communicom Corporation of America, to Rich's mother, a Stanford-educated clinical social worker.

With no training in how to manage radio stations, she asked the elder of her two sons to look at the company's finances. Rich discovered that the stations were in trouble, so he closed out the Bayard Fund and concentrated on the radio stations, which he then turned around. "I sold those stations, then bought more, then sold them," explains Rich, who now oversees one AM Christian station in New Orleans and is negotiating the acquisition of another. Raised Episcopalian, Rich says his family's religious beliefs have nothing to do with the operation of the stations. In fact, his mom, Lee Everding, is now married to Ed Everding, a Methodist who used to be dean at the Iliff School of Theology, and his younger brother, Bob, who works for Sony Digital Pictures in California, has converted to Islam. "I look at it as a First Amendment thing. We're a broadcast facility that offers churches the ability to communicate with their audience. We don't allow hate, but otherwise we don't get involved in their doctrine. You're not going to hear Jerry Falwell on our stations; these are local churches doing community things like coat drives."

Thanks to the success of the radio stations, Holly didn't have to work when she married Rich in 1996. She'd tried using her journalism degree during an internship at a local advertising/public-relations agency, but "I decided it wasn't as glamorous as I thought; I wasn't exactly writing commercials," she says. She also held various marketing jobs, including one at a computer training firm. "It was interesting, but not as creative as I needed a job to be."

Plus, she says, only half joking, "My interest in travel was competing with an 8-to-5 job." As a member of the Young Presidents' Organization, a networking group for people who head corporations or corporate divisions that fall within certain income criteria, Rich had opportunities to travel with his fellow professionals. Holly's first trip abroad was to Egypt when she was 23; since then, the Kylbergs have traveled everywhere from the North Pole to the South, from Africa to Asia. But despite an adventurous jet-set life, Holly felt lost.

"I said to Holly, 'If you don't actually need to have a paid career but still want to do something worthwhile, you could do non-profit work,'" recalls Everding, a Southern lady who can trace her roots back to Civil War generals on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

"Charity work for my mom started when she was a little girl in Texas," explains Rich, himself a member of several boards, including those governing Children's Hospital, Rocky Mountain PBS and the Webb-Waring Foundation. "She would play missionary with her friends; she was president of her high school class; she was an officer in the Junior League; she was on the Colorado Academy board and on the boards of St. Joseph Hospital and the Denver Foundation."

Not only did Rich's mom set an example through her volunteer work, but the nannies she hired to help care for her boys were pregnant teens from the Florence Crittenton Home who lived with the family until they gave birth. "It was expected of my brother and me to give back to the community," Rich explains.

It was expected of Holly, too. "My mom pressured Holly to join the Junior League, but Holly was kind of a failure at it," Rich says, chuckling.

"I think when Holly joined the Junior League, they had certain expectations and rules for volunteer work, and trying to tell Holly what the rules were didn't work," adds Everding. "She needed to put her own oar in the water, so to speak."

Holly's rebellious nature and rock-star style certainly didn't lend themselves to selling cookbooks, one of the League's big fundraisers, so in 1999, she contacted the Metro Denver Volunteers Board Bank and asked to be paired with an organization that helps animals. She had always envisioned living on a farm, having been surrounded by a menagerie of animals throughout her childhood, including dogs, cats, ducks, ferrets and rabbits. "My mom was always bringing animals home," says Holly, who has a cat and a Belgian sheepdog of her own.

The board bank turned her on to Harrison Memorial Animal Hospital, where her brother-in-law also happened to be working. Next came seats on the boards of the Denver Zoo, Planned Parenthood and the Denver Film Society, which she just rotated off of. She now chairs three to five charitable events a year, is in charge of four or five Choice Affairs fundraising parties annually and helps friends organize several more events.

"I had no idea she was going to take her work to the level she has," Everding says. "When I think about how much money she's been able to raise, it's remarkable.

"Holly's style is not my style; I like to go to bed at 9 p.m.," she adds. "But that's a generational thing. There are people in my generation who may not be familiar with Holly's style or comfortable with it, but you have to applaud success. If she's able to attract the young, mod set, so be it."

The fact that someone from a working-class city in Illinois can rise to the position Holly has is a testament to Denver's egalitarian nature. In this formerly lawless town, the fact that a society scene even exists seems rather odd. Unlike the East or the South, where ancestry and old money rule, anyone in Denver with enough dough to cover the ticket price at a black-tie event can enter the circuit. That's one of the things Holly loves about her adopted home. "Colorado is a very accessible state that doesn't care which relatives came over on the Mayflower," she says.

Rich also pokes fun at the notion of Denver society. Both he and Holly are listed in the Denver Social Register and Record, a who's who of local bluebloods that Kathy Piper Johnson edited until she died in September 2001. (That task has been passed down to Piper Johnson's daughter-in-law, Renee Piper.) "I got a thing in the mail five or seven years ago that said, 'We want to include you in it, and you can purchase it for $50,'" recalls Rich. "I think my mom ran into Piper and told her she should put us in it. It's not quite as mystical as how you win Best Burrito in the Best of Denver issue. I personally aspire to be on the Best Of list, but instead, I'm in this blue book." (Holly was declared Best Socialite by Westword in 2003.) "I don't know the people in the registry. There's no party; there's no secret handshake. They sent me a form, but I didn't have an interview or a physical."

As much as he jokes about society life, Rich is serious about the work that Holly does. "The idea of not giving back is kind of frightening," he says. "When you've had the opportunities and blessings we've had, it would be the most hideously selfish existence to use them all for yourself and not try to help other people."

And the Kylbergs give back with their money as much as with their time. Rich recently used a computer program to itemize his and Holly's yearly expenses, and when the results were tabulated, he discovered that their highest single expenditure for 2003 was charitable giving. "I thought, 'Wow, we're doing it right.' I'd have really been bummed if I'd pushed that button and homes and autos were above charity."

For Holly, getting involved with nonprofits has given her a sense of purpose. "Initially, I had some uneasiness about taking on an event. It was brand-new to have someone believe in me and hand over an event to me," she says of Bruce Benson, then chair of the Zoo's board of directors and the person who encouraged her to take on Do at the Zoo. "It was overwhelming, intimidating and flattering. But it became easier each time. The challenge is addictive."

The work has also boosted Holly's confidence. "My mom comments on how I've grown into the swan role, but she's always quick to remind me of my awkward, younger days," she says. "I'd like to think I've yet to bloom."

They say you can never be too rich or too thin, but when you're as rich and as thin as Holly Kylberg, you're bound to become fodder for the rumor mill.

One of the most common stories to make the rounds is Holly and Rich's breakup. "I can't deny that it doesn't sting, but you wince a little and then move on," Holly says. "It's a bit strange hearing that you've separated from your husband while he's sitting in the room eating a pizza. It's not as if I'm running for governor; I'm just trying to raise money for charities.

"I lead a very independent life. I may be out a few nights a week without my husband, and he's fine with that," she adds. "Rich and I have diverse tastes. He has no interest in going to a fashion show or a restaurant opening. An ideal night for him would be to go to Dave & Buster's and play video games."

Their differences are obvious to anyone who looks at them. During one recent cocktail party, Holly was more elegant than ever in a black-and-white dress, black strappy sandals and a red Christian Dior clutch that complemented her bright-red lipstick; Rich, who had recently grown a scruffy goatee, showed up wearing a Punisher T-shirt and jeans.

"I've known Holly for twenty years, so for anything to get squirrelly in our relationship is just not a possibility," he says. But he's not oblivious to the male attention his wife attracts when he's not around -- or when he's only a few feet away. "I'm not up for ten seconds before there are guys around her. That's just my life."

But in a celebrity-starved town like Denver, Holly is as high-profile as any politician. For that reason, a public argument between friends last November turned into a mini society scandal. Backstage at a fashion show benefiting cystic fibrosis, a verbal spat erupted between Holly and event sponsor Valere Shane, the wife of diamond dealer Tom Shane. Valere Shane reportedly got upset when the models in her fashion show started flirting with a soap star she'd flown in for the soiree. "They were all acting like teenage girls around him," says Charlie Price, whose salon caters to a lot of society women. "But Valere thought Holly was the worst."

Although Price says the flirting was entirely innocent, Shane confronted Holly. And when patrons went to the Palm afterward, Holly confronted Shane right back -- a scene that made Bill Husted's column in the Denver Post. "It was a disagreement between two girlfriends that was blown entirely and unfairly out of proportion because it made for a good story," Holly says. "Valere and I have been out since then. We are friendly with each other. Our husbands are friends. It's a non-issue."

Valere Shane declined to comment.

Martha Kelce, a real estate broker who spent fifteen years on the society scene before she got divorced in 1997, consoled Holly after news of the Shane spat hit the press. "I told her, 'Have you ever heard of anyone else clearing out the Palm?'"

Kelce can laugh about such fumbles now; after all, she's been through worse. "There were people who were happy I was getting a divorce because they knew I wouldn't have any money left. Rumors spread that I had a boyfriend. It was very painful," she says. "One of the things I tell Holly is, if you ever do have trouble with your husband or with a friend, don't tell anyone, because they'll make a mountain out of a molehill."

Kelce first met Holly while planning Do at the Zoo and decided to take the upstart socialite under her wing. "I was absolutely delighted to have a young woman like her take over. I was chair of the event in 1992; I've chaired almost every event in Denver. We older women can't do it forever," Kelce says. "I have a lot of girlfriends who are as rich as Holly, and they spend their days going to lunch, shopping and getting their nails done. Well, Holly does all that plus."

That just makes Holly a hot topic for gossip -- even before the infamous fight. "Privileged, wealthy men are allowed to go out, have a little too much to drink and flirt, but if women do the same, they're whore-y. The difference is, men won't go after each other, but women will," Price says. "It's a lesson in female politics to watch these women; they don't deal with things in a direct way at all. It's like a bad beauty pageant: The person who gets the most attention becomes a target. I've had older women come into the salon and say that Holly should watch out for her reputation. Some of them say that Holly needs to settle down, have kids and not go out so much.

"Her image as a party girl is what some people choose to define her by, but she's the real deal," Price continues. "She doesn't just lend her name to an event; when she agrees to do something, she does what she says, and she does it with enthusiasm. I haven't seen anyone else as involved in charity events since Arlene Hirschfeld. People are extremely jealous of Holly. She's pretty, smart, rich and fun. I think a lot of these women are pretty and rich, but they aren't so smart or fun."

The people with good things to say about Holly far outnumber those who don't -- and those in the latter camp won't say so publicly. "There are a lot of people who think she's catty or gets her hair done too much, but I have never seen her be rude or utter a mean statement," says Holly's makeup artist, Gina Comminello, who has known her for seven years.

Price agrees: "No matter where Holly is, if I run into her, she'll stop what she's doing and give me a kiss, whereas other clients will totally ignore me."

Regardless of how kind and gracious Holly tries to be, there is one topic that irritates her: kids. Practically every day, someone asks her if she has children, and when she says no, they either react with sympathy or ask about her reproductive health. "I feel like I do a lot of things later in life, and having kids may be one of them. Quite frankly, the thought of having a child is kind of terrifying, because I'd still want to have my own life," Holly says. "I just wish people would spend more time on positive pursuits and that people would accept that I'm a very independent person and always will be. There's a bumper sticker I like that says 'Focus on Your Own Damn Family.'"

The Ralph Lauren store in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center is filled with people dressed much nicer than the typical shopper on a warm evening in late March. That's because the store is hosting a breast-cancer benefit; 15 percent of the proceeds from the night's sales will go to the Men for the Cure Foundation.

Not that all the patrons know that. One 17th Street lawyer who obviously showed up just for the cocktails and the company asks Holly, "So, what's this a benefit for?"

Holly has come to support her friend Shelly DeHaven, whose husband, Channel 4 general manager Walt DeHaven, helped organize the event. As Holly and Channel 4 weatherman Ed Greene chat toward the front of the store, in walks Tom Shane. Suddenly, the air seems colder. He tells Holly that she looks lovely and plants an obligatory kiss on her cheek. A minute later, his wife arrives.

"Hi, Holly," Valere Shane says.

"Hi, Valere," Holly says back.

And with that, the Shanes head toward the back of the store, never to cross paths with Holly the rest of the evening.

After Monica Kosi arrives, Holly hears all about the blue cashmere sweater her friend just bought for her Siamese cat. "Isn't it cute?" Kosi coos.

"I didn't know cats wore sweaters," Holly says.

Kosi has more on her mind than just cat sweaters, however. She's got a big date later, but she won't tell Holly with whom. She hints that it's someone Holly introduced her to. When Holly figures it out, she decides to let Kosi in on a secret of her own. The strapless black dress that she's been receiving compliments on all evening is from -- gasp! -- Forever 21. Kosi hardly bats an eye. Even though she's dressed almost head to toe in Chanel, she couldn't care less what other people are wearing. But some do. Kosi was once approached by a woman at a charity event who nodded to her gown and said, "I've worn that exact same dress three times already." She's still recovering from the slight.

And just because Holly owns her fair share of Gucci and Prada doesn't mean she can't thumb her nose at the brand-obsessed once in a while. She wanted to see how many people she could fool with her $11.90 dress. The answer? A lot. Some friends she met up with later at Brix even told her it was "very Chanel." But at a different event, an acquaintance noticed her costume chandelier earrings and said, "Why do you spend all this money on clothes and then wear an $80 pair of earrings?" The earrings were a treasured gift from a friend.

"While I enjoy fashion, being fashionable has nothing to do with spending a lot of money," Holly says. "Rather, it's driven by individual flair and self-expression. I do feel a certain amount of internal pressure to look nice and present myself in a certain way, especially if I am directly involved in an event. I view it as part of the job."

Even to the most casual appointments, Holly makes sure to look her best. Like during a visit to David Barnes at the warehouse-like home of Scenographics, a set-design company that's making backdrops for the "vignettes" at the Mask Project gala. Dressed down but still haute in a sheer white top with pieces of turquoise sewn in, Miss Sixty jeans and a Von Dutch trucker hat -- the latest in white-trash chic -- Holly swaps ideas with Barnes for interactive sets that guests can pose in front of for pictures. (Hospice of Metro Denver sells sponsorships of the vignettes to corporations and individuals as an additional way to raise money.) Holly suggests building an American Idol set, complete with karaoke machine and Simon Cowell impersonator. And since Rich loves comic books and may put his own collection on display at the event, they discuss having a superhero vignette in which patrons could have their photo taken with Spider-man or Catwoman. The next day, Holly presents her and Barnes's ideas to the Mask Project planning committee.

Just as she's bringing one event to a close, she's busy beginning another. After leaving her Mask Project meeting at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Holly heads to Harrison Memorial. As she steps out of her Jag wearing Jackie-O-style sunglasses, a woman arrives carrying an undernourished puppy. The woman momentarily looks at Holly, taken aback by the sudden appearance of a starlet look-alike.

Inside, Holly meets with Andrew MacArthur, Harrison's interim executive director, and Stephanie Klestinec, the development manager, about dates and themes for the next Mutts & Models. Several ideas are tossed out, such as setting up tents to mimic New York's fashion week, holding the show at the old Firehouse Car Wash on Sixth Avenue or modeling it after the famous masked balls of Carnival in Venice. But nothing sticks until days later, when Holly has a flash of brilliance: Why not have a futuristic fashion show and call it "Petropolis," after Metropolis, one of her favorite films?

MacArthur and Klestinec love the idea. And they love Holly. "It's truly amazing what she's done for the notoriety of this animal hospital," MacArthur says. "We had a corps of older donors in the past, but we've really expanded our donor base with this event. Holly has single-handedly put us on the map."

But Holly is only one person. Once an event becomes established, other people end up sharing in the responsibility. Mutts & Models has been Holly's baby for the past three years, and now that it's grown up a bit, she feels it might be time to let go. May 1 will mark just the fourth Mask Project gala, but because it happens every other year, it's actually been around since 1998, which means there's been plenty of time to perfect things and build recognition in the community. The event has raised $1.5 million for the care of terminally ill patients since it began.

For Holly, everything is work. During an April cocktail party at the tony furniture store Town, Holly is introduced to a modeling agent. "Do you know any Britney Spears or Beyoncé look-alikes?" she asks, hoping he can help her snag one for the Mask Project gala. He does.

Holly even hits up her out-of-town house guest, Scott O'Grady, the famous fighter pilot whose plane was shot down over Bosnia in 1995; O'Grady, who lives in Dallas, met Rich through the Young Presidents' Organization and is visiting the Kylbergs. After the two men take in a Nuggets game, they join Holly at Town. Before O'Grady leaves Denver, he'll commit to providing a mask for the hospice gala and autographing one of his books for the winning bidder.

While getting a drink at the bar, Rich overhears two women talking about Holly; one boasts to the other that she knows her. "They didn't even realize that her husband was standing right there," Rich says later. "Nobody knows who I am." But he's used to that; people often refer to him simply as "Holly's husband."

After the three leave, they head to P.F. Chang's for a late dinner, along with the Kylbergs' neighbor, Larah Thompson. Then it's on to Hush, a basement-level nightclub on Larimer Street. Holly knows the owner, natch. She also knows the lyrics to every song, from Ram Jam's "Black Betty" to the Strokes' "Last Nite." This odd group that includes an American hero and two socialites sing and dance non-stop until a fight breaks out. Glasses are thrown and shoving ensues. Ever the commander, O'Grady leads his troops to safety. Once the brawl is over and the broken glass swept up, the dancing resumes. Everyone gets excited when "Paradise City" plays. "I was a sophomore in college when this song came out," Holly yells over the music.

The group finally calls it a night when the music stops and the lights go on at 2 a.m. It's the end of a very busy week for Holly, who has been up from sunrise to midnight almost every day for fundraising meetings and parties.

It isn't easy being the boldest of boldfaced names. It isn't easy at all.


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