“I went backstage during the interval and she was just lying down on a chaise longue,” Ms. Jaffe recalled. “I told her she was truly amazing, because she had been.” Her words gave the former Bolshoi prima ballerina a boost and, when they bumped into each other later at a restaurant, Ms. Semenyaka said she had been happier with the rest of her performance.
Ms. Jaffe again thanked the dancer for “bringing your gift to us,” and the conversation turned to other things: “She was wearing these beautiful little Russian teardrop diamond earrings that hang off the bottom of the earlobe, and I complimented them.” The dancer took them off and put them in Ms. Jaffe’s hand.
“It was just so kind,” Ms. Jaffe said. “She didn’t just have generosity in her performances, it was who she was.”
Years later, the earrings were stolen while Ms. Jaffe was performing in Chicago. “It was so sad; they were irreplaceable — but at least they did not steal the memory.”
Fine art division chairman, Sotheby’s
“Very recently my friend gave me a matchbook signed by Joni Mitchell, who is one of my favorite cultural figures,” Ms. Cappellazzo said. “I won’t even say ‘musician’ because it’s too light. She’s one of my favorite cultural figures of all time.
“I think Joni is simply one of the greatest poets,” she added. “She’s just an incredible poet of living life as a woman. There are few people in life who have achieved that level of actualization and artistic expression.”
The gift came from the performance artist John Kelly, who agreed with his friend’s assessment of Ms. Mitchell. “She means a lot to both of us,” Mr. Kelly said. He had owned the matchbook for more than a decade, and gave it to Ms. Cappellazzo earlier this year, although there was no particular occasion.
Ms. Cappellazzo said the matchbook had been a special treasure of Mr. Kelly’s. “He gave it to me because he knew I was a devotee, like him,” she said, adding that the surprise gave the gift an extra potency.
“Joni is a chain-smoker and I love the fact that the matchbook is something she would have had in her possession, and it’s not just a random piece of paper,” Ms. Cappellazzo added. “It’s scrawled Joni Mitchell and it says — if I can read the scrawl — ‘Here’s to it, Joni Mitchell.’”
A shabby tunic was Mr. Blahnik’s most treasured gift: “I was given the most beautiful Paul Poiret shift as a Christmas gift by Anna Piaggi,” the Italian fashion writer and style icon who died in 2012.
“It feels like 100 years ago, but I’d guess it was the early 1970s,” he said. “At the time we spent all of our time in antique shops, before the vintage craze, when you could buy beautiful piece by these truly iconic designers. Anna always knew exactly what I loved; I was obsessed with the Callot sisters, Madame Vionnet and Paul Poiret.”
Mr. Poiret was a flamboyant early-1900s French couturier. And the tunic, created in green silk velvet with gold embroidery, “could have been something drawn by Léon Bakst for the Ballets Russes,” Mr. Blahnik said.
Ms. Piaggi had worn the tunic several times and the garment’s condition was far from mint, but that added to its significance, he said. “And anyway, in those days there was always fabulous parties so I wore it many, many times, too.”
In 1991 Mr. Blahnik’s house was broken into and many of his possessions, including the Poiret, were stolen. “We think it was wrapped around a bronze statue,” he said with a sigh. “Now Anna is gone, the dress is gone and I have nothing left but my memory.”
For Ms. Fonssagrives-Solow, the gift of a 1930s barn five years ago from her son, Stefan Soloviev, reignited her career.
At the time, she had worked in New York for more than four decades. “I’d got to a point where my work was everywhere — it was in attics and garages but I couldn’t actually show it to anyone,” she said.
The barn provided storage and, for the first time, she had somewhere to display her work to potential clients and gallerists. (Although, she added, “it’s on his farm on Long Island so sometime my work vies for space with huge farming equipment.”)
Soon after, Eric Firestone, who has galleries in the Hamptons and New York, took a large number of maquettes that she had stored since the mid-1980s. “He put them in his gallery, and that summer he sold 46,” Ms. Fonssagrives-Solow said. More ambitious large-scale commissions followed.
“Quite simply,” she said, “the barn changed my life and my career.”
“When we were young we could not afford such an item,” the London-based perfumer said. “But Peter chose to buy it and give it to me.”
Mr. Dove was referring to the DeBeers diamond bangle that his lifelong partner, Peter Causer, gave him when he was 20. “I have worn it every day for over 40 years and never take it off,” he said. “It always reminds me of him, especially when I am away from home.”
The perfumer said it was the one and only possession that he would never part with, adding, “It reminds me of the consistency of our relationship and his kindness of spirit.”
Model and entrepreneur
Fifteen years ago the film producer and director Matthew Vaughn gave Ms. Schiffer an extravagant — and potentially high-risk — gift: a painting by the artist Ed Ruscha that said “Marry me.”
“It was specially commissioned by Matthew,” Ms. Schiffer said. “Ed is one of our favorite artists.”
But the risk paid off. Ms. Schiffer decided to reply in kind, and asked the artist to create a painting that said “Yes.” They married in 2002.
“Both paintings are hanging in our home office, which we share,” she said. “It’s fun to look at them and remember.”
“Each time I look into a kaleidoscope, I get to see a whole incredible world inside,” said Ms. Guo, who has been fascinated with the toy’s constant changing patterns since childhood. “Back then they were roughly made with glass and colorful paper.”
Today, they continue to inspire the Beijing-based designer, probably best known for the canary yellow gown with an immense train worn by Rihanna at the 2015 Met Gala. “Beauty in life is an important theme in my designs,” Ms. Guo said. “Whenever I feel tired, I pick up a kaleidoscope and spend a moment in this fascinating, colorful world.”
Her collection, which has grown over the years to approximately 50 kaleidoscopes, was significantly enhanced in 2012 after her husband Jack Tsao took her to a kaleidoscope display in Mount Tremper, New York. “Jack saw how excited I was about the kaleidoscopes and was sweet enough to convince the museum personnel to sell us a huge part of the collection on display.”
During Christmas Eve dinner in 2013, Mr. Bottura told his 91-year-old mother Luisa about his idea to create a soup kitchen filled with art and design that would not only feed those in need, but also nourish their souls. The project was planned for Milan Expo 2015, in an abandoned theater adjacent to the fair ground.
Thrilled by the concept, Mrs. Bottura gave the chef her beloved and well-annotated version of “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,” published in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi. “Artusi went from village to village to understand and to learn the recipes from the families, from the people — not the nobility,” Mr. Bottura said. “Italian cuisine comes from the people, it’s cucina povera; we create food from nothing, from scraps. I come from that reality.”
The book, he said, inspired him to create the Food for Soul foundation, an outgrowth of the Expo project to feed the poor and cut food waste, which has spread to cities including Rio de Janeiro and London. Also, he has written “Bread Is Gold,” a compendium of recipes, with contributions from guest chefs including René Redzepi and Alain Ducasse, created from ingredients that otherwise might have been discarded.
His mother’s scribbled annotations also affected him. “It’s got all these little notes on how to evolve the recipes,” he said. “So it goes from Artusi to my mother to me.” (Among her tips: More Parmigiano-Reggiano ensures that passatelli, or bread crumb noodles, melt into chicken broth, and add almonds and almond flour to sbrisolona cake, which Mr. Bottura serves with a Milanese cotechino sausage and zabaione at Osteria Francescana, the three-star Michelin restaurant in Modena that he runs with his wife, Lara Gilmore.)