Murray Arbeid of Knightsbridge, designer to Princess Diana, came to lunch Tuesday at the Irvine Hilton. He brought with him his latest ready-made couture collection, and 850 friends and supporters of Child help USA came to see it.
Luncheon chairman Eileen Saul said the event raised close to $50,000 for Childhelp programs designed to assist abused and neglected children and their families.
Those who expected Arbeid's fashions to reflect a conservatism in keeping with the royal image were in for a few surprises: bare-midriffed, gaily printed "rumba" culottes, for instance.
"People seem to suffer from what I call premature speculation," Arbeid said after the show. "I do what I want, not necessarily what a client would want. I admit I'm slightly astonished at how well the culottes have sold. One client, quite staid, bought two--she's going to Acapulco this week. They're not to be worn in Europe unless you're talking about the Cote d'Azur--it's got to be hot. Of course the hats pull the whole thing together."
The imaginative hats--in one creation, a tilted brim becomes a veil--were the work of Frederick Fox, the royal milliner who, according to Arbeid, designs for "everybody from the Queen down."
Arbeid explained with pride that each of his dresses is given over to a single seamstress, who's then responsible for workmanship from beginning to end (in contrast to, say, the Pierre Cardin assembly-line approach to quality control). They ranged from softest pastels to strong "citrus" colors, from evanescent chiffons to all manner of glittering ornamentation and clear sequin overlays.
"I specialize in very constructive things--there's a whole corset going on underneath the dress. So you just put your panty hose on, and you're ready to go out. Or you needn't put your panty hose on, and you can still be ready to go out."
Before the show, Childhelp co-founders Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O'Meara presented the Children's Friend Award to Dr. Deborah Stewart, assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the UC Irvine College of Medicine. Stewart, one of the few physicians willing to examine and treat alleged sexual assault victims, is considered the leading expert witness in the county for such cases.
"There's a great reluctance (on the part) of physicians to get involved with child abuse," explained Stewart, "particularly sexual abuse, and for a lot of reasons.
"First, because we know almost nothing in the field. Physicians, myself included, don't like to go on a witness stand, swear to God, be asked questions and then be only 70% sure of the answer.
"Second, there's a general uncomfortableness with sexual issues. When I stand up and give a lecture, and talk about what the kids go through, and use the kids' words and graphic detail, I watch the physicians--they're squirming.
"Third, it's a hassle to be on call for the court. Just think of (a doctor's) schedule. And some docs are embarrassed, understandably, about being handed subpoenas wherever they happen to be."
Stewart said that one out of four children in the United States is a victim of sexual abuse.
"The most serious consequence, of course, is not physical at all. I tell children, especially adolescents, that it's very important to understand that even though they've been sexually molested, they're not damaged. They're still virgins. Molestation is assault. It has nothing to do with sex."
Earlier, during the reception, Linda Wiley, national Childhelp board secretary, talked about the organization's diagnostic centers in Los Angeles and Denver and the Village, its model research and treatment center in Beaumont, Calif. (The 120-acre facility currently houses 76 "hard-core abuse children who cannot make it in foster homes," Wiley said.)
"Where there's a chance for reunification, parents come to the Village to work on how to parent," Wiley explained. "These people don't wake up and say, 'Today I'm going to beat the holy Hades out of my child'--they just don't know how to cope. Often they don't know what's normal.
"If you don't know what's normal for a 2- or 3-year-old, and what to expect, you get paranoid. We've had so many people who thought that the child who took off his diaper and smeared everything all over the wall was just out to get them, to teach them."
National Hot Line
She also mentioned the national toll-free hot line ((800) 4-A-CHILD). "We handled 123,460 calls nationally last year," she said. "If only General Telephone knew how many people we've reached out and touched."
Childhelp co-founder Sara O'Meara said statistics released Monday indicate that about 40% of those calls are from people in crisis, "which means we can intervene right then to stop prospective child abuse.
"We've had people call and say, 'I have the water on boiling. I'm going to put my child in it. What are you going to tell me to stop me?' We have Ph.Ds, not just volunteers or people who can talk well, answering the hot line full time."