One hundred or so pairs of two-tone pumps stepped across the threshold of the Chanel Boutique last week, and the women wearing them grabbed a glass of champagne and hurriedly took their seats.
The one-year anniversary of the Chanel shop on Rodeo Drive was marked with a complete showing of the spring ready-to-wear collection, and most of the customers who were invited to see it proved their loyalty by wearing Chanel from the neck to the toes.
The women in the audience spanned several generations, which is a tribute to Chanel's widespread appeal. Among those in attendance were Gloria Stewart, wife of actor Jimmy Stewart; Motown executive Suzanne de Passe; beauty expert Aida Gray; Reagan chum Virginia Tuttle, and talk-show hostess Cristina Ferrare Thomopoulos.
Shiny Gold Buttons
"I see everybody came very Chanel-y," Shera Danese remarked, surveying the sea of black, navy and red boucle suits and shiny gold buttons.
"But I didn't," she said. "This is all Japanese."
Even though Annette O'Malley wore a navy Chanel suit, she added a pink scarf that spelled out in bold letters, "Saint Laurent." But for the rest, it was undiluted Chanel--handbags, white silk camellias, faux pearls, belts, sweaters and of course suits of every variety, including leather, silk and wool.
Ferrare, who wore a classic brown tweed suit and carried a fur coat over her arm, said: "I've been a fan practically all my life. I can't say all my life, because in Cleveland I didn't know."
"It's quite a phenomenon, isn't it?" Tina Chow, a longtime customer of both the couture and ready-to-wear, said of the Chanel-ization of Beverly Hills: "One year ago there was very little of this in New York, London or Los Angeles. Everybody seems to have discovered the quilted bag at the same time."
About 80 outfits--from khaki safari shorts to a Scarlet O'Hara-style antebellum gown of ruffled black-and-white houndstooth taffeta--were shown on mannequins who wafted down the mirrored staircase just as they might have done in Coco Chanel's day in her shop on Rue Cambon. As Chanel president Kitty D'Alessio--in black Chanel--explained, the idea was to bring "a little bit of Paris" to Beverly Hills. During the finale, however, which you could hardly call Parisian, a Bruce Springsteen recording blasted through the salon's speakers.
Ahead of Projection
D'Alessio said the idea of the show was "to interface with the women," and she reported that the store was already "a big success story." Sales volume is 50% ahead of projection, she said, and even the original figure "wasn't what you'd call conservative."
When all was said and done, it was the updated classics--the suits with fingertip-length jackets, the rose-colored tweeds, the ladylike ensembles worn with white kid gloves--that elicited the most sighs. All outfits were fully accessorized down to the satin hair ribbons, including the new miniature quilted Chanel bags that are worn, pendant-style around the neck or over the shoulder. Tina Chow said she recently bought one of them as a baby gift.
Nancy Vreeland, wearing Armani ("I love Armani for daytime"), said she found the collection "extraordinary," and told D'Alessio that the classic navy wool crepe dress was "sort of a money-in-the-bank dress. You could wear it for cocktails, for afternoon, for anything. I could have that dress in every color."
The understatement of Chanel contrasted sharply with an earlier gathering at the Amen Wardy boutique in Newport Beach, where women who take their fashion seriously poured on the glitz.
The occasion was a black-tie dinner honoring Emmy Award-winning costume designer Bob Mackie, who now does business on Seventh Avenue in New York. In his honor, it seems that everybody decided it would be a good idea to wear clothes that sparkled, as in sequins, beads and rhinestones. The more the better.
"Can you imagine if you weighed these dresses pound for pound?" asked one guest sizing up the room.
In fact, Diahann Carroll of "Dynasty" was one of the few who left her sequins at home. She wore a simple, black-wool crepe gown designed by James Galanos, and explained: "We have to be fair. I'm one of the only ladies here who has to wear sequins and beads at work."
Mackie, of course, believes in what he calls "pro-woman, outright sexy" clothes, and he never skimps on sizzle. The more sizzle, however, the more expensive. Some gowns with allover beading sell for as much as $9,000.
For spring, he showed "lots of tight waists, bosoms and legs. Very feminine clothes. A lot of designers are doing nun's black habits with gold beads. I think there's enough of that going around," he said. Mackie's palette is sprinkled with bright colors such as shocking pink, the same shade Wardy picked up for the tablecloths and napkins.
Three couples flew in on a private jet from Omaha to see the collection, and they didn't go home disappointed.
"I don't think you can watch the show without seeing something you want," Anne Morgan said.
Carol Smith, who was there with her husband, Ronald, agreed:
"Bob Mackie clothes are entrance makers. Single women who want to get attention should wear them; married women who want attention should wear them, and people who love excitement should wear them."