The real show began Monday night after Zubin Mehta dropped his baton, the orchestra and chorales took their bows, and guests adjourned to the party tents to get a good look at each other in their opening night finery.
"This is all a conspiracy between Henry Segerstrom and Amen Wardy," said Ygal Sonenshine, who watched the fashion parade in amazement. "It wasn't built for music. It was to sell dresses."
But Segerstrom's South Coast Plaza and Wardy's Newport Beach boutique weren't the only recipients of Orange County's opening night bounty. Segerstrom's own wife, Renee, purchased her gown in Paris.
"I've worn St. Laurent for years," the First Lady of opening night confided. Her gown paired pink taffeta with layers and layers of black silk lace; her jewels, diamonds combined with emeralds of a generous size. While others claimed they left their jewels home for mingling in a crowd of such magnitude, Renee Segerstrom whispered, "The way I feel, if you have it, wear it."
Protection of the jewels was in the hands of party planners and "everything is very secure," said gala chairman Floss Schumacher. "No one is worried. There are men in tuxes that are watching everything. Police and detectives in uniform. We've have tenting that surrounds the whole area and extra sidewalling that's very high, like a moat."
Pat Rypinski certainly wore her jewels, in this case, a diamond-studded ram's head bracelet, double-cluster earrings of emeralds, rubies and diamonds, and four chains--a weighty David Webb design with cabochon emeralds, amethysts and South Sea Island pearls. "They hurt so much during the performance that I had to take them off."
Rypinski chose her ensemble at 4 p.m. that afternoon, combining a black-beaded Galanos with Gian Franco Ferre jacket. Her husband, Armor-all inventor Alan, also confessed to last-minute party preparations. The silk shirt he wore didn't fit, he said, because of a recent interest in weight-lifting. "He's been buffing up,' added his wife.
Appellate Court Justice Sheila Sonenshine wore a Paris gown, but admitted local origins for her accessories. She said the gloves were souvenirs of her high school prom, the extravagant sequined hairpiece from Corona del Mar's Images salon, and her antique diamond chain, a gift from her husband for her 40th birthday, "which never happened."
Jewels flashed everywhere. (Bruce Lambert at Newport Beach's exclusive Wyndham Leigh jewelers reported women rushing in Monday to have their diamonds polished.) But gowns were also responsible for the glitz.
Susan Strader waited until the last minute but eventually decided upon her red sequined gown.
Judie Argyros accessorized an understated black gown with a rhinestone headpiece.
Shirlee Guggenheim decked herself out in a beaded Bob Mackie, complete with emerald earrings, red stockings and ostrich feather coat. Guggenheim said she purchased the ensemble a year ago for husband Bob's 75th birthday party. "Now, for my second most spectacular evening, I'm wearing it again," she said.
Amy Carver also wore a beaded Mackie, in her case peach and gold, in a dress that had seamstresses working round the clock, according to husband Roy. With his wife a mere size 4, Carver said that alterations required complete removal of the beads, reworking of the pattern, and restitching the beads in place.
Henry Segerstrom's daughter, Andrea Grant, showed up in a sterling silver tunic. "It weighs a ton," she said of the 60-year-old family heirloom.
With gowns so elaborate, protecting the fashions was no small concern--even to the point of banning video cameras from the party, lest the cumbersome TV equipment collide with a dress. "We won't allow roaming mini-cameras in the tent, dragging their cords," said Jan Landstrom, coordinating public relations for the event.
Last week's cold and rain sparked a few wardrobe changes. Floss Schumacher, who planned on a Luiz Archer gown, said that Archer, hearing of the early chill, directed his factory to stop production on everything else so that she would have a coat to match her dress.
But gowns that premiered Monday night will perform again. Mary Roosevelt's black lace tea-length gown was headed for a London gala in December. And many were destined for local encores as well. With black-tie events on the agenda all through the Center's opening season, many party-goers had already made plans to recycle gowns.
Few gowns would be required, however, to celebrate the Center in style, according to those with even the fullest of dance cards.
In Susan Strader's opinion: "All you need is three."