Vive le France! Even the strawberries wore black tie to honor the showing of Parisian designer Guy Laroche's spring-summer collection at Hotel Meridien in Newport Beach on Friday night. The event was staged as a benefit for the Orange County chapter of the American Diabetes Assn.
The fruit, twice-dipped in haute chocolate by the hotel's French chefs, was part of a culinary feast accompanied by a feast for the eyes: flirty couture fashions paraded by a bevy of mannequins who came with Laroche from Paris, via a stopover in San Francisco, for the show. Except for a tailored few, the delicious ensembles showed a lot of leg, back and midriff. Not to mention bustier, moulded decolletage.
"I create fashion that is sophisticated, a little sexy, maybe, but never indecent," Laroche said beforehand. "A woman must look feminine."
Saying he would rather see a customer buy only one of his dresses, "if it is the right one," than several that did not suit her, the couturier confessed he hated nothing more than watching a woman wear a variety of gowns purchased for quantity's sake. "It is more important to have the perfect one. A French woman will buy only one and wear it up to three seasons."
The benefit marked the second time Hotel Meridien has invited the chapter to be the beneficiary of a French couture showing. Last year, a luncheon and a parade of fashion by Nina Ricci brought the chapter $20,000.
"Air France flies the models over and the Meridien puts them up," said board chairman Bunny Pero. "And we get to throw the party!" Friday night's benefit, attended by 160 who paid $150 each, was expected to raise $15,000.
"The Meridien has told us they hope to do one of these per year," said Shirley Corwin, the chapter's executive director, during the champagne reception. "So, we decided to hold this one in the evening so the men could come and see the beautiful models. We're anxious to see how they respond."
Male response, as it turned out, was mostly model-oriented. Like many of the men, Corwin's escort, Frank Ragagli, mentally rated the models, coming up with a bouncy redhead as his "hands down favorite." The women, on the other hand, kept their eyes glued to the fashions, especially the floppy hats. "Ooh, I want that one," said Bunny, gazing up at a purple chapeau that verged on madness. "It may look like a Beverly Hills lamp shade, but it's me."
During the four-course dinner, which included scallops in saffron sauce, filet of beef with mustard sauce and creme brulee, Dr. Sidney Rosenblatt, an endocrinologist who is the chapter's president-elect, discussed diabetes research.
"I anticipate tremendous progress in the pancreatic transplant field. We are already seeing one per day done in the world. But in 12 years, instead of one half of a pancreas being transplanted, I see a transplant of only that part which controls insulin secretion.
"And I see it as not being a major procedure. Whereas pancreatic transplants are major procedures, I see a simple implantation of a suspension of cells."
Rosenblatt is chairman of the chapter's seminar on diabetes to be held Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Tending the models before the show was Countess Nicole de Menthon, Laroche's vice president in charge of communications. Menthon resides in Paris with Pierre Salinger, chief foreign correspondent for ABC news in Paris. "Pierre could not come because he is reporting on a big terrorist trial tomorrow," she said. According to Menthon, Laroche's clients include actress Veronique Peck, wife of actor Gregory Peck. "Only last night Veronique and Mr. Laroche had dinner with Barbara Grant, actor Cary Grant's widow. He is also the personal stylist of the premier of France and his wife, and many others."
Bunny Pero and husband Jeff, chairman-elect of the chapter, co-chaired the event.
Among those serving on the committee were Jim and Doretta Ensign, Kathy and Eugene Bryant, Sherill Toman, Frank and Pam Spinarski, Sharon Lamons, Pam Goldstein, Beverly and Ho Coil, Robert and Patty Pacillo and Sandi Rosenblatt.