Venezuela-born fashion designer Carolina Herrera, breathtaking in chocolate-brown Swiss lace, brought her fall and winter collection to the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach on Wednesday and left some of Orange County's best-dressed women with another name on their Shop-Till-You-Drop list.
Introduced by Nordstrom of South Coast Plaza, the New York designer--ears weighed down with cascades of cabachon emeralds--spoke of her design philosophy during a cocktail reception that feted the Angels of the Arts, a support group for the Orange County Performing Arts Center: "I love simple dresses that have one extravagant detail--something on the skirt or shoulders, never both. Nothing flashy. I like classic clothing designed in a modern way."
Puffing delicately at a reed-thin cigarette, Herrera, who has designed for Nancy Reagan and Jackie Onassis, said she had come to Orange County to "get to know the Orange County woman. I know little about her."
While many of the Angels already knew enough about the designer to have bought a poufy Herrera ballgown or two, few had realized the range of her design capability. Among the fashions showcased on a snow-white ramp in the Grand Ballroom, for example, were three sleek, cocktail-pants ensembles done in royal purple, red and black. (In fact, Renee Segerstrom, probably Orange County's leading-edge fashion plate, had already bought the tuxedo-like silk suit in white, and wore it--laden with megapearls--to the affair.)
Before dinner, but after Angels and guests had their Chandon bubbly and nibbled at four teensy appetizers, the show began.
To the refined tune of classical music, svelte models--hair severe, mouths painted ruby-red--stalked the ramp in fat fur coats that grazed the bottom of the knee; flirty, thigh-high, cocktail dresses--austere at the top but double-tier flounced at the hip; classic little-black-velvet dresses with sleeves or midriffs shot with silver spangles, and hauntingly romantic ballgowns--some worn with snoods. The hands-down favorite, judging by the applause it received, was the Hershey bar-brown lace that Herrera had worn to the affair.
"I chose it because I didn't know if the Angels would be wearing long or short," Herrera said, fluffing her paper-taffeta overskirt to reveal the short sheath beneath. "As you can see, with this I wore both lengths."
After Herrera took her bows, she joined Donna O'Bryan--owner of Newport's Canterbury Interiors and special events coordinator for the Angels--at a table with Nordstrom executives and Angel member Barbara Bowie for dinner.
At candlelit tables draped in crisp, white linen and centered with vases of white roses, orchids and ginger, the crowd dined on salmon ravioli with tomato basil sauce, limestone lettuce with warm brie pastries, roast loin of veal with lobster medallions, and peach and raspberry timbale with passion fruit coulis.
Among those attending were Henry Segerstrom, Alexander Bowie, Margaret and Carl Karcher, Pat and Richard Allen, Judie and George Argyros, Wanda Cobb, Carol Wilken, Jack and Dori deKruif (gowned in a stoplight-red taffeta Herrera), Lydia Himes (who wore a ruffly Herrera when she attended the recent South Coast Repertory gala, for which she was chairwoman) with Kenneth Himes, Betty and Tom Kemp, Kathryn Thompson with Gus Owen, Stephen and Kit Toth, Karen and John Betson, Ken and Toni Oliphant, Maury and Carolyn DeWald, Diane and Harry Rinker, Susan and Timothy Strader (on his way next week to a reception at the White House with President Reagan), Nancy Tarnutzer with Michael Morton, and, of course, Nordstrom Vice President Betsy Sanders.
The Angels--whose membership is confined to 100--pay $15,000 to join and $2,500 annual dues.