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ORANGE COUNTY STYLE : Portraits of Style : ELIZABETH TIERNEY

October 04, 1987|ANN CONWAY | Conway is a Times society writer

For the accomplished woman, style speaks of more than the clothes she wears. Fashion, for her, is at most a secondary matter, to be grandly explored or blithely ignored, depending on the greater tasks at hand. True style, she knows, is merely an effect, never a cause.

In these pages, even Orange County women discuss their personal images. For most, it was a first--time topic because all have devoted much of their time and energy to other areas--from interpreting the law to running major businesses and from raising funds for charities to planning cities and educating future leaders.

In the course of fulfilling a personal destiny, each of these formidable women has established a look of her own, a distinctive statement that embodies the style and substance of her life.

"I want to look like me," says Elizabeth Tierney, "not like some magazine ad or store mannequin."

Indisputably, the 44-year-old philanthropist from Santa Ana Heights has created an imaginative, inimitable style.

"When a woman isn't pursuing a career, it's hard for her to be taken seriously," says Tierney, who works tirelessly as a volunteer but approaches fashion with a sense of whimsy.

Tierney has devoted hundreds of hours to the Orange County Historical and Cultural Foundation, serving as its president for one year. She sits on the board of the Orangewood Children's Home and is education chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. She also heads a scholarship fund-raising committee for UC Irvine.

She and her husband, Tom, are affiliated with the anti-nuclear weapon group, Beyond War. Two years ago, they established a peace-studies chair at UC Irvine.

Despite the weightiness of her pursuits, Tierney's fashion style can teeter on the brink of irreverence. "I like to put together things that are fun," she says, recalling an ensemble of balloon pants and a plaid silk blouse that her husband dubbed her "Ali Baba" get-up.

In gowns, Tierney eschews to-there necklines, opting instead for the bare-shoulder look. "I like to show off my upper body because I work hard on it at the gym. I feel good about being in shape and strong."

Her look is natural and gamin. "I had my hair cut short in Paris two years ago and I've worn it that way--with chunky earrings--ever since." Her current favorite ear bobs are antique amethyst drops that once adorned a Tiffany lamp.

For her many daytime meetings she usually wears suits, often with a silk animal-print scarf.

Of her extensive community commitments, Tierney says: "I believe in the law of the echo--what goes out comes back tenfold."

SHEILA PRELL SONENSHINE

One expects an appellate judge to dress judiciously. And, in the courtroom, Sheila Prell Sonenshine, 42, fits the image, favoring suits and tailored dresses.

But when doing extensive research in her chambers, out of view of all but her secretary, Sonenshine sometimes reports for work in sweats. That way, she can stop off at a gym between her Santa Ana chambers and her Irvine Cove home without changing clothes.

Exercise has become a way of life. "I work out twice daily," she says, and claims that a vigorous fitness program changed her life and her body image.

Two years ago the 5-foot-4 mother of three went from a size 12 to a petite 4. "I started looking for things with belts," she says. "If it was a size 4 and fit, I'd buy it and wish I could leave the label hanging out."

Emphasizing her slim silhouette is a criterion in choosing gowns for the formal charity events she attends with husband Ygal. But she shuns basic black: "Black is a work color."

A family-law attorney, Sonenshine became a Superior Court judge in 1981. The following year former Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., appointed her to the state Courts of Appeal.

Although she decided at 7 to grow up to "become a good lawyer," she readily acknowledges that her career is just one part of her life.

"I am a woman, a mother, a wife and a judge," says Sonenshine. "It may sound strange not to say my family is first priority, but my whole life is my first priority."

JUDY B. ROSENER

She has been called an iconoclast, often at the forefront of local controversy. But her appearance is anything but iconoclastic or controversial. Upon meeting Judy B. Rosener, 57, assistant dean of the UC Irvine School of Management, you are attempted to dust off such an old-fashioned phrase as "neat as a pin."

From the small scarf that accents, rather than dramatizes, the muted tones of her suit, to her simple, elegant shoes, everything Rosener wears translates as precise, not harsh, feminine, not frilly. In short, consummately professional.

For Rosener, fashion is secondary. "Clothes are simply a backdrop," to her university and community work, she explains. She is a longtime UCI faculty member, a KCET board member and a member of the prestigious national Women's Forum, among dozens of other activities. Indeed, her involvements are so numerous it is difficult to believe she was a late bloomer.

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