"With a thousand people (in one place), you'll see . . . everything" in the way of clothes, Bob Mackie said as the champagne flowed and women in large polka dots and picture hats paraded through the Amen Wardy store at Fashion Island.
Mackie, among the nation's top fashion designers (he creates Cher's legendary gowns), came to the Newport Beach shop May 19 to unveil his 75-piece fall collection and raise money for the Angelitos de Oro charity that sponsors Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Orange County. The event, the group's second fashion show to help Big Brothers-Big Sisters, drew more than 1,000 guests and raised about $150,000.
Before the show, held in tents next to the store, Mackie held court among the designer frocks, greeting well-wishers and sharing thoughts on Southern California, fashion designing and his career.
Looking well-scrubbed and rested despite jet lag, Mackie said the day was bound to draw a lot of cocktail gowns, however inappropriate they might be for a festive luncheon near the ocean.
"So many women will buy something expensive and wear it completely wrong," said the friendly, 46-year-old designer, who was dressed in navy blue blazer, bright yellow striped tie and dime-studded black loafers. "You can't really buy chic. Chic has to do with dressing appropriately for your life style."
The man known for his glamorous gowns and outrageous ensembles said that, at first, he resented fashion writers describing him as "Mr. Hollywood."
"I minded it at first because I wanted to go to New York and be Mr. Designer, and I thought, 'Why are they doing this to me?' Then someone said, 'Well maybe it's those 14 beaded dresses in (my collection).' . . . I don't know."
When a friend seated near him in the Galanos corner of the high-fashion salon said that Mackie is the only designer who left Hollywood and made it big in New York, Mackie just shrugged.
"It hasn't been easy," said the native Californian, who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and began his career in Hollywood. "Just being accepted has been hard. There are people who feel I'm still based out here. New York is a very small town and they don't want to let anyone in."
With his mother, Mildred, living in Laguna Beach and his Lhasa apso dogs living at his Beverly Hills home, Mackie visits California frequently. And even when he isn't here, he often wishes he were.
"It's amazing how much I enjoy coming back," he said. "I think much better out here. I can get in my car and go wherever I want to go. In New York, I've turned into this subway creature. I live right there with all the hotels and the hookers."
Mackie also lamented the cost of living in New York: "The way you can live here for the same money that you spend in New York is unbelievable," he said. "I told my mother what I paid for my apartment and she said, 'You must live in a palace.' " The designer said he would like to exchange his brownstone on West 58th Street for a bigger place with "more light in a real neighborhood."
For this year's fall collection, Mackie decided to embrace the Mr. Hollywood moniker and use as inspiration his memories of the great matinees his mother took him to as a child. One group is spun from the stylish little black dresses worn by shop girls and secretaries in movies of the 1930s and '40s--dresses that in reality these women of modest means never could have afforded. Another group was inspired by Western films of the Hopalong Cassidy and Lone Ranger vein, and yet another sprang from the Tarzan pictures of yesteryear. Other groups came from the glamorous movie outfits of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, and celluloid swashbucklers such as Captain Blood, Don Juan and Casanova.
As Mackie disappeared backstage to check on his models, brightly dressed men and women milled about the white canvas tents, which were specially designed to house the show. Among the crowd were several celebrities and scores of Mackie fans.
Dolores Hope, wife of comedian Bob Hope, and Mousie Powell, widow of William Powell, were asked if their tastes ran to the Mackie styles.
"Oh yes," said Powell. "We are Mr. Wardy's friends and, of course, we adore Mr. Mackie."
Do you wear any Mackie?
"Oh, I don't," she said. "I'm not thin enough. But perhaps Mrs. Hope does."
Hope shook her head but did allow that the two friends were regular Amen Wardy customers.
"When we can afford to," she cautioned.
Also in the crowd were James Roosevelt, son Franklin D. Roosevelt; Anne Badham, publicity chair of the Angelitos event and wife of Rep. Robert Badham; Robert Guggenheim, founder of Angelitos de Oro, and his wife, and Virginia Heinz of Newport Beach.
At one point Mackie--schmoozing with fans and hugging friends--ducked behind a tent flap to squirt some breath freshener.
"With all this kissy-kissy, you can't be too careful," he said with a giggle.
After the lunch (shrimp gazpacho, stuffed breast of chicken, orzo pilaf and baby vegetables, catered by Rococo) several Angelitos de Oro members thanked Amen Wardy for sponsoring the benefit for the second year. Last year, $100,000 was raised for Big Brothers-Big Sisters and this year the event collected $150,000 from ticket sales at $125 per person as well as money earned by the group's Gold Book advertising revenues.
When his outfits finally arrived on the runway, the crowd was ready for Mackie show biz and that's what it got. Models strode out in bolero jackets, bandanna silk blouses and herringbone jackets over leather skirts to the accompaniment of the "Destry Rides Again" and "High Noon" theme songs. With a nod to the swashbucklers, gold and violet dresses vaguely reminiscent of pirate garb were unveiled; and finally came shimmering evening gowns as a tribute to Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Hedy Lamarr.
Society writer Ann Conway is on vacation.