With a flip of her skirt and swoosh of petticoats, the little girl skipped downhill and into the arms of her smiling mother.
"We . . . are . . . family!" chanted Pam O'Neill, hugging her daughter Mandy and sliding an arm around the waist of her sister, Marcella Roberson. The three, in matching hand-painted pastel outfits, looked like a bouquet of silk flowers that had taken root on a narrow street in Laguna Beach.
Then they were off--gliding past the phalanx of valet parking attendants, headed toward the lights and the music and the crowd.
O'Neill and her fellow Designing Women, a support group for the Art Institute of Southern California, hosted a fund-raiser Saturday that drew nearly 400 guests to the seaside estate of Dr. Ray and Phyllis Contino--a party that left Bill Otton, the new president of AISC, asking, "Does it get any better than this?"
It certainly doesn't get much better than three acres of grassy promontory above the ocean in Laguna Beach--a slice of neatly manicured real estate dressed up for the night with hundreds of ropes of running lights, towering archways of white balloons, pink-clothed tables centered with orchids, rosebuds and tiger lilies.
Also dressed up--and neatly manicured--were 378 guests, who paid $150 each for an evening of cocktails and a silent auction, dinner and a fireworks show, and dancing under a waxing moon. While some guests opted for traditional gala wear, others looked into their closets with the evening's "Fantasy Island" theme in mind.
Like Estelle Nezel, whose black silk strapless mini was decorated with red flowers the size of bicycle wheels. ("It's from Paris," she said smoothly.)
Or like Janet Eggers, who brandished a peacock feather fan. ("From Disneyland," she said with a laugh.)
Or Herta Anderson, chairman of the board of AISC, who accented her sunburst-colored Thai pantsuit with an embroidered coat from India.
The evening began several hours before dusk, as guests strolled along red carpets, bidding on the artworks and other items in the silent auction, savoring the quenelles of mahi-mahi and slices of whole roast pig served as appetizers, and trucking back and forth across Ray Contino's putting green to get to the serpentine-shaped bar sunk in his sand trap.
"They can tear it up," said Contino philosophically. Then, with a grin: "I'll cry tomorrow."
By twilight, guests were seated for a dinner of pasta salad and filet mignon topped with blue cheese. During the meal, Ballet Pacifica dancers performed selections from "Carmen" and "Cinderella," and a fireworks display soared and sparkled high above the ocean. After dinner, guests danced on a white wooden dance floor under swaying strobe lights.
Net proceeds from the evening were an estimated $50,000, said committee member Joleen Parham, including nearly $13,000 from the auction.
Among guests were Richard Carp, AISC's new dean of academic affairs, and his wife, Jana; Muriel Reynolds, founder of Designing Women; Robert and Shirley Guggenheim; Beverly Thompson and Bob Bucci; Tom and Mimi Crossen, and Helen Coffey.