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Topics / CHARITY : Secondhand Styles of the Rich and Famous

October 13, 1994|LINDA FELDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are a lot of secrets on the Westside, and one of the biggest has been The Colleagues outlet store for new and worn designer clothing.

Not anymore. They've moved to the Bergamot Station complex in Santa Monica--the hip new area dominated by art galleries off Cloverfield Boulevard, near the Santa Monica Freeway.

In this case, "they" are the most well-heeled, well-groomed saleswomen you'll ever hear say, "Can I take those things or are you still trying some on?" Their letterhead lists 65 names all designated by "Mrs."--as in Mrs. Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Armand Deutsch. Sitting at the cashier counter could be the wife of a Reagan Kitchen Cabinet member. As she takes your money and packs your acquisitions into a brown paper bag, she might comment on your good taste.

Indeed, you may have just bought the gown she wore to the inaugural ball. And it's all for a worthy cause.

The first sale open to the public was staged in 1959 in the ballroom of a mansion in Bel-Air, with receipts of $700. The Colleagues, though, have been around for 44 years. From their inception, they supported women and children, first by donating funds to the Big Sister League, which operated homes for unwed mothers and then, in the '70s, to the Children's Institute International. The institute supplies care and shelter to children who suffer from severe abuse. The Colleagues' first donation of $1 million helped establish one of the nation's first therapeutic day-care centers for infants and toddlers.

"We've all made shopping mistakes," says Lupe Hinckle (Mrs. William), "and that's how this whole thing started. A group of Colleagues were meeting and trying to decide how to raise money and someone suggested that we bring all of our 'dogs' to the next meeting and sell them to each other. Well, we did and we fought over each other's mistakes--that's the genesis."

Today, shoppers at The Colleagues outlet can find Adolfo-suits, Anne Klein coats, Alan Austin silk blouses and Chanel dresses hanging on the racks. Evening gowns, probably worn once and costing thousands of dollars, can be had for a few hundred.

There are shoes, belts, handbags, hats and cases filled with costume jewelry. You might even find a signed Miriam Haskell piece. There is also a designated area for men's wear, antiques and furniture.

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Some clothing, including donations by the likes of Fred Hayman, Jimmy Galanos, Bill Blass and David Hayes, is new. And the prices--$33 for a silk blouse, $54 for a coat (the buttons were worth more when it was originally sold) and $10 for a wool sweater--are so reasonable that there's almost a fever pitch of shopping adrenalin in the air.

The vortex is the community dressing room, where strangers pass judgment on one another's outfits. On a recent visit, a yellow dress was passed around so that everyone had a shot at it. It made its way back to the rack in the manicured hands of the wife of one of L.A.'s most successful businessmen. Sorry, no names please.

Midge Clark (Mrs. Frank W., Jr.) came from Santa Barbara to be part of opening day at Bergamot. She pitched in by tagging donations, some of which come from as far away as Texas.

"Once a Colleague always a Colleague. We are unforgiving of people who don't do work," she said.

She's not allowed to say which millionaire movie mogul's furniture just arrived or which musical comedy star's tap shoes, trunks, hats and Western boots are up for sale.

"We like to protect our donors and our members who wish privacy," says co-chair Marion Hall (Mrs. Lemuel), "and since we can't afford to advertise, we rely on word of mouth and good faith to get quality merchandise."

The Colleagues is located at Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Mondays noon to 2 p.m., Thursdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (310) 828-1619. Donations are appreciated.

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