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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Nolan Miller Makes Lunch High Priority : Guests in smart attire gather for the designer's spring/summer couture collection show at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

March 21, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD

Despite the absence of celebrities and super-models, a fashion show to benefit High Priority had guests feeling as if they were attending a couture show in Paris.

About 420 mostly female guests, many looking like models themselves in their smart spring suits, lined a runway at the Hyatt Regency Irvine on Thursday to see designer Nolan Miller's spring/summer couture collection. The $50-per-person luncheon raised $20,000 for High Priority of Orange County, a breast cancer research/information network.

Balancing Act

Fashion show luncheons typically seat guests at round tables of 10, requiring everyone to turn awkwardly in their chairs for the show. This time they sat theater-style, in chairs placed in rows facing the runway. They ate their lunches--tiny finger sandwiches, pasta salad and cookies--out of Nolan Miller hat boxes balanced (a little precariously) on their laps.

The innovative arrangement was the brainchild of Judie Argyros, luncheon underwriter, who organized the show with the help of Carol Campbell.

A mere six weeks before the benefit, Argyros had gone to Los Angeles for a fitting with Miller, one of her favorite designers. Over lunch, Miller casually mentioned that he was looking for a place to show his couture line, and that he wanted to find a charity that could benefit from the event.

"I asked him when he wanted to do the show, and he said he'd have to do it by the second week of March. I said, 'This year?' " Argyros told the group. "Most of the time we can't get a committee together in six weeks."

Miller called Argyros "an army of one." Designating High Priority as the beneficiary, she set about staging a program that would be devoid of long speeches and endless chitchat.

"We just wanted this to be fun, for people to see a great show and to be back to work by 1:30," said Argyros, wearing a pink picture hat and suit designed for her by Miller.

Argyros was true to her word. Guests were in and out in a scant two hours--a brisk schedule that busy women appreciated.

Signs of Spring

After finishing their lunches, guests watched as models showed off a parade of Miller's flowing spring dresses, suits and gowns. Soft fabrics were ruffled, ruched and draped to show off the body. The audience applauded the feminine styles, especially Miller's short, summery dresses in white Swiss cotton and his glamorous, Grace Kelly-inspired gowns.

"It's so nice to see pretty clothes again," one guest said with a sigh.

Proceeds will be used for High Priority's education and breast cancer research. High Priority is a program of the AMC Cancer Research Center in Denver. The Costa Mesa-based chapter was founded in 1986 by Wanda Cobb.

"Cancer was such a closet subject," said Cobb, who battled breast cancer in 1981. "When I talked about it, people would clam up or change the subject." Members hope to spread to other women the word about the importance of early detection of breast cancer.

Faces in the crowd included: Connie Murphy, president of High Priority; Olivia Johnson, founding member; Ronnie Allumbaugh; George Argyros and his daughter Stephanie; Mary Dell Barkouras; Margo Chamberlin; Maria Crutcher; Vesta Curry; Cerise Feeley; Arden Flamson; Barbara Glabman; Gypsy Pulliam; Mary Jean Simpkins; Betty Jane Smith, and Carol Wilken.

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