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RSVP : The Star of the Evening Was the Tallest One There

November 15, 1995|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although Hollywood came en masse to Monday's black-tie Fire & Ice Ball, it turned out to be a department store that was the star of the evening.

The store was Barneys New York in Beverly Hills, which was emptied of merchandise and furniture, and transformed into a five-story party venue. The setting offered just the kind of elegant, dramatic cachet Scarlett O'Hara would have loved at Tara if only cash-flow problems and the Civil War hadn't intervened.

"Barneys is not just a store," said ball co-founder and co-chair Lilly Tartikoff. "This store is someone's beautiful mansion. It's a house big enough for 1,200 guests."

Upon passing through the Wilshire Boulevard entrance, the first dramatic effect those thousand-plus guests saw was a group of 17 chandeliers hanging like a crystalline, molecular science model above their heads. They had been strung in the soaring atrium with a system of cables and chains to give an effect that was both opulent and discordant. "We think it's very Tim Burton-esque," said Suzan Mischer, who helped design the evening with Bob Keene and the Barneys staff.

The guests then made their way up the store's curving stairway, making for a visually stunning impression as the designer dresses passed by. The effect of hundreds of women in ball gowns ascending the stairs "looks like something from the days of the czar," said Barbara Davis.

The local royalty who gathered on the second floor during the cocktail hour was fairly impressive: Jack Nicholson talking with Sharon Stone, Christian Slater walking by with Courteney Cox, Antonio Banderas arriving with Melanie Griffith, and Jim Carrey holding hands with Lauren Holly, who looked at the staircase, the chandeliers and the atrium and said: "It makes me want to get to the top and yell for Mr. DeMille."

At the cocktail hour's end, speeches were given regarding the evening's beneficiary: the Revlon/UCLA Women's Cancer Research Program, established by Tartikoff and Revlon Chairman Ronald Perelman.

Helen Hunt introduced Tartikoff, who thanked the guests for becoming as obsessed with finding a cure for breast cancer as she is. "Now we can all be neurotic together," she said. Olivia Newton-John spoke movingly on her diagnosis, operation and treatment for breast cancer. Program director Dr. Dennis Slamon then reviewed his research, which has developed a new treatment that is now in the last phase of testing.

Among those listening were ball co-chairwomen Patricia Duff, Sherry Lansing, Evelyn Ostin, Bonnie Pressman and Jane Semel. Standing near the back of the crowd was Perelman, trademark cigar in hand, who donated $1.2 million of the $1.6 million netted at the ball. He said breast cancer touches almost every family and is "something we've got to fix."

For the guests, the end of the speeches was a signal to continue up the staircase to the third and fourth floors. There, 120 rectangular tables were set with centerpieces consisting of white tulips floating in glass bowls and 10 three-foot-high ivory candles. "Kind of a swanky event," observed "Pulp Fiction" producer Lawrence Bender.

Besides using a department store venue, what distinguished this evening from most fund-raising dinners was that the guests barely sat down. At any given moment, only about half the crowd remained seated. They ate in shifts between schmoozing. Among the standees were Dustin Hoffman, George Clooney, Fran Drescher, Sandra Bernhard, George Schlatter, Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Jackie Collins, Mark Canton, Jonathan Dolgen, JoBeth Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Susan Harris, Paul Witt, Al Ruddy, Lou Pitt and Brandon Tartikoff.

After Wolfgang Puck's almond-encrusted salmon was consumed, guests were on the staircase again. This time back to the second floor, transformed into a lounge with a stage and small, club-style tables.

Stone introduced Lyle Lovett, whom she called a "great talent with a questionable hairdo." The singer went on to do a smooth half-hour set. He mentioned that performing in a department store was new to him. "It's the first time I've been in the women's section and worked," he said.

When Lovett finished, there was more schmoozing, some cigar smoking, then a flow of humanity down the stairs to the valet parking and Barneys went back to being a department store.

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