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ANN CONWAY

All the Store's a Stage--and Bloomie's Debut Wins Raves

November 18, 1996|ANN CONWAY

Who says apples and oranges don't mix?

The New York-based Bloomingdale's department store brought its shopping-as-theater philosophy to Orange County last week when it hosted 1,500 party-goers during its grand opening at Fashion Island Newport Beach.

The moment guests stepped from their cars, they knew it would be a night to remember. Trumpeters heralded their arrival. A "monkey" and "living" shopping bags entertained as they checked in.

And once inside the 190,000-square-foot fashion emporium, they could belly up to pasta bars, sushi bars, deli bars, wine bars and tap their toes to live music--on all three floors.

"This is the epitome!" gushed ex-New Yorker Barbara Rutkowski of Irvine, who wore a clingy gold lame gown to the $125-per-person benefit for Children's Hospital of Orange County and the Orangewood Children's Foundation.

The store was open for business. But forget the designer furs, the svelte Donna Karan dresses, the glittery Judith Leiber bags. Rutkowski was on the prowl for items bearing the Bloomie's logo. "Those are the things that will tell people I'm a New Yorker," she said. "New York is where everything starts."

Judie Manto of Laguna Niguel remembered to "Dress Spectacular" as the gala invitation prescribed, wearing a black suit shot with sequins. But she forgot to pack an important accessory: "My plastic!" she groaned. "I didn't think they were selling tonight. I'm taking notes. There are some taupe shoes I must have. They'll take me anywhere."

While Ann Stern of Newport Beach rhapsodized over the brightly lit merchandise, her husband, Wolf, shook his head. "This is just another store for him to try to keep me out of," she deadpanned.

Among those mingling with Bloomingdale's bigwigs--CEO Michael Gould and President Jeff Sherman--was billionaire Donald Bren, CEO of the Irvine Co., owner of Fashion Island.

"This is wonderful," Bren said during a rare social appearance. "Bloomingdale's brings sophistication and an assortment of goods we haven't seen before in Newport Beach."

Indeed. For starters, there's Cyber Cafe, a cosmetic computer bar where you can have a make-over "online," explained one saleswoman. And there is a display of "more shoes than any other Bloomingdale's," noted another. Not to mention the cozy 59th and Lex cafe, where a customer can order a tender New York strip steak or a juicy Bloomie's burger.

"We try to bring fun, excitement and experience to the shopper," said Sherman, who began his career with Bloomingdale's 26 years ago. "We want people to remember the fact that they were in the store shopping--not just the items they bought."

Gould called the day "one I've waited for a long time."

"When I was chairman of Robinson's a number of years ago, the Newport store was one of our best stores," he said. "We're thrilled."

*

Music to their ears: "I encourage you to continue your education," singer Natalie Cole told the hundreds of students and educators gathered for a Chapman University benefit at the Anaheim Marriott on Saturday night. "And if it's this business you want to get into, let me tell you, there's nothing worse than a dull star."

Cole joined Bausch & Lomb CEO William H. Waltrip on stage to receive career recognition awards at the 15th annual American Celebration, a dinner and student-produced musical show that grossed $305,000 for the Chapman Annual Scholarship Fund. Hoofer Donald O'Connor was featured as a special guest.

Sporting an engagement ring and dressed in an iridescent bronze cocktail suit, Cole--who attended with her fiance, Los Angeles restaurant owner Francesco Santoro--thanked the crowd for the recognition of her art.

"I am always surprised by the attention and the influence that someone like myself, in the business of music" receives, said the daughter of the late Nat King Cole. "Many of you have told me that my music has touched you in a special way. That's the most wonderful reward an artist can receive," she said.

"The memories you have sustained for my father throughout the years are incredible. The fact that you have transferred that love and respect to me is really what is so overwhelming."

Privately, Cole said she was proud of her new album, "Stardust," where she sings some of her father's favorites. "There's 'Teach Me Tonight,' 'When I Fall in Love,' and 'What a Diff'rence a Day Made,' " she said.

During the benefit reception, O'Connor said he was feeling a little tired. "Forgive me if I seem groggy," he said. "But I was up till 1 a.m. working on a new movie with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, 'Out to Sea.' We play dance hosts on a ship. I get to dance with all of the ladies."

If he had to choose a favorite number from his career, it would have to be the "Make 'Em Laugh" routine from the movie "Singin' in the Rain," said O'Connor, whose cuff links and shirt studs were shaped like solid gold dance shoes and trimmed with diamond "taps." "That was great fun."

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