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ANN CONWAY

Sanchez's Trip to Paris Is by Design

September 15, 1997|ANN CONWAY

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez knew it wouldn't be easy. How should she tell her husband she'd blown a bundle on a weekend trip to Paris?

The bidding was feverish during last week's auction at a benefit for the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. It seemed everybody wanted to attend the showing of the 1998 Chanel Ready-to-Wear Collection, dine at the Ritz Hotel, and visit Coco Chanel's apartment on the fashionable Rue Cambon.

Sanchez, 37, went all out, beating the competition with a whopping $6,000 bid.

"Dear, I need to tell you something," she says she told her husband, Stephen Brixey III, the following day.

From there, the conversation went like this:

Sanchez: "You know, when I went to that dinner last night, they had a live auction . . .

Brixey: "Oh, my God. What did you buy?"

Sanchez:"You're going to kill me; but, I bought a trip to Paris."

Brixey: "What'd you spend, $1,000?"

Sanchez: "Nooooooo."

Brixey: "$500?"

Sanchez: "Nooooooo. You're going the wrong way!"

She broke the news.

Brixey: "What is this trip? Gold-plated!? How could you?"

Sanchez: "I earn money, too, you know." (As a member of Congress, she makes $133,000 per year).

Nuff said. They'll take the trip together, she says, sighing happily at the thought. After Sanchez told Brixey he didn't have to go to Paris--she'd take her sister-in-law--he said, "Are you kidding? I'd love to see all those famous people, stars."

Sanchez makes no excuse for her extravagance. "It's for charity; how can you go wrong?" she asks. The event where she plunked down $6,000 raised about $200,000 for exhibitions and educational programs at the museum.

Like any number of fashion-conscious women, Sanchez has long dreamed of going to Paris to preview a Chanel collection. The auction package, compliments of Chanel and American Airlines, is a popular item on the fund-raising circuit.

For Sanchez, the dream began with Barbie. From the ages of 4 to 10, she played with a Barbie doll that she dressed in Chanel-style clothing, made by her mother.

"My Barbie had the boxy jacket, the suits that are Chanel mainstays," she explains. "And when all of my girlfriends would get together with their Barbies, mine was banker Barbie. I'd distribute Monopoly money to everyone, telling them to save for vacation. My Barbie went to Paris."

Today, she owns a few pieces by Chanel. "I watch the sale racks," she says.

But mostly, she wears colorful knits by St. John--many of which are Chanel-inspired--at the back-to-back meetings, floor votes, caucuses, committee hearings and receptions that fill her life as a freshman in Congress. Her preferred accessory: a classic string of Mikimoto pearls, a gift from her husband.

Sanchez--who whipped up her own copper-gold silk gown to wear to this year's inaugural ball--believes that a solid fashion image puts people in the mind that you come from a "position of power."

"Everything around [Washington] is negotiated," she explains. "Nobody gives you anything. You have to fight for it. A look of authority helps people take you seriously."

Well-cut, tailored knits by St. John--which can range from $150 for a skirt and up to $500 and more for a jacket--fill the bill.

There was one time, however, when she says that her appearance worked against her.

It came last year when Sanchez attended the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She was running around, "trying to raise money, meet political people, get people interested in my story," she says of her bid to oust 12-year veteran Republican Robert Dornan in the 46th District.

She met up with TV news anchor Sam Donaldson. "I tried to get him to sit down with me, talk to me so he'd put me on TV. 'I have a really interesting story,' I told him. 'I'm a Head Start child.'

"He replied, 'Funny, you don't dress like a Head Start child.' "

No interview.

Since she has gone to Washington, Sanchez has been given to wearing brighter colors.

"Here, you want to be spotted in a crowd," she says. For example, when there are only a few dozen women in a room with "400 men in blue, a red dress stands out."

She has been amazed not only by the political challenges and demands on her time (she works from 7 a.m to 11 p.m. each day, returning to Orange County on weekends) but by the attention paid to a person's overall image.

"Here, people make such a big deal about even a haircut if you're a Congress member," she says. "I always hear, 'Saw you the other day, you were wearing a red dress and you got your hair cut!' "

It's not just the first lady whose appearance gets regularly critiqued by Capitol watchers, Sanchez says. "It's the same way for the women of the House."

For Sanchez, so far so good.

"Everybody always says I look nice."

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