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The Passport to a World of Cool Vibes and Good Works

September 29, 1997|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

If the freckle-faced children in shiny red boots didn't bring down the house, it was a sure bet the men strutting the runway in their underwear would. Passport '97 rolled into town Friday evening, staging the kind of efficiently paced yet raucous party that has made the annual fund-raiser a favorite of San Franciscans.

Staged for the second time in Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Air Center, the dinner-cum-fashion show spectacle and its Northern California counterpart were expected to raise more than $2 million for AIDS charities, a fact that its sponsors, Macy's and American Express, said made the yearlong effort of organizing the event worthwhile.

Among the 860 diners sitting on black-and-white striped cushioned chairs and banquettes in a tent on the airfield were executives from Lexus, who were observing the proceedings while considering whether to sign on for next year. This year's automotive corporate sponsor was the new Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicle. A couple of the hunky Navigators were parked in an outdoor area where cocktails were served to 800 guests. "Some sponsors change from year to year," said Macy's vice president of public relations Elizabeth Krogh, "and it looks like Lexus wants to be involved in '98."

Shoe mogul Kenneth Cole, one of four designers spotlighted in the 50-minute fashion show, said, "This is the first time our company has been involved in Passport. We think it's important because even though there have been advances made, not one person has been cured of AIDS."

Most fashion shows are closed events, restricted to insiders who either buy or write about a particular designer's line. Passport is an anomaly--a democratic occasion. Anyone who buys a ticket, paying from $40 for the fashion show to $1,000 for dinner donated by Patina, can attend.

"The purpose of the Passport show is to present fashion as theater," said Bill Bigler, vice president and fashion director of Macy's West. The first show was held 15 years ago as a small, menswear-only display in a Macy's employee cafeteria. In subsequent years, the Macy's creative team has perfected how to present clothes to an audience that's interested in them only a little: mix in surprise celebrity models, music, dancing, superb staging and lots of attractive flesh.

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The fashion show was simultaneously cornball and hip. It betrayed its San Franciscan roots repeatedly, and engagingly. An Asian segment, for example, was introduced by a paper dragon and a hip-hop scene that reflected the city's macho urban style. As an entertainment, it showed the tremendous, exuberant influence the much-debated gay culture has had on America.

Ralph Lauren's new Intimates lingerie for women was introduced on the runway, but it was buff, bare-chested, male models who drew the most vocal reaction. Somehow the last 20 years have taught the fashion world to appreciate men as sex objects, and that perception changed style irrevocably. As the flirtatious guys in their boxers worked the room, the noisy, strategically lit hangar had the feel of a gay club in the innocent days before the music died.

Magic Johnson introduced k.d. lang, who performed one number, but the evening's musical sensation was Ashley MacIsaac, a kilted wonder who played a mesmerizing blend of traditional Celtic tunes interwoven with modern rhythms on his electrified fiddle.

Mathu & Zaldy, the toast of the gay club scene, were the stars of a segment celebrating MAC Cosmetic's Viva Glam, a lipstick whose entire price has been donated to AIDS organizations. Nearly nude musclemen were encased in life-size erector set cages that moved along the runway, suspended from an overhead conveyor belt. The struggling prisoners seemed to symbolize AIDS' grip on our time, striking one of the few somber notes in the otherwise upbeat show.

Elizabeth Taylor's welcome to the audience of 2,700, however, was serious. She called for a moment of silent remembrance for Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, sharing her grief that their good work had ceased. "Promise me that a little of them will live on in you," Taylor told the crowd.

Max Azria, owner and designer of Los Angeles-based BCBG, was pleased with the show segment devoted to his company, and to the evening in general. "This is our first time being involved," he said. "But it's definitely not the last."

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