"Come in the show has already started and you won't want to miss it," called out an usher to the crowd in front of the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. "And hurry, they're doing men's bathing suits first."
That's all it took to lure stragglers to their seats at the 23rd annual Ebony Fashion Fair fashion extravaganza where in yesterday's two performances, enough skin was revealed to rival Cher's last visit there.
The few thousand people at each show, sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of the Continental Societies, actually created a show within a show with their snappy new fall outfits, many suits with pleated skirts and matching hats and pumps, jumpsuits and fur throws.
"It's very important that you look good," said Bernice Lippitt, who attends the show almost every year. "And I always make something new to wear." This year it was a gray wool suit in a John Anthony pattern which she wore with matching handbag, hat, shoes and gloves. Also spotted in the crowd were a red satin strapless dress, violet silk harem pants and a velveteen Hapsburg ensemble.
But it's hard to compete with the Ebony Fashion Fair's assortment and sassy narration by the moderator, Washingtonian Shayla Simpson, who cajoled the audience through the 250 outfits.Simpson accompanies the 12 women and two male models and the $250,000 worth of clothes to 167 cities across the country.
"It's the major fashion event of the year for the black community," said Simpson. "And our purpose is to entertain them with the best showstoppers we can find." And they do it, with mini-skirts with see-through blouses, furs worn over bare skin, fanny wraps and purple leather shorts done by designers from Milan, Paris, London and New York.
"All right," yelled out a man in the front row when a model in a caftan with a neckline slashed to the waist came out on the runway. "Right on" came the call from the back when a model took off her coat to reveal a microscopic Sonia Rykiel sequined top.
The women got their share, too. "Here's something for entertaining at home when you've narrowed your guest list down to one," teased Simpson, as the two male models appeared on stage wearing silk kimono robes, one of them combing the hair on his chest. "Give him this and stay home New Year's Eve."
The show is put on every year by Johnson Publishing Co., with all proceeds going to a local charity, which here is the Continentals, who work with disadvantaged children in the D.C. area. What also comes out of each ticket price is a subscription to Ebony or Jet magazine.
The honorary chairperson for the event was Effi Barry, who is also a member of the Continentals. Also in the audience were Nadine Winter and Arrington Dixon of the D.C. City Council and James Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services.
"I wish I could afford a few of those things for my wife," said Mayor Marion Barry.
He'd better hope that the show doesn't set a new fashion trend that could prove to be financially disastrous. One gown of panne velvet in aquamarine and purple featured matching panne velvet pumps -- one in each color.