Packing the fancy dresses was the easy part. "The big problem is getting Francois to sort his ties," said Antoinette de Laboulaye, wife of the French ambassador who has been organizing their departure from Washington. The ambassador admits owning more than 100 ties, plus more than two drawers of socks, which needless to say, slows down his getting dressed each morning. "We call such a man un homme que parle de chiffon." Said Madame de Laboulaye who usually knits for the duration of the morning clothes discussion.
"Did you know there are special ties for summer and for winter?" asked the ambassador. In his tie collection, built up over years and, reluctantly, rarely shared even with grandsons, there are some mistakes that have never been worn.
Madame de Laboulaye is surprised at the brouhaha over the free gowns for Mrs. Reagan. "In France the top designers lend dresses to the wives of the president who return them when they have finished wearing them. And then they are added to the sale rack." Even Daneille Mitterand borrows them for some occasions, she says.
There must be moments when Nancy Reagan wishes she could turn a silk purse into a sow's ear. In fact, she was greatly amused by a group of handmade beanbags, including one that changed from a purple velvet purse into a shocking pink pig that was among the gifts distributed before Christmas at a party for diplomatic children. And it was that very pig-in-a-purse that the first lady gave as a pre-wedding gift to NBC White House correspondent John Palmer. She chose it, according to Sheila Tate, her press secretary, since the party was given in response to a black-tie affair from which women were excluded.
Jodi Bauernschmidt, 27, invented the imaginative items she calls Zippersnappers five years ago when she was searching for a craft item to make and sell at weekend craft fairs in Portland, Ore. A fine arts graduate from the University of Oregon who studied technical art in Holland for three years, she had just had a baby and figured that sculptural, three-dimensional work in fabric was the cheapest way of setting up a studio. "I wanted to make a toy that was animated and made a list of things that could make it move and change . . . zippers, buttons, snaps. The formula that worked best was the zipper, which was incorporated as the big smiling mouth of both characters in most of the toys, including Jonah, who disappears into the whale, the frog and the prince, the bull and the bear, the monkey and the alligator, the man and the man-eating shark.
Richard Rovsek, an active Republican who is a promotional marketing specialist, spotted the toys at Bloomingdale's and arranged to buy more than 100 at wholesale cost directly through Bauernshmidt, who now has five women helping her handcraft the copyright items in Woodstock, Vt.
Bauernschmidt has curbed the number of styles she makes to help speed production but still hopes to add one more. "I've always wanted to make Adam and Eve, but I've never dared," she said.
Marianne Ross, a dancer, who lives in Bethesda, who may have the largest collection -- she owns one of each, is in good company. Jacques Cousteau got a gift of the man-eating shark from his daughter-in-law, actor Charles Bronson owns the prince and the frog.
Women television journalists have taken a fashion cue from one of their subjects. Nancy Reagan. Since the first lady is hard to lose track of in her red suits and coats on television as well as in person, more red blouses have been appearing in the presidential press conferences. And getting called on by President Reagan. "Now that we can't stand up to get recognized by the president at press conferences I have worn something red," said Judith Woodruff, NBC White House correspondent. Woodruff isn't sure that it was her red garb alone that got the president's attention recently. "He always calls on one person from each network. But just in case, I didn't want to fade into the background," said Woodruff.
Like many little girls, Marianna van Hal started sewing dresses for her doll, sometimes taking the dresses apart and using them for patterns for making new white dresses and wedding dresses. "I always loved the white dresses my mother and aunt made for me. White is so fresh and pure. Black is so hard on the eyes to sew."
Making dresses, particularly white dresses and wedding dresses, is now her profession but it was strictly a hobby to the young Dutch girl who started ballet classes at age 4 and eventually became a ballerina. So good, in fact, van Hal became a top dancer with the Tilburg Ballet in Holland traveling all over Europe. Once on tour in Belgium, van Hal was dropped by her ballet partner. She got up and continued to dance. She was dropped a second time and couldn't get up.
In a hospital in Holland in a cast up to her waist, the American girl in the next bed insisted her American doctor treat van Hal, who had been given little encouragement by her own doctor. Dr. Milton Callor brought van Hal to New York for surgery and looked after her at his expense as she recovered. She returned to New York as an au pair, moved to Washington when the family did, studied dental technology here and now makes dentures, porcelain teeth and crowns.
But she is spending more of her time sewing. "Sometimes people bring their own fabric and their own ideas and we talk, even go to stores to see what they like in wedding dresses that I can incorporate into a dress for them," she says. "A wedding dress is so personal it must be what the person wants. Even if they change their mind along the way, I must change it so that it is just what they wish." She is currently restoring a dress from 1900 a friend found at an auction. "I piece together the best of the new and the old."
She can't get into her toe shoes anymore, but still goes to the ballet often. "I really am a very severe critic about how well or how badly the costumes fit," she said.