At Bloomingdale's at White Flint last night, the jewelry glistened, the tweed jackets beckoned, and many a longing smile crossed the faces of the guests. There was only one problem. They were there to raise money for the Washington Opera and to salute France, and the cash registers were all locked. Stare as they might, they couldn't buy a thing.
More than 800 people paid $60 apiece to spend an evening glancing at price tags and trying not to spill boeuf bourguignon on the furniture. Jugglers, harlequins and caviar-bearing waiters joined the guests at a buffet dinner inaugurating Bloomingdale's "Fe te de France," a promotion of the products and culture of France. Other celebrants included Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler, French Ambassador Bernard Vernier-Palliez, and Martin Feinstein, director of the Washington Opera.
Heckler, who told the crowd that she was an "opera buff," said she had been discussing the "right to die" over dinner with the French ambassador. "But there is also the right to live," she said. "And some of us will celebrate this tomorrow as we buy our purchases here."
Earlier in the evening, Bloomingdale's chairman Marvin S. Traub gave a private tour of the store to Heckler and Vernier-Palliez.
"It's lovely!" Heckler said as she watched a man hand-print fabric with wooden blocks.
"It's incredible!" Heckler said when Traub showed her a hologram of Paris.
"It's amazing!" Heckler said when Traub pointed out a recent addition to Bloomingdale's food line. "Scallops in a tin!"
Along with such demonstrations and delicacies, there were artists drawing free caricatures and a women dressed in gold lame' and feathers waiting to be photographed.
"I am not talking to anyone because I am supposed to be French," she said. " 'Fifi' is my name. All I can say is 'Merci beaucoup.' "
A couple came up to Fifi. A flash went off.
"Merci beaucoup," Fifi said.
Asked about France's $375,000 contribution to Bloomingdale's to support the promotion, Lucette Baraton, who works for the cultural service of the French Embassy, said, "Let's be realistic. There'll be a big fuss for a few weeks and after that French products probably won't have the same publicity."
Traub, in his welcoming speech, said, "A great money months of preparation went into this."
The audience began to laugh.
"Many," he said. "Not money, many."