"When a new line comes about," designer Jhane Barnes said last night, "Washington is left out until it's proven in another market."
"It's more conservative," said Bob Mackie, a designer most known for dressing Cher, Carol Burnett, Diana Ross, Joan Rivers and other celebrities. "I went into Britches today and everything was so boring!"
Barnes and Mackie were talking backstage at Constitution Hall, where they joined Willi Smith and Calvin Klein at a reception before The Fourth Annual Washington Post Fashion Symposium, which raised about $20,000 for The Hospital for Sick Children.
"In 1980, when we started these symposiums . . ." said fashion editor Nina Hyde in her introduction, "I asked the designers to do the one thing they like even less than taking markdowns--appearing in a program together and talking about themselves in front of each other."
Barnes, a Baltimore native, wore a suit with a skinny pink tie around her bare neck. (Barnes said she added an "h" to her first name--Jhane, pronounced Jane--when she began designing to confuse men who might not buy from a woman.) A tanned Klein wore a double-breasted blue suit. Mackie, who was wearing a pair of Jhane Barnes pants, pulled a loose thread off Klein's jacket. The two laughed.
On stage, each designer took a turn at the podium to show slides of clothing and discuss the creative process.
When Klein stepped to the microphone, the crowed clapped and whistled. He ran through collections of years past, pointing out photo sessions in Key West, Mexico and Greece. The audience cheered the familiar jeans ads, including the one with Brooke Shields.
"That jeans business was doing $150 million before Brooke," Klein said in the question-and-answer part of the show. "We're now doing $320 million." Klein gets more than $1 for each pair of jeans sold. He ended his show with slides of his upcoming underwear line for women.
Mackie showed sequins and beads on famous bodies.
"Here's the woman I love dressing most--Juliet Prowse," Mackie said when a slide of her came on the screen. "Don't tell Cher."
Next on the screen was Raquel Welch, wearing a lot of beads.
"Then there's Raquel," Mackie said, "a little fabric here and there." Mackie went on with slides of Barbra Streisand, John Travolta and Mitzi Gaynor.
Willi Smith showed his WilliWear, which included big shirts and big scarves. "My clothes are real simple," Smith said, "You can do anything you want with them."
Barnes spent her time at the podium explaining her process of weaving several different materials together, such as cashmere, wool and silk, and her attempt to change men's fashions.
"I try to approach fashion and clothes not as a business, but as an art form," said Barnes, who advocates a modern look for men. "Why do we need to wear suspenders and argyle socks? I think coming up with something new is the challenge."