The Wool Gathering

It had all the makings of a world-class fashion event: nine top fashion designers showing their clothes in the Sydney Opera House last weekend before an audience of 1,700 including the prince and princess of Wales. And it had the ego wars that one might expect from such a production.

The show, a highlight of Australia's bicentennial celebration, cost almost $4 million. Princess Diana, who gave a boost to British designer Bruce Oldfield by wearing one of his gowns, was decked out in a splendid diamond and sapphire necklace and earrings, a gift of the sultan of Oman. While she sat on the edge of her seat to see the designs, her husband Prince Charles seemed a bit less interested. There were also 800 wool growers at the event sponsored by the Australian Wool Corp.

Capsule shows by six Australian designers opened the program, but the real stars were the big-league international designers chosen to participate by the International Wool Secretariates in London, Paris and New York. Designers were asked to create clothes inspired by Australia, but according to Marylou Luther of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, most showed clothes from their spring collections unveiled several months back. Gianni Versace simply added wool shawls to some styles, including those he does regularly in metal mesh. "It's called pulling the wool over the eyes of the show organizers," said Luther.

Milan's Versace, already the black sheep of the event for not having arrived until the day of the show, was chastised by fellow designers for not abiding by the wool-only specifications. They playfully dubbed his mesh dresses "steel wool."

The star sniping was as interesting as the show, according to Luther. First the three French designers, Sonia Rykiel, Kenzo and Claude Montana, boycotted Prime Minister Bob Hawke's cocktail party for honorees, protesting intolerable rehearsal schedules. Australian designer Adele Palmer considered it a diplomatic blunder, "especially considering the already strained relations between France and Australia over nuclear testings." The next day the French designers sent the prime minister's wife Hazel flowers and apologies.

The French were not the only ones bothered by the endless rehearsals. Donna Karan wanted a model who had been assigned to Bruce Oldfield but finally gave up. Versace's aide insisted on using models Alva Chin and Kirat Bhinder, who had been assigned to Oscar de la Renta. The usually unflappable de la Renta then threatened to pull out of the show "unless someone from the Wool Bureau teaches Versace's people a thing or two about manners and forces him to comply with the rules."

And how were the clothes? According to Luther, the best were Jean Muir's knitwear and felt designs incorporating fish motifs, along with the knits of Rykiel and Tai and Rosita Missoni.

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Not on the Beene Stalk

Geoffrey Beene says the rumors about talented Vogue fashion editor Polly Mellen joining his firm are simply untrue. Besides, "I'd lose Grace {Mirabella, Vogue editor-in-chief} as a friend forever," said Beene, who admitted while he was here for the state dinner at the White House for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that having Mellen join the firm would be too good to be true.

Before coming down to Washington recently, Beene made some adjustments in his business. The prestigious Italian shoe firm Diego Della Valle will make all his shoes. And his lower-priced line, called the Beene collection -- being made by Warnaco -- has been on hold pending a new marketing strategy, but will definitely be in the stores before fall, according to the designer.

By the way, it's worth checking the Beene Ultrasuede spread in this month's Vogue. Thank Beene for bringing this worthy, practical and durable fabric back into fashion.

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Style at Their Fingertips

Not being able to see doesn't curb one's interest in current fashions, says Kate Jackson of the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. So Jackson, who is the coordinator of adult leisure and continuing education, arranged a fashion show with Woodward & Lothrop recently in which clothes were passed around to the visually impaired and described to them as well as modeled, by sighted volunteers.

"Many of those who attended the show are professionals, or hold responsible positions in the community. They have to get information in their own way," said Jackson. "They care tremendously about how they appear and the image they portray. But with no visual feedback they must take extra time to find out what they need to know."

Following the fashion session in Woodies' training room, there was a similar well-explained and "touchable" show put on by the Glenby salon from the store.

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Notes de la Mode

The striking Olympian goddess mannequin has met its match. Andre'e Putman has designed for Pucci Manikins a male partner it is calling "The Husband." It's equally robust and at 6 1/2 feet, he's 5 inches taller than the female counterpart. Like the woman, the male has permanent shoes. It should be in the stores in two months.

Washington-born menswear designer Jeffrey Banks will give up bikini swim trunks for a while. They'd never hide the marks from his emergency appendectomy. "I've got a scar from my sternum to my navel, so I'm going to need a turtleneck bathing suit this summer," jokes Banks.

Couture dog get-ups, including swimwear and snowwear, from the Bon Jour Cafe will be modeled by au courant canines for the benefit of the Washington Humane Society on Valentine's Day at the Biograph in Georgetown.