It was a fete fit for Paris.
"Une Nuit a` Paris," a $150-a-head benefit -- which was sponsored by Nordstrom at the National Museum of Women in the Arts Wednesday night and raised $50,000 for the museum -- brought out 300 of Washington's upper crust to sip champagne, nibble on foie gras, listen to strolling violins, view the cre`me de couture, chat with French Ambassador Jacques Andreani and his wife, Donatella, and meet the most important man in French fashion -- no, make that world fashion -- Jacques Mouclier, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the century-old governing body of French couture.
Event co-chairwoman Wilma Bernstein looked smashing in a simple black Chanel cocktail dress. Jeannette Chang, associate publisher of Harper's Bazaar (one of the sponsors of the evening), wore a slim black skirt with a stunning pink ottoman jacket decorated with a sequined Louis XIV Sun King emblem, from Yves Saint Laurent's 1988 spring collection. And, of course, Donatella Andreani wore French: a basic long white skirt topped with a YSL sequin jacket.
Otherwise, most everyone was in black. And that -- not the election results of the previous night nor the Souter confirmation hearings that would open the next day -- was the primary topic of conversation.
"It's amazing how everyone is in black," said JoAnn Mason, surveying the crowd on the third floor of the museum, "especially with all the color that's been promoted this year." She was wearing a self-designed little black Audrey Hepburn dress draped at the top with black lace.
Alison Bernstein and her aunt Mickey Lemer were also in black dresses, which were very similar in style -- off the shoulder and short. To define their look as French they both chose the accessory of the moment: long, drippy pearl earrings by Chanel. Neither knew that the other was wearing an almost identical outfit until they found themselves seated next to each other in the front row. Lemer quipped that good taste must run in their family.
After a buffet dinner by Design Cuisine of quite rare lamb chops with mint Bearnaise sauce, Poussin Montrachet, asparagus vinaigrette and thin fried potatoes reminiscent of those potato sticks from elementary school cafeterias, the guests moved down to the first floor for a haute couture show featuring fashions of Jacqueline de Ribes, Nina Ricci, Jean-Louis Scherrer, Claude Montana, Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Many of the guests, worried that they would not get choice seats for the presentation, took their full plates and went down early, using the runway as a dining room table.
Mouclier addressed the crowd before the show, talking in his thick Maurice Chevalier accent about the recent invitation of Oscar de la Renta to show in Paris this spring and the current construction of the I.M. Pei-designed fashion center under the Jardins des Tuileries.
The people in the audience were attentive to the show. But they weren't ecstatic about the French fashions. The biggest hand went to the well-groomed poodles.