7th on Sale Oscar de la Renta is selling spring samples. Michael Kors is producing a special collection of gray flannel suits from leftover bolts. Bill Haire is taking photographs of fellow designers. Gianni Versace is printing T-shirts. Ralph Lauren is lending his cashiers. And Betsey Johnson is sharing a favorite recipe, Maria's Polish Pickled Potato Salad.
For an industry that normally reserves its biggest endeavors for parties and back-slapping awards dinners, Seventh Avenue's upcoming benefit for AIDS is a noteworthy exception. Design houses have spent the past few weeks rummaging through their warehouses, archives and sample rooms for roughly $4.5 million in merchandise to be put on public sale Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 26th Street in New York. There will be vintage samples, new fall clothes, factory overruns, jewelry, slightly used runway shoes and mistakes that never left the showroom. Prices will hover around wholesale, less for samples, and all proceeds will go to the New York City AIDS Fund. The aim is to raise $1 million.
More than a chic flea market, "7th on Sale" marks the first collective effort by the fashion industry on behalf of AIDS patients, many of whom have worked in the business. Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Carolyne Roehm, who came up with the idea, have been key players within the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the principal organizer. Karan will contribute nearly $400,000 in merchandise, and in addition to giving clothes Lauren is orchestrating the massive retail end of things -- from picking up everything at everyone's showrooms to price-tagging it at the armory for the 100 or so designer booths. But many observers also credit the clout of Vogue magazine, which is underwriting the event, and in particular its editor in chief, Anna Wintour, for being a kind of catalyst. "When you have someone like Anna Wintour involved, and even more so Conde Nast, you have a very strong force," acknowledged designer Louis Dell'Olio.
Or as one publicist put it, "I want my table right next to Anna's."
As it happens, 800 fashion types will get first crack at the sale when they get together at the armory for a $1,000-a-plate dinner and "champagne shopping preview" the night before the doors open to the public. And effusive publicists notwithstanding, the evening may go down as the only social occasion where the guests have tried on each other's clothes before dinner.
What's also impressive is the variety of stuff designers are selling. Charlotte Neuville has made a special line of baby clothes, including matched mother-and-daughter ensembles. Linda Allard is doing lingerie and jewelry bags -- something she normally doesn't do for Ellen Tracy. Robert Lee Morris is selling $100,000 worth of his jewelry, from $40 to $400 a piece. Karan will have cashmere knits in colors that never went into production. Marc Jacobs has made one-of-a-kind sweaters, a Perry Ellis specialty. Vogue, which has three booths, will offer makeover sessions and signed photographs by leading fashion photographers.
And in case you're wondering how pickled potato salad figures in, designer Jennifer George has organized the CFDA cookbook, which includes, among other fashionable recipes, "Donald's apple schlump" by jewelry designer Angela Cummings and meatloaf by Bill Blass. The cookbook is $20.
But bargains, apparently more than meatloaf, are motivating shoppers. According to a CFDA spokesman, half of the 13,500 tickets already have been sold. A $10 ticket is good for 2 1/2 hours of shopping at designated intervals, and booths will be replenished for each new wave of shoppers. Cash and major credit cards will be accepted. Tickets are available only through Ticketron (212-947-5850).
Empty Promises Last summer, after his second made-to-order collection drew raves and a fashionable throng of admirers, Gene Meyer announced that he had entered an agreement with two foreign partners to launch a ready-to-wear line for next fall. One of those partners, Prince Khedker of Khed Anjanvel of India and Park Avenue, promised to supply Meyer with much-needed capital -- "a couple of million dollars," according to Meyer's assistant, Kevin Ryan.
Unfortunately, the prince didn't come through. "In the end, he couldn't provide the financing, so the whole thing fell apart," says Ryan. The broken deal also forced Meyer to shut down his made-to-measure business in September.
Meyer, who previously worked with Geoffrey Beene as a design assistant, is now discussing another ready-to-wear deal and has just launched a scarf collection with the other partner, Juraku, a Kyoto silk firm. The silk twill scarves, in the jet set colors of the '60s, will cost $75 to $150 and will be available early next year in Washington at Neiman Marcus.
In Vestments Normally, Wayne James sees leggy models in his Logan Circle brownstone, where bolts of silk lean against the walls and girly shoes spill across the floor. But the other day his clients were two priests from Georgetown University, and their fashion requirements were slightly different from the designer's stock in trade. They had come to be fitted for new vestments.
"In a sense, Wayne's doing something very traditional," said the Rev. Robert Rokusek as he watched fellow priest John Kelly being fitted in a golden yellow vestment. "The church has always taken the high arts and adapted them to our own purposes."
In this case, the meeting of high fashion and high church happened about 18 months ago when Rokusek asked James, who started designing clothes while he was a Georgetown law student, to make a collection of vestments that would reflect the architectural details of Dahlgren Chapel. Cast in elegant silk douppioni, they feature scalloped hemlines -- taken from woodwork and stone patterns in the chapel -- and brocade insets that suggest stained-glass windows. Colors -- claret, gold, white, purple and khaki green -- fit into a standard church palette, but their distinct hues were chosen by James. And they are, in fashion terms, of the moment.
For James, a former Dahlgren altar boy, outfitting priests was unusual in only one aspect. "My private customers just say, 'Give me something wonderful,' but for this project I had to make sure everything was accepted as we went along," the designer said. "There are many priests who will wear these vestments, not just one."
Each vestment, by the way, will require about 15 yards of fabric, because they are lined in the same silk douppioni. And each will cost about $1,000.
Glitz and Gucci First came the chicken liver pate'.
"Do you know what the secret ingredient is?" quizzed Harriet Kassman, who hosted a vodka and sequins party the other night in her Chevy Chase store. "Cream cheese."
The occasion for pate' consumption was ostensibly to view rather skimpy dresses commissioned by Absolut vodka -- you know, the ones in the ads. There was one number with a Cleopatra headdress of wired links, and a 22-karat gold mesh mini that produced a mild tremor of "ahs" and "ohs," though more than a few vodka sippers proposed other ways to spend $500,000 than on a single dress.
Designer Jeanette Kastenberg was also there, in a silver sequin catsuit and matching baseball cap, to show off her sparkling funwear. She has just launched her first line of children's clothes. "You know, sequined T-shirts, little sequined skirts -- all the stuff kids wear," said the 27-year-old designer.
Meanwhile, across the suburbs, a Gucci crowd was throwing down caviar pancakes and champagne to welcome an old name to a new home. The opening of the Gucci store at Fairfax Square, the third in the Washington area, drew patrons of the Phillips Collection, along with a contingent of fashion types. Hemlines were refreshingly short. "I think I'm going to have to do something about mine," said Phillips Development Director Penelope Saffer, looking down at her longer variation. Gucci had asked the museum to co-host the reception.
As for the Gucci people, they could be spotted by the child-size purses dangling on chains across their cocktail clothes. In hot pink and fuchsia, the bags are just large enough for small change. "Nothing too indiscreet," laughed Gucci PR chief Pilar Crespi as she popped out her hotel key.