Retail With a Cause

Fashion is rarely far from a cause these days. Hermes helped the Friends of the First Ladies raise money for a Smithsonian exhibition. Gucci invited patrons of the Phillips Collection to launch a new store at Fairfax Square, whose opening coincided with a showing of Italian art at the museum. Of course, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Companies like Hermes and Gucci are also courting potential customers.

Last week the charity circuit was in action again when Neiman Marcus flew in Escada's substantial spring line from Germany (all 29 trunks' worth) for the International Collection fashion show. The luncheon at the Sheraton-Washington drew 1,075 people and raised $150,000 for the American Cancer Society.

"I want that one," whispered Estelle Gelman, referring to a sunny yellow coat twirling on the runway. Gelman, wearing a brown Escada suit with a fringed flapper skirt, has been organizing the annual benefit since 1985, each year in conjunction with a local store and an internationally known designer. She already has Nordstrom's lined up for next year.

"Yes, but the green coat is very nice too," suggested Karin Ruhfus, whose husband, Juergen, is the German ambassador. He seemed to be enjoying himself too, what with the German wine, the German fashion and the German dessert. "Normally, I spend my luncheons in the company of very distinguished gentlemen," he noted.

Neiman's didn't fair so badly, either. Escada happens to be one of the retailer's best-selling lines, and regular customers are routinely sent engraved invitations (and sometimes boxes of candy or flowers) to announce seasonal trunk shows. Last weekend, customers were invited to the Four Seasons hotel to preview the collection and place their spring orders. They had another opportunity immediately after the International Collection show, in a banquet room at the Sheraton. According to a source at Neiman's, sales were in the neighborhood of "several hundred thousand dollars."

Holey Moley

Legs are a good barometer of fashion trends. Ripped jeans have now given way to ripped tights as a current search-and-destroy statement. The idea is to "pothole" one layer of hosiery -- say, in black -- and wear it over another -- say, in green. This form of motley chic can also be purchased. Mary Quant distributes a $19.95 brand of potholed fish nets in the United States called Look from London. They're available at Commander Salamander in Georgetown. Owner Wendy Ezrailson mentions that leggings with flared bottoms are hot too. "They're really '60s," she says.

But then, what isn't?

Look Closely

Now that "Reversal of Fortune" is out and we have a better understanding of why Claus von Bulow would pose in black leather, take a look at Glenn Close's clothes in the movie. When Sunny/Glenn isn't comatose, she's wearing cashmere sweaters and flannel trousers. Dull stuff indeed. Well, never judge an heiress by her twin-sets. Her jewelry -- significantly large, discreetly placed and made by Bulgari -- is the real class clue. Melina Canonero, whose credits include "Out of Africa," was the film's costume consultant.

Haute Dogs

Designers have spent the last couple of weeks pitching their spring clothes to retailers. But what didn't sell? What earnest endeavors, runway gags and errors of taste bombed?

Bill Blass will not be reproducing a tulle party dress best described as a high-fashion pot-scrubber. "That dress was a show piece and is now a discard," reports Tom Fallon, the designer's publicity director. "All those strapless trapeze dresses are not selling, either." Michael Kors loved a pair of "poker chip" pants, but customers will never ante up. Ditto his gingham playsuits. "They looked too much like bathing suits," says his spokeswoman, Lillian Wang. Anne Klein couldn't sell hand-knit dresses in abstract prints, and Donna Karan stumped buyers with raffia fish net tops.

What did sell? Blass's Babe Paley shifts and pearl-strapped dresses; Karan's "scuba" jackets; Kors's patent leather coats; Anne Klein's color-block suits and coats; and Perry Ellis's clear plastic raincoats and navy blazers with white piping.

I Was a Teenager's Hairdresser

In a press release that describes him as a "stylist to the stars" -- a group that includes Marla Maples and Roseanne Barr -- Washington hairdresser Robin Weir announced the arrival of "teen make-over parties." These are not for women who want to look like teenagers, but rather for teenagers who want to look like women. "Most teenagers don't know how to use makeup," says Johanna van Duin, who works with Weir. "They end up with blue eyes." Still, she regards the make-over parties as entertainment, "just like when you have a clown."

For $75 per person for groups up to four and $60 for parties up to eight, the salon will send a hairdresser and makeup artist to a teenager's party.