New store, new imageIt's not your mother's...


New store, new image

It's not your mother's Bendel's any more.

To celebrate the first anniversary of Henri Bendel's move to its Fifth Avenue location in New York City, Jean-Paul Gaultier devised a dress-up party that brought the downtown crowd uptown for a night.

Inspired by the invitation in the shape of a corset, men and women got done up in bras, girdles, garter belts and fishnet stockings to bury forever the image of understated chic that long prevailed at the store's former spot on 57th Street.

"What a fabulous crowd!" said Susan Falk, the store's president, who wore a black lace ballerina dress by Bob Evans. Since she took over, the store has started carrying flamboyant fashion, including Mr. Gaultier's underwear-inspired clothes, so it was fitting that she asked him to be her co-host.

The designer was greeting guests in the atrium, which was decorated with paper streamers and a 16-foot-high birthday cake with pink icing and one candle, while his video crew filmed the goings-on. In addition to members of the club crowd, the 1,200 guests included such fashion people as Arie Kopelman of Chanel, Arnold Scaasi, Nicole Miller, Carmelo Pomodoro, Marc Jacobs and Linda Evangelista.

It was a theme party, or rather a three-theme party, as Mr. Gaultier explained it: "The second floor has a Paris atmosphere with cancan dancers. The third floor is the boudoir, with madam and her nice girls. Then, if you're good, you go to Paradise on the fourth floor, where St. Peter may choose to let you enter."

Paradise had a harpist, cotton clouds, apple trees and Eve wearing a green tubing "serpent."

From a balcony, the filmmaker John Waters stared down at the mad swirl of partygoers, some of whom could have stepped out of a Divine movie. Mr. Waters looked dapper with pencil-thin mustache, fussy suit and tie.

"We came up from Baltimore," he said, as a pair of transvestites in pink hair rollers flounced by. "There's a trend for you," he said. "The roller look. Now I feel at home. A bit of Baltimore seeping through in all this Paris." Barbara Bush, a fashion fan, popped into New York recently to check out Arnold Scaasi's new offerings.

It wasn't just any old shopping trip, either. Mrs. Bush and her daughter, Dorothy LeBlond, were looking for something special to wear to LeBlond's upcoming summer wedding to Bobby Koch, who works for House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.

Mr. Scaasi isn't commenting on what he's doing for the mother-daughter Bush team, but you can bet the trousseau won't include one particular gown in his fall show. It has a sheer net top with two strategically placed patches of jeweled embroidery that look very much like the pasties worn by strippers. Will the hat really come back?

As the American collections for next fall swept down the runways on New York's Seventh Avenue last week, the hats were impossible to ignore.

At Perry Ellis and Anna Sui, floppy overscale caps sprouted long, tickly feathers anchored with costume-jewelry brooches just above their brims. They were enchanting, conjuring up nostalgic images of 1960s' hippies. Calvin Klein's hats were trim, no-nonsense berets, made luxurious by sleek fabrics patterned to resemble leopard and zebra skins. At Ralph Lauren, men's bowlers looked as if they had been imported from a haber--ery on London's Jermyn Street.

Donna Karan's big-brimmed, velvety hats shadowed the models' eyes, suggesting high daytime drama.

All of these and countless other hats made for delightful runway watching. But the question remains: Come fall, will women seriously get into the habit of wearing hats again?

Maybe, just maybe, the moment is arriving when this bit of dressing addendum will once again become fashionably important. As long as a hat is as easy to pull on and as appealing as those seen last week, its chance to stage a comeback may be here.

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