Fashion's biggest names get together to take aim at a major killer of women TEEING OFF ON CANCER


It isn't easy to move the fashion industry, which runs on supercharged egos, in the same direction. On those rare occasions, however, when the major movers put aside all jealousies to unite for a cause the impact is awesome.

Breast cancer is the cause, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October has bound designers, manufacturers, editors, models and the White House in a drive to help conquer a disease that now kills one in nine women.

The focus of the fashion campaign is a T-shirt. Not just any T-shirt, it's a Ralph Lauren design under the auspices of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). The message is "Fashion Targets Breast Cancer," and the symbol is a target. Right on.

The 400,000 limited-edition shirt goes on sale this week at 2,000 stores across the country, including major Baltimore department stores. The shirts sell for $15, with $5 from every sale designated for the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. Ralph Lauren, the prime mover and chairman of the target effort,

established the center in 1989 to honor the Washington Post fashion editor, who died of breast cancer in 1990.

"I feel wonderful to have had so much support, because Nina was a very fine editor, and in five years, her namesake center has become the largest breast cancer research center in America," says Mr. Lauren. "We figure the T-shirt will raise $2.5 million. To get the word out, magazine publishers gave us about $3 million worth of space to run the double-page ads."

Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the campaign at a Sept. 19 White House reception to honor the designers' council and Mr. Lauren along with his co-chairmen Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan and Louis Dell'Olio. The first family understands. President Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelly, died of the disease in January.

"It's a thrill to be at the White House," says Mr. Lauren, "Mrs. Clinton was very warm, very receptive, and very strong in her support."

Stanley Herman, president of the 200-member designers' council, who attended the Clinton tea said American designers are just beginning to understand the united power of their industry. "When I first became president three years ago," he says, "there was no organization. Everybody pulled in different directions.

"The CFDA has become very sophisticated, we now know how to get to the stores and the mags -- how to sell a cause -- and Ralph, of course, was very persuasive in presenting the breast cancer campaign."

Ralph the Chairman, however, takes some ribbing along with the support. Donna Karan, a colleague in that rare designer air at the very top looked at him standing on the Truman balcony during their VIP White House tour and quipped, "Ralph this is very becoming on you."

"Ralph missed the photo opportunity with Mrs. Clinton. He totally forgot to present her with a T-shirt," says Mr. Herman. "I guess he just got carried away with emotion."

pTC For those who keep track, Mrs. Clinton faced the fashion giants wearing a three-seasons-ago navy blue and white trim Donna Karan. The T-shirt would have evened things out.

Specialty shops and leading national retailers, such as Hecht's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Woodward and Lothrop locally, are running a fashion star video along with the target T.

It was filmed during the stylish crush of the New York fall collections and features designers with a personal message. Louis Dell'Olio, former designer for Anne Klein, talks about Ms. Klein's death from breast cancer and Oscar de la Renta speaks about the death of his first wife, Francoise, from the disease.

Star models the likes of Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss and Christy Turlington are also highlighted, as they are in the public service ads.

There's fashion clout behind the cameras, too. Evian Natural Spring Water, the sustenance that keeps models fresh and thin, was the major underwriter for the ads.

Many other industry groups whose business health often depends on the support of women are also doing their share.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's '94 Race for the Cure, a six-city event that offers local communities an opportunity to attract attention and funding to provide mammogram screenings for medically needy women, has drawn fashion and retail support. The race goes off Saturday, Oct. 1, at 8:30 a.m. at Rash Field.

J.C. Penney is the national presenting sponsor, and Regis Hairstylists, Jenny Craig Personal Weight Management, New Balance shoes, Pier 1 Imports and Crabtree & Evelyn are doing their bit with funding and gifts. Sebastian International plans a special hair care package in support of the Komen Foundation.

Evelyn Lauder, patron of New York's Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center and senior vice president of Estee Lauder Companies, has put together a book of her photographs, "The Seasons Observed," which debuts this month with proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Pink ribbons also show support -- Avon is selling them as key chains for the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, and Estee Lauder counters have the Pink Ribbon lipsticks and blush.

With the many beautiful and pretty ways that women can buy into the fight, a sobering reminder comes from designer Rodney Telford -- "Fashion is fantasy. Breast cancer is real."

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