- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Like lots of other retail outlets these days, Maurice Villency isn't selling just a product — furniture, in

this case — but a lifestyle. And that lifestyle, judging from the opening-night party for its new suburban Maryland store on Wednesday night, is one that involves cold martinis, cool techno-lounge music and hot young twentysomethings sprawled on $4,000 leather couches.

The event at the white-walled, high-ceilinged Wisconsin Avenue NW showroom was sponsored by Harper's Bazaar, a beneficiary of Maurice Villency's generous advertising budget. The magazine worked with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to organize a silent auction to raise funds for a national victims' hot line. Guests included local Harper's Bazaar subscribers, RAINN supporters and store owners hoped — potential buyers of expensive and hip-looking contemporary furniture.

The store is Maurice Villency's first branch to open outside of the New York City area, where the company has been in Villency family hands since 1932. Today it's a group of six high-end stores run by Eric Villency, founder Maurice's 26-year-old grandson, who was named president just two months ago.

A handsome guy in a well-tailored, pale-gray Dolce & Gabbana suit, his hair gelled firmly skyward, the younger Villency managed to turn more than a few heads on the showroom floor. He had a short-lived career as a model, when he served as the cover boy for Cosmopolitan magazine's 1999 calendar and in Abercrombie & Fitch and Jockey ad campaigns. "The last thing I ever wanted to do was work for my family," he said, but he ultimately found modeling unfulfilling, and he said he's always had a knack for sales and design.

Eric's father, Robert Villency, now chairman of Maurice Villency Inc. (and chief executive officer of Roche Bobois, which sells high-end imported furniture) is a man more concerned with solid business principles.

"I don't have an aesthetic bone in my body," he said. "Eric has Maurice's genes, thank God. He understands the product and fashion."

Eric was the one who pushed for a Washington-area store, a decision his dad seemed to be a bit unsure about. "We're about to find out if we're transportable," he said.

Guests certainly seemed impressed by the stylishness of the affair. A young woman in a sparkly black minidress struggled to find words to describe it: "I walked in here and was like, 'Is this L.A.?'" Another guest, Erik Grazetti, eyed the cocktail sipping crowd around the bar, many dressed in Prada, D&G or Gucci, and declared, "I should be at a party like this every night."

Though the hors d'oeuvres were dismayingly scarce — the few trays of mini crab cakes and breaded shrimp were emptied by skinny but ravenous fashionistas in seconds — there were four bars. The one near an empty dance floor offered little blue bottles of Laurent Perrier "POP" champagne, which guests drank through straws.

The Washington-based RAINN was founded by the singer Tori Amos, a sexual assault survivor, and it inevitably has some high profile supporters. Calvin Klein, Steve Madden and Susan Molinari are on its advisory board — which may explain how organizers managed to put together such an entertaining and eclectic silent auction. Items included tickets to the MTV show "Total Request Live" and, as a reminder that this is, after all, Washington, lunch at the Oval Room with Cokie Roberts.

There was also a Maurice Villency sofa and chair requiring a $4,000 opening bid, and, most amusingly, the chance to blow up a building "whose owners want it imploded." With the help of a company called Controlled Demolition Inc., the winner will get to push the button that charges the dynamite.

RAINN's president, Scott Berkowitz, said he hoped the auction would raise $40,000, and the cosmopolitan-fueled guests seemed happy to shop for charity's sake. By the end of the evening the implosion experience actually received a scrawled $1,000 bid, and someone was signed up for lunch with Cokie Roberts at $600. There were no takers for the Maurice Villency sofa-and-chair set, but there's plenty of time for that.

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