- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

Washington women have long been derided as fashion-challenged.

Clearly, no one of such description was to be seen Thursday night at the Mosaic Foundation’s annual benefit, a red-carpet night of Valentino, Armani, Ungaro, Scherrer and Oscar de la Renta, sky-high Manolo Blahniks, ribboned Gucci 4-inch heels and diamond-encrusted Dior saddlebags. With so many leggy blondes, leggy brunettes, a “Fashion Hall of Famer” and stallion-like models strutting on the runway, it wasn’t Cafe Milano. It was Milano.

“West Looks East” was the theme of the eighth annual gala, held at the National Building Museum and organized by the wives of the ambassadors of 17 Arab states. Sixteen designers, including Karl Lagerfeld (for Chanel), John Galliano (for Christian Dior), Christian Lacroix, Ralph Rucci and Baghdad native Reem Acra, were asked two years ago to create original gowns inspired by traditional Arab attire for this year’s event after Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan and chairwoman of the charity, teamed up with the Children’s National Medical Center this year to raise $1 million for a high-tech pediatric center in Morocco.

Guests sipped cocktails (yes, alcohol was served), then dined on lobster salad with Arab spices and loin of veal with Moroccan fruits before savoring the top-notch show of drop-dead silk embroidered dresses that will be auctioned off in the fall.

The event is a clear favorite among the chic, including Susan Allen (“I couldn’t wait to come”), Debbie Dingell, Alexandra de Borchgrave, Marlene Malek, Samia Farouki, benefit committee co-chairwoman and fashion icon Deeda Blair (in long white Ralph Rucci topped with a lime green scarf), the impossibly blonde and beautiful Sheika Rima al-Sabah (in a stunning Kuwaiti-designed embroidered gown), dapper lawyer Graham Wisner, party-planner-to-the-stars Preston Bailey, PBS head Pat Mitchell, former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Sen. John E. Sununu and a host of Mideastern royalty that included Princesses Lulua Al-Faisal and Wafa Fayad of Saudi Arabia and Prince Firas Raad and Princess Dana Firas Raad of the royal family of Jordan and Iraq.

Eden Rafshoon made the scene in an Oscar de la Renta embroidered coat; Eunice Shriver chose a short floral Armani jacket. Singer Roberta Flack, wearing Carmen Marc Valvo, said she was finishing a new album on her own label.

In-the-know guests said the astonishing number of top designers who participated was no surprise, especially given the fact that Middle Eastern woman are the predominant buyers at many of the top couture houses.

Stephane Rolland, who designs for Jean-Louis Scherrer in Paris, said that clients from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab lands constitute about 65 percent of his business, but that the figure was much lower for more conservative lines. “At Chanel, it is probably not more than 10 percent,” he said.

Mrs. Blair, a perennial on international best-dressed lists for more than four decades, noted that wealthy Americans are still buying, although many of them would never dream of being photographed in the front rows during the media circus accompanying the high-profile shows. “Most are very discreet,” she said. “They go to see the collections privately, a week or so later.”

—Stephanie Mansfield

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