- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

Newbies to the Washington social scene take note: Be sure to snag a ticket to the Corcoran Ball. This year’s was a total blast from start to finish.

It’s one of the few nights Washington women get to fly in the fashion equivalents of F-22 Raptor fighter jets. Nothing is over the top. At least for one night, the little black dress gets a rest.

Sighted at Friday’s black-tie affair: strapless and sequined gowns, jewel colors, frou frou skirts and trains, great pearls, diamond-encrusted Manolos and high, strappy Jimmy Choo’s to fret about, especially if you’re cresting a wave of Piper Heidsieck.

Like the little mice in “Cinderella,” the museum’s extraordinary women’s committee led by Laurie Coughlin showed up 48 hours in advance to magically transform the already grand beaux-arts gallery into a candlelit cathedral of silk and satin, with thousands of full-blown roses, cherry blossoms and other seasonal flora atop tablecloths studded with shiny palettes. Each of the many large galleries is traditionally decorated in a different theme, with no Siberia to speak of — a tall order when more than 1,000 had to be seated (at a minimum $400 a pop).

The food was divine (trumpets blared the arrival of the first course: volaille a la creme, followed by cotes d’agneau). The music was upbeat and lasted well past midnight with presidential brother Marvin Bush and his actress wife Margaret, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Jim Kimsey, former NATO Ambassador David Abshire, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre, Nini Ferguson, Giselle Theberge and Dr. William Haseltine among those tearing away from the flirting and gossip to join the throngs on the dance floor.

Former Bolivian Ambassador Jaime Aparicio and ever-stunning wife Pamela made the scene, as did Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza and his wife Luisa. Cleo Gewirz, this year’s chairman, beamed while looking like a page out of Vogue in her Carolina Herrera gown.

The night also served as a coming-out party for the Corcoran’s newly installed director, Paul Greenhalgh, a 50-year-old British former painter with a certain Hugh Grant quality who proclaimed himself a “massive fan of Rembrandt” but whose taste in art had changed over the years.

“You lose patience when you know you’re not going to live forever.” said Lolo Sarnoff, 90, revealing that she had attended every single Corcoran Ball since 1954. “We used to have private dinner parties and then come here for champagne and dancing until 2 a.m.,” she recalled fondly as guests headed to their cars in drenching rain at evening’s end.

— Stephanie Mansfield

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