The 12 exquisite designs on display at the Sunnylands Chic show, all within tantalizingly close reach on the Big White Tent’s runway, practically begged to be caressed. But it was not to be, as the Sunnylands Center & Gardens’ director of security gently reminded: “Touch with your eyes.” And visitors did just that, savoring the visions while enjoying the taste of handmade delectables and the sounds of soft music.
The show epitomized the desert’s laid-back vibe, with guests strolling casually from the hors d’oeuvres table near the entrance, co-sponsored by ShareKitchen along with affiliated chefs Kalayra Angelyys of Snacker Crackers and Chad Gardner of Dash and a Handful Catering, to the runway, where they could closely examine the fashions worn by Leonore and Walter Annenberg and the works they inspired.
Mannequins lined the edges of the runway, three pairs per side, showcasing the original clothing next to the six new interpretations created by contemporary designers Michael Costello, Anthony Franco, Lloyd Klein, Fe Zandi, Paul Hernandez, and Nick Verreos.
Many of the hundreds of visitors who stopped by in a steady flow also sat to watch the ongoing video montage broadcast on the wall; the film interspersed still shots of the Annenbergs and some of their guests over the years — Betty Ford, Barbara Sinatra, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Richard Nixon — with video clips of last Wednesday’s Nightlife bash and fashion show at Sunnylands Center & Gardens, where the new designs debuted.
“It was really well received,” says Michaeleen Gallagher, Sunnylands’ director of education and environmental programs. “It was a great opportunity to introduce some of the collection of the Annenbergs, which has such a public interest. And to do it in an interpretive way was really fun.”
The designers created the works in just a few months’ time, she says. “We sent the designers a list of photos from the collections, and they then selected one to be their inspiration piece. Based on that and what they learned about the Annenbergs, they interpreted those pieces. They got very creative.”
At Tuesday’s public showing, Klein’s stunning black evening gown adorned one end of the runway next to its inspiration, Robert Stewart’s wool morning suit with tails worn at Walter Annenberg’s inauguration as ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1969. Next to it were a burgundy and off-white Pierre Balmain gown with a crimson silk interpretation from Zandi — one of Leonore Annenberg’s favorite designers — as well as the pairing of a pink men’s spring suit from Franco with Walter Annenberg’s silk suit from Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia.
At the other side of the runway were Costello’s silk interpretation of Leonore Annenberg’s lace Balmain gown worn at Walter’s 1969 inauguration in London; both are in signature Sunnylands yellow. Local talent Costello — of Project Runway fame — has already garnered interest in his new creation: Superstar singer and Academy Award–winning actress Jennifer Hudson called him about the dress last week.
The next pair of mannequins matched another Balmain, a black velvet gown worn by Leonore Annenberg in 1970, with Hernandez’ black velvet dress, featuring a long slit and a two-layered, ruffled full-length cape. Last was Verreos’ interpretation of a silk Oscar de la Renta dress from 2004 — both in apple green, a shade also favored by Leonore Annenberg in her home décor.
The new creations will be photographed for the Sunnylands Center & Gardens’ archives before returning to the designers; the photographs will be available for public viewing through the center’s library.