By  on March 24, 2005

WASHINGTON — Even the most savvy political players in the capital have had disappointments when it comes to mixing public policy with high fashion.

Just listen to the buzz at the Kennedy Center lunch last week for the opening of “Fabulous! Fashions of the 1940s’’ organized with the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. 

“I wore a turban like that to a military event,” recalled Alma Powell, wife of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, eyeing a hat by the famous milliner Lily Dache, one of the 31 exhibits in the show. Clearly, said Powell, her husband was not amused. “Colin was indignant. After the party, he turned to a friend and said, ‘You know she wore that rag on her head.’”

The exhibition, which runs through April 14, marks the Kennedy Center’s first collaboration with FIT and is part of the center’s festival, “A New America: The 1940s and the Arts.”

FIT organizers took care to coddle their fashion-forward patrons. Show curator Ellen Shanley didn’t miss a beat when Kennedy Center board member Buffy Cafritz arrived wearing her newest Ralph Rucci ensemble. Walking her over to the fake-fur persian lamb hooded coat designed by Madame Grès and the Balenciaga cut velvet Belle Epoque court style evening gown, Shanley said, “Ralph Rucci loves both these designers.’’

Included in the show are two body-hugging wool swimsuits by Claire McCardell made without any undergarments; six dresses and two gowns by Gilbert Adrian, one using fabric inspired by Pablo Picasso and another made from a dramatic black-and-white print designed by Salvador Dali, and a utilitarian design by Molyneux, a wool houndstooth dress with pockets in the front and back. Mixed in with designs from French and American designers like Hattie Carnegie and Elsa Schiaparelli are fashion photographs by Louise Dahl-Wolfe for Harper’s Bazaar and John Rawlings for Condé Nast. The show will bow on June 14 at the Museum at FIT.

“We decided to celebrate the 1940s because it was such a remarkable decade for American creativity,” said Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, who credits Hollywood with his appreciation for fashions of the period. “Coming out of World War II, we experienced this burst of enthusiasm and optimism, which you can see in the concert halls, with music from Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, in dance with Martha Graham, in jazz and big-band music and in the theater with plays by new talents like Tennessee Williams.”

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