By  on June 2, 2008

”Tonight, we’re here to celebrate American fashion,” said Diane von Furstenberg.

The designer and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America couldn’t have described the mood at Nadja Swarovski’s Sunday night bash for this year’s CFDA Fashion Awards nominees and honorees any better.

Over the past few years, the warm-up shindig to Monday night’s awards took on the form of a sit-down dinner, but this year, the hostess deliberately went for a more casual affair at private club Norwood.

“It’s all about the surprise,” said Nadja Swarovski, greeting guests at the door with Steven Kolb, CFDA’s executive director. “A lot of the honorees and nominees are a little nervous the night before, so this is a more relaxed way of doing it. And there are no speeches.”

Indeed, the stress-free environment was a welcome change, especially on a Sunday night, when many were still reluctant to dismantle their weekend mode. The night brought out most of the nominees and honorees, including Tory Burch, Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Philip Crangi, Thakoon Panichgul, Scott Sternberg, Michael Bastian, and Thom Browne, as well as other designers like Behnaz Sarafpour, Doo-Ri Chung, Gilles Mendel, Maria Cornejo and Yigal Azrouël.

The venue featured a different flavor on each level, from live Latin beats on the main floor, to a second floor eatery with a buffet, and a third floor smoky lounge [though few in their towering stilettoes made it up the steep stairs to the top floor).

“It reminds me of a French bordello, not that I have been to too many of them,’” joked Paula Patton, looking chic in a gold Michael Kors dress.

“It’s like a scene from ‘Pretty Baby,’” Kors said. “It’s very New Orleans. We have to tell Brooke Shields to come here.”

This being a bona fide fashion group, many, including Ashley Olsen, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, crowded the lantern-filled garden at Norwood to smoke. “That’s where all the cool kids hang out,” said Cynthia Rowley, on her way to the backyard.After taking a tour of Norwood, Cynthia Nixon also settled in the garden, where she enjoyed a sorbet amid the spring heat. The actress just finished her two-month press tour for “Sex and the City” at noon on Friday, and rested enough over the weekend to hit the party circuit again on Sunday — this time in honor of Womenswear Designer of the Year nominee Francisco Costa, whose dress she wore for the occasion.

“I am taking the summer off, and then doing a play at the Roundabout Theatre,” said Nixon, who was accompanied to the party by her companion, Christine Marinoni. “We’re working on a European trip, and may be going to France.”

Dries van Noten, meanwhile, couldn’t contain his happiness at being back in Gotham after his recent visit for the Costume Institute benefit. “I love New York,” he said. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so easy to come twice in one month.”

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