NEW YORK — Welcome to the big time, or is it the big top?
After 20 years in the business, Dennis Basso — the furrier to the stars, the roly-poly personality, the man who wears mink to pick up the groceries — feels he finally arrived in the fashion establishment this year and he set out to burnish that image on Wednesday night with his most over-the-top runway show yet. It included a finale by a diva of equal proportions: Diana Ross, who walked with a big cape of emerald coq feathers that looked as if they’d been plucked right out of her big hair.
Speaking of birds, Basso has good reason to crow, what with his recent induction into the Council of Fashion Designers of America, launching ready-to-wear and handbags, and the news that he’ll be opening a Madison Avenue flagship this fall. So he pulled out the stops and invited 800 guests to a fashion show and dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street here. His annual shows have always had a reputation for putting the rather gaudy side of the nouveau riche right up there with the old-money types, but this year, it was a downright society circus.
“What are you doing here?” demanded one man as he stretched his neck across the runway to look at Lizzie Grubman, on her way to her seat in the second row. “This is for old people!”
That might have been true a few years back, when Basso was mostly known for catering to the grande dames of the Upper East Side with his lavish sables and chinchillas. Now, a younger generation has caught on to the vamp factor of Basso’s shows and they piled into the room one after another. Rena Sindi, Serena Boardman, Jennifer Creel, Bettina Zilkha, Natalie Leeds, Caroline Berthet and Amy Sacco all lined up with Kathy Hilton, Alice Mason, Mai Harrison, Helen and Tim Schifter, Donald Trump and Melania Knauss, Lorraine Bracco, Denise Rich, Suzanne Saperstein, Star Jones and Neil and Leba Sedaka.
“I’ve given a lot of big shows, but because of this anniversary, I wanted this to have a completely personal feeling,” Basso said. “There are 800 people here and I feel connected to 750 of them.”Basso’s affection and talent for extravagant furs was mixed with a new, younger spirit, too. He showed brown chinchilla in little vests and boleros, pink or ice blue sheared minks and even a duffel coat, albeit in Barguzine sable. But his ladies love the no-holds-barred ideas and he gave them more than a regular dose: broadtail suits; mink jackets encrusted with real pearls and rock crystal and a long Anna Karenina broadtail coat, edged in sable. Unfortunately, the best of both worlds was somewhat blurred in the needlessly long presentation, with 105 looks shown on models that did nothing to up the edge factor.
By the time Ross made her appearance, one expected a little diva behavior, yet she was surprisingly professional, like a scene out of “Mahogany.” Before the show, she even requested the soles of her shoes be scuffed up and one publicist was so taken by her performance that he swooned when she sweetly told him, “If you ever need me, call me.” Who wouldn’t be sweet for the custom-made sable coat she took home that night?
“Nobody’s doing it for nothing,” Basso said.
After Ross made her exit, dozens of Cipriani waiters attacked the room, whisking away the runway and turning the ballroom into a dinner-and-dance floor with a buffet spread. It only took an hour, which left some time to discover that among the guests, there were widely diverging opinions on the collection.
P. Diddy’s mother, Janice Combs, on one side, seemed a little deflated.
“I thought it was nice, but I was looking for a little more…” she said, searching for the right word and deciding on “stuff,” motioning with her hands the way a child might mime fireworks exploding. “You hate to have a show end when you expect so much.”
Jones, on the other hand, darted backstage to claim a white mink poncho for herself.
“Dennis knows I get first dibs,” she said, adding that she already owns five or six of his pieces.
Combs hung around for bit, then darted out the front door. She said, “Honey, I have so many furs, I can’t buy anymore.”
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