By  on January 31, 2005

NEW YORK — The guest of honor wore red, but it was Oleg Cassini, not Santa Claus, who helped Lord & Taylor reel in a record crowd of 700 Wednesday night at the Fifth Avenue flagship.Die-hard fans lined up 75 minutes before the scheduled start time to greet the charismatic designer. Others inquired about buying the vintage pieces displayed in the store windows. Cassini quickly doled out 100 copies of his book, “One Hundred Days of Magic,” a pictorial valentine that details his outfitting Jacqueline Kennedy during her White House years. But that didn’t deter Cassini’s admirers, who insisted he sign whatever they had on hand.Even the designer was impressed by the breadth in age and races of the women who turned up, and many had done a bit of a background check on Cassini. “They knew all about me. They knew my age. They knew what I had designed,” he said. “Some said their husbands were jealous of me because of the women I have dressed.”Cassini was as famous for his engagement to Grace Kelly and his marriage to Gene Tierney as he was for suiting up and befriending Kennedy. “All these women — young, middle-aged, some old — they had this idea of me being the ultimate vision of fashion,” he said somewhat incredulously. “For them, I am somebody. It’s very difficult for me to tell you what I feel without appearing a braggadocio.”His personal appearance was a homecoming of sorts for the 91-year-old designer. His name, sketches of his face and his new sportswear were splashed all over the flagship, including in the Fifth Avenue windows. That was something that hadn’t happened in more than 50 years.Peter Arnold, Stan Herman, Ruth Finley, Patrick McMullan, Mary Ann Restivo, Joanna Mastroianni and Joseph Abboud helped Cassini and Lord & Taylor’s president and chief executive officer, Jane Elfers, mark the occasion. Abboud, who mentions Cassini in his new book, “Threads,” said he wanted to join the party since the designer influenced his own career. “When I was 14, my sister bought me my first designer shirt. It was an Oleg Cassini, and I kept it in its package to pay homage to it,” Abboud said.The designer’s bridal collection is also selling at David’s Bridal, a 240-unit division of May Co. that expects to sell about 50,000 Cassini wedding dresses this year. For the first time, Cassini’s platinum bridal collection will be sold at Harrod’s this spring. That would explain why Cassini didn’t revel in the merriment. He was back at work first thing Thursday morning.

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