By and  on February 3, 2006

NEW YORK — The designers honored as "Icons in Black & White" by the Council of Fashion Designers of America could have provided enough personal color to jazz up the two-tone event at the Whitney Museum here Wednesday night.

But the icons were never offered the microphone, and a representative from the evening's sponsor, Pantene, wound up doing most of the scripted speaking. And with show week on the horizon, many in the crowd had their minds on other things or, in some cases, their eyes on the door.

Standing beneath oversized photographs of the honorees' signature work, Stan Herman offered pithy comments about Oleg Cassini, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Mary McFadden, Diane von Furstenberg and Vera Wang. Karan and Klein missed the festivities, which was not lost on the crowd.

"A lot of people are not here. They're conspicuous by their absence," said Yeohlee Teng, who admitted to flipping a coin to decide whether she should have taken the time just days away from her runway show. "I thought it was important to show up for them. That's why I'm here."

Peter Som also ventured out. Asked if he had any reservations about skipping out of his showroom, Som said: "We're actually in somewhat good shape. I say that somewhat hesitantly because we must be doing something right or something wrong. Ask me next week."

McFadden mulled over the passage of time, which was fitting, considering her days are being spent on the museum lecture circuit discussing ancient civilizations. Asked if she thought the idea of receiving an iconic award was premature, McFadden laughed: "I'm getting so old. I am old," although her escort, Gideon Lewin, joked: "I was Mary's date for the night and she left me for a younger man."

But McFadden was pleased American fashion was being honored, especially the diversity of it. She also liked that most of the designers selected early pieces to be modeled at the party, since that is what defined their careers.

Von Furstenberg admitted she wasn't always crazy about the 1976 Newsweek portrait she supplied for the event. She said, "I didn't like the photo at the time it was taken. You know how it is ... you wait five years and you love the photo."Sophie Vlaming said she was honored to have been chosen to re-create Brooke Shields' look in the controversial "Nothing Comes Between Me and My Calvins" ad, even though the Dutch model was born only eight years before Shields posed in jeans and a purple blouse.

"They made it perfectly work with my hair," she said. "It's cool."

Most of the other revelers abided by the black-and-white dress code suggested on the invite, save for CFDA executive director Steven Kolb, who roamed the room in a charcoal gray suit. "It's almost black," he said.

Monika Tilley offered Kolb some friendly advice on his first 7th on Sixth: "I told him to speak quietly and diplomatically," to which Kolb replied: "That was my intention going into it."

Afterward, Herman had his own diplomatic dealings at a dinner in Cassini's honor at Plaza Athénée. Urged to say a few words, Cassini thanked his guests and, eyeing Herman, said: "And you, the big betrayer."

Herman, a Cassini employee 57 years ago, showered Cassini with compliments and insisted he was the first name they came up with for the icon list. "You have at least given your heart to people. That's something I wish more designers would do," Herman said.

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