By  on February 6, 2002

Sure, William Ivey Long has gone off-Broadway before, but not this far. Because now, theater's top costume designer is digressing to Seventh Avenue, by way of Chelsea, where he will show his first eveningwear collection next week at his 20th Street town house. And he's doing it in that great theatrical tradition: with a little help from his friends, a group that just happens to have more Tonys than the Foreman family has Georgies. Long himself owns three, the most recent for his brilliant effort for "The Producers," in which he clothed nuns, the Village People and countless motley types in between. Then there's Wendy Wasserstein, Susan Stroman, Glen Kelly and Boyd Gaines, all of whom are working on the show, along with a lineup of chorus girls who are tapping their way downtown from the Shubert and St. James.

Wasserstein, Long's partner in the new company and longtime friend (the two go way back to the Yale Drama School), has written a delightful script; Stroman will direct and choreograph the six-scene show, Kelly will play the piano and debut his new song -- written just for the occasion -- "I Love Your Dress," while Gaines acts as emcee. "Even if people hate the clothes," Long says, "at least they should have a good time."

But don't mistake that sentiment for excessive confidence. Lest anyone wonder why someone accustomed to the mega-theatrical opening would fret over a production before a fashion crowd of only 85 guests -- yes, just 85 chairs fit under the trio of mail-order chandeliers in his newly renovated parlor -- Long explains quite simply that here, he is a virgin.

"The humility I am feeling right now -- it is great," Long says with Southern solemnity. "The humility I feel manifests itself about 4 p.m. in the afternoon, when I have been known to toss my cookies."

The venture, always a partnership with Wasserstein, began as a lingerie line, but evolved into a full-fledged eveningwear collection. Working on ideas for the original project, Long found himself sketching fewer bras and panties and more and more slips, which eventually morphed into dancing dresses. And then he thought, why not just go all the way, right up to an ode to Charles James, whom Long admittedly "stalked" as a young man and later apprenticed himself to when both lived at the Chelsea Hotel.

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