FASHION FEAST

Byline: Norah Zis

NEW YORK — Runny scrambled eggs, weak o.j. and negative elbow space is the standard Sunday brunch experience in New York City. But juicy people watching can make it all worthwhile — and that’s the secret ingredient at Marion’s Continental Restaurant and Lounge on Bowery Street at Great Jones.
One Sunday a month, from October to June, hungry herds flock to the eatery on the promise of food, drink and lots of fun when Marion’s plays host to a tandem brunch/fashion show. Sipping a Bloody Mary while hip-swinging models prance about is sure to cure the toughest hangovers. And it’s a fair price — at least by Manhattan standards — at $17.95.
After 11 years, Marion’s fashion brunch is something of an institution with the downtown crowd who come to see fashions on anyone from preppy Connecticut types to lads in fabulous drag. So it’s not unusual to hear regulars recall rambunctious past shows. Models straddling patrons, models eating off diners’ plates, models dancing on tables — it’s all been on the menu at some point. All good for digestion, of course.
Sponsored by Boru Vodka, Marion’s provides the venue at no cost for two show times, at noon and 1:30 p.m., leaving the designers in charge of the production. Andrea Mantel, the restaurant’s managing director, chooses who will show, and her picks are just as much about the designers’ fashions as it is their show style.
“It’s a great collaboration,” says Mantel. “For us, we get new customers that the designers bring in, and the designers get customers from our regular diners.” Pauline Cacucciolo, a friend of the bartender there, loves the event and has been going with her brunch buddies for years. “It feels like a local place,” she said.
At the last brunch, on April 7, David Quinn was the designer du jour, showing his spring sportswear to a packed house of mostly downtown folks. Before introducing Quinn, Mantel led the crowd in what many fashionistas believe is a much-needed salute. “Please join me for a moment of silence in honor of the legendary Yves Saint Laurent, who recently retired from fashion,” she said.
Then the models came out in full-on attitude, replete with big hair, big makeup and voluptuous figures. As they danced and strutted for the crowds, their diva-esque posturing had everyone cheering. By the end, it was difficult to tell who enjoyed it most, the models or the brunchers.
Marion’s has been host to many designers, including Betsey Johnson, Patricia Field, Tracey Feith and such retailers as Girlshop.com and Smaak. “The brunch acts as a fashion incubator, supporting fledgling talent,” says David Dalrymple, designer for House of Field. Mila Radulovic, who produced a Rebecca Danenberg show there, agrees. “It’s been a launching pad for East Village designers who don’t have the big bucks for the tents,” she says, adding that it played a key part in boosting Danenberg’s career.
The next show, scheduled for May 5, is sure to be a favorite: Monni McCleary’s “Loungewear Betty” lingerie line. Mantel has already ordered something special to wear that day, explaining that “it’s like the year 2002 version of Frederick’s of Hollywood. It’s a celebration of being a girl.”

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