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In a classic Jeanne-Marie Lanvin outfit reminiscent of Paris in the 1920s, Taylor Conrad wowed the crowd at the annual Brandywine Heights High School Dine and Design Fashion Show.

Her white shift accented by a wide-brimmed serpentine hat brought oohs and aahs as Taylor strolled among the crowd at Janelle’s Restaurant Catering Hall during the school’s annual fashion show.

“I wanted to bring back the Great Gatsby era,” said William Sholedice, 18, the Brandywine senior who designed the Lanvin replica.

Indeed, for two sold-out shows on a recent Saturday, the Bowers restaurant was transformed into a mecca for fashions by designers like Lanvin, Christian Dior and Givenchy.

Students in Brandywine’s art club were challenged to create replicas of fashions by famous designers and model them in a setting patterned after The Patio restaurant at Hess’s department store in Allentown.

Hess’s, which no longer exists, had featured fashions by internationally known designers in its exclusive French Room.

Models would stroll among patrons at The Patio in Bob Mackie originals while a voice on the intercom would announce, “This garment can be purchased in the French Room for $8,000.”

Three former Hess’s models – Pam Shirk of Wyomissing, Lisa Wartzenluft of Kutztown and Jo-Ann West of Allentown – were guests of honor at the dinner and fashion show.

For several hours, Janelle’s was transformed into The Patio.

Framed photos and paintings of Hess’s, once an Allentown landmark, adorned the walls. Original Hess’s fashions were displayed on manikins. And memorabilia, including photos of Hess’s models, were on exhibit.

Hess’s matchbooks, postcards and other collectables were put up for auction.

“I wish the store would still be open,” said art club co-president Amber Heist, 18, who found the collectables on eBay.

The Hess’s theme was the brainchild of Sue Oswald of Topton, who teaches art at Brandywine.

“I loved Peter Max fashions, and Hess’s was the only place that had them,” Oswald said. “I couldn’t afford a Peter Max dress, but I bought four of his shirts.”

Oswald still has the shirts by Peter Max, whose 1968 “LOVE” poster was emblematic of ’60s pop culture.

For many who attended, the show brought back memories of a bygone era.

Student waitresses wearing white dresses stamped with Hess’s tri-colored logo served guests The Patio’s famous Mile High strawberry pie.

Judy Lear Leach, 68, of Allentown grew up a few blocks from the Ninth Hamilton streets store.

She recalled Hess’s annual fashion show and its basement sales that drew crowds that lined the sidewalks outside the store. And, she remembered seeing actor Rock Hudson during a personal appearance at Hess’s.

“The best part of Hess’s was the ambiance,” said Leach, a retired therapist who once worked at The Lutheran Home at Topton. “You felt like you were the best person in the world when you shopped at Hess’s.”

Sharon Howe, 64, of Mertztown recalled going to The Patio as a child.

“They served kids meals on a play stove, and their desserts came in a play refrigerator,” Howe said. “The children’s eyes danced with excitement.”

Founded in 1897 by Max and Charles Hess, the store opened as Hess Brothers and quickly became an Allentown favorite.

Under Max Hess Jr., the store’s buyers traveled to France and other fashion capitals and purchased the latest fashions of the day. He also recruited movie stars and personalities, including Liberace, Sophia Loren and James A. Michener, to make personal appearances at the store.

Susan Koch, 69, of Upper Macungie, a former Hess’s buyer, said Max Hess Jr. was a marketing genius who ran a tight shop.

Once, when she ran the Pacesetter Shop, Hess walked in and spotted a hanger out of place on a clothing rack.

“He threw all the garments on the floor, and told me to put them back and get it right,” Koch recalled. “He had a class act, and he ran it like a class act.”

An excerpt from the PBS documentary, “Hess’s: Hollywood on Hamilton,” showed models in lingerie and bathing suits from fashion shows in the 1960s.

Fifty years later, the images of scantly dressed models still brought gasps of astonishment from the crowd.

In all, about 70 Brandywine juniors and seniors participated in the Dine and Design.

The juniors were challenged to accessorize hooded sweat shirts, while seniors were given the task of recreating haute couture.

Danielle Savaki, 17, a senior, used carpet backing, string and several colors of balloons to recreate a Bob Mackie original designed for Cher.

“Originally,” Savaki said, “it was made of feathers.”

Kendall Spangler’s fruit roll-up and died coffee filter dress, modeled by Selene Jones, was inspired by an 1980s Oscar de la Renta.

Frances Procaccio, 18, a senior, used translucent vellum in her version of Arnold Scaasi’s elegant leaf dress, originally designed for New York socialite Gayfryd Steinberg.

Worn by her younger sister, Andrea, 15, the dress exuded a mystical sprite-like quality.

“I feel very professional,” Andrea said. “Like a model.”

Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or rdevlin@readingeagle.com.

Apr 10th, 2011 | Posted in Fashion
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