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Fashion: Show and Sell

At Bendel's open call, unknown designers try to make the cut.

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Although no one was clutching a head shot, the line snaking around Henri Bendel last Wednesday looked like a cattle call for Sex and the City extras. But the fashionable folk struggling with garment bags, rolling suitcases, and hatboxes outside the venerable department store weren't there to act alongside Sarah Jessica Parker. They were there to dress her -- well, someday. More than 400 up-and-coming designers lined up as early as 5:30 a.m., invited (via ads in WWD) to present their clothing, accessories, beauty, and home lines to buyers from each department. The new-talent bazaar, on an eight-year hiatus until this year, is where Anna Sui, Todd Oldham, and Susan Lazar were discovered.

Cigmond, a milliner wearing a top hat adorned with silk scallions, had hopes of similar Seventh Avenue success. "I've gotten good response from SoHo boutiques," she said. "But not many can handle my price point" -- she asks up to $600 for her fruit- and vegetable-decorated hats. The store was undecided. Ling-Shan Li's printed-silk dresses are already sold in Saks, Takashimaya, and Za_o. The designer insisted that they also belonged in Henri Bendel, and the buyers agreed. Bridget Daly Gerety took the day off from her photo-editor gig at Scientific American. "I can stand rejection," she said bravely, bear-hugging a garment bag full of silk charmeuse. Good thing: "I didn't even finish pulling it all out of the bag," she lamented later.

Jessie Della Femina, 15, joined the group at 11 a.m. "I just got out of French class," the Spence student (and Jerry's daughter) said breathlessly. "I've only been doing this for four months!" Bendel's snapped up her resortwear sarongs. What's she planning next? "I have to finish high school," sighed the debut designer, with a glance at her mom.


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