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Valentino at the Vinoy certainly a haute ticket

New York came to St. Petersburg on Friday in a dazzling parade of couture clothing.

Valentino at the Vinoy brought high energy, professional lighting, pumping music and lithe models to the runway in the ballroom at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

Event sponsors were the Stuart Society of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Marcelina in Tampa, Northern Trust Bank and Buccellati Inc.

The bay area seldom sees shows of this caliber: The clothes were from the Italian designer's collection for spring 2003, the jewelry from Buccellati, the furs from Helen Yarmak.

All weekend, the show was the talk of the bay. The tall, slim women who strode the catwalk in skyscraper sandals wore little underneath their garments; unlike some of the rest of us, they seemed to require no structural support.

In fashion capitals such as New York, Paris and Milan, it is understood that slender frames and exceptional heights are the features that best show designer apparel. Distinguishing characteristics may propel human "hangers" to supermodel status, but the chief focus is the clothes.

These featured silk, linen and tropical weight wools, some heavily textured, some gossamer sheer. The fabrics were cut sublimely and featured detailing such as pleats, tucks, embroidery and beads.

Pale pink paired with camel; Buccellati's gold link accessories echoed the interwined circles that characterized many of the Valentino fabrics.

Mary Perry chaired the event, which was filled to capacity with no invitations sent.

Among the volunteers and guests who filled the room were Bonita Cobb, Fran Risser, Greta Myers, Susan Beaven, Anje Bogott, Barbara DeMaire, Demi Rahall, Starr Weihe, Carol Upham, Susan Wallace, Louise Weaver, Sheila Mutchler, Anne Long, Sally Habermeyer, Cary and Joan Putrino, Brenda Kinard, Cary Bond Thomas, Sally Wallace, Fay Baynard, Donna Painter, Glenn Mosby, Carol Ann Rhodes, Susan Osher, Michelle Routh, Dr. Linda McClintock Greco, Betty Wood, Carol Mallah and Paula Park.

Thursday night, Perry and a team of volunteers that included Tina Douglass, Cindy Weatherby and Anne Anderson assembled the table arrangements that held a spectacular melange of flora: artichokes, limes, green apples, red grape clusters, oyster mushrooms, white eggplants, white roses, variegated pittosporum and eucalyptus.

Maureen Rorech Dunkel opened a Valentino boutique in Marcelina, the private women's club in Tampa she launched in 2001.

"We felt that it was worthwhile to wait about a year to launch our first event, which introduced the Valentino brand to the (bay area) marketplace," she said Monday.

Subsequent events will be infrequent and "extremely selective," she said. "Once a year is the maximum. You wouldn't want to overplay this card."

Big-league anglers mingled later Friday in the Vinoy's Palm Court Ballroom at the Fishermen's Ball, one of numerous events held in connection with Chuck Lamar's Mercury Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament.

The Rays general manager is honorary chairman of the event, which raises money for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation Inc.

Alas, I am ignorant of the luminaries in sport fishing, but I did recognize television celebrity James Sikking (Doogie Howser, M.D.; Hill Street Blues), who was signing autographs as I entered.

Also attending were Jack Critchfield, Cynthia Lake, Vince and Lenda Naimoli, Glenda Young, Dick Crippen, Dr. Stephen Updegraff, Dr. Ambrose Updegraff, Larry Weiner, Frank Chivas, Gary Connors and Mike Alstott.

The tournament committee's Kristie Hellinger took me to see the high-stakes auction items, which included Rolex watches, a Ranger 200C boat with motor and trailer, use of a Mercedes Benz for a year and the Odyssey Marine Exploration near Gibraltar and Costa Del Sol next summer.

The already glittering residence of Don and Erika Wallace on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa took on additional wattage Saturday night, when jewels from Harry Winston in New York were on display at Fall Gala by the Bay to benefit the Florida Council on Education.

The organization works with teachers to help students better understand economics and money decisions.

Erika Wallace wore an exquisite ruby and diamond pendant on loan for the occasion; representatives from the council and from Harry Winston added sparkle in borrowed jewels.

On view in lighted cases were signature pieces such as the life-size ruby slippers Ronald Winston designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary film version of The Wizard of Oz; the bejeweled "Peace '91" Mask that represents the American flag in sapphires, rubies and diamonds; a red, white and blue ribbon pin designed in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks; and the Winston Falcon, an 18-karat gold hawk that Ronald Winston modeled after the original prop from The Maltese Falcon (1941). A flawless pear-shaped diamond of nearly 43 carats hangs from a platinum chain in its beak.

Whoopi Goldberg and Winston collaborated on the pendant she wore during one of her appearances as host of the Academy Awards. It, too, was showcased _ a stunning ornament of black diamonds, white diamonds and pink sapphires.

In the crowd were Frank Sanchez; Courtney Frank; Geoff Simon; Cathy Unruh and Tom Sansone; Tim Main and Donna Tyler, her brother Jeff Gonzalez and his fiancee, Melonie Wilkerson; Don Fell and Trina Carroll-Houk; Cathy Mannello and Shelley Mizrahi.

Celebrities often generate trends in jewelry. Remember the Princess of Wales' sapphire and diamond engagement ring? Oprah Winfrey's diamond teardrop earrings? The blue-stone pendant Kate Winslet wore in Titanic?

I'm no forecaster of the zeitgeist, but it's my guess that fancy, or colored, diamonds will be the Next Big Thing.

The Richard Wright character gave the Samantha Jones character a supersize emerald-cut canary diamond from Winston on HBO's Sex and the City last year; last week, Jennifer Lopez showed ABC-TV's Diane Sawyer her 5-carat pink diamond engagement ring from Ben Affleck.

For the record, the jeweler's representatives are mum about whether the gem is from Harry Winston.

The On the Town Car traveled many miles attending additional events over the weekend; I'll write about those in Sunday's column.

_ Mary Jane Park can be reached at (727) 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail; or write to P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.