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Wednesday, March 7, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Running The Show -- David Mann Is The Woman Behind The Scenes Who Sets The Stage For High-Energy Fashion Presentation

In 1946, 20-year-old Lorraine David applied for a job at Frederick & Nelson. When she was asked how long she thought she would work, she replied, ``Probably a year.''

``I thought I would get married, stay home and have babies,'' she said.

Well, she did get married, did have babies, but she didn't stay home. The woman best known as David Mann has celebrated her 44th anniversary with Frederick's and the one-time model turned fashion coordinator is working like crazy to get ready for tomorrow's Spring '90 International Fashion Show - actually a series of 13 shows being done over the next week.

``I started out at 41 cents an hour,'' says Mann with a laugh as she talks about her early days at the store. ``That was good money for a young person then. I was so proud. Frederick & Nelson was the top retail store in the Pacific Northwest. It was really something to work here.''

Everybody called her by her last name, David, and somewhere along the line she simply dropped Lorraine.

She started in merchandising and went through the store's executive-training program.

``I was always interested in display and switched to that. I wanted the store mannequins to move.''

Fashion was another love, and she helped with fashion shows every chance she got. Along came a huge show at The Olympic Hotel (now the Four Seasons Olympic) and one of the models got sick. At the last minute, the fashion coordinator said, ``Get dressed and get out there, David.''

``I did and I loved it. I'm a big ham.''

She continued to model for years before becoming fashion coordinator.

In 1955, the late Bernice Caverly, fashion director of Frederick & Nelson, and William Street, president of the company, came up with the idea of presenting an Import Show that would bring high fashion to the Northwest with designs from the prestigious haute-couture houses of Europe.

Mann modeled in that first show, which later became the International Show of clothing from top American and European designers.

``The show was so different in the beginning,'' she said. ``Bernie (Caverly) did the commentary while each model came out one at a time. A trio of musicians provided elegant background music. Her commentary was so fascinating that one time I forgot to move and just stood on the runway listening until she said, `Thank you, David.' ''

Today's fast-paced International Show is much more like a Broadway production or live MTV. Few New York designer openings are its equal. Tomorrow, for example, about 165 designs will be shown in 45 minutes. The background music will be taped and sometimes as many as 12 to 15 models will appear on stage at the same time.

``When we first changed the format, some of the customers hated it and got up and walked out,'' Mann said. ``But they came back and learned to love it. It's entertainment.''

Shortly after the spring shows are over, Mann will start planning the fall show.

``I begin by listening to tapes in my car on my way to and from work. The music must reflect the clothes. Of course, I can't make the final selections until I see the clothes. Then I'll think `I need something lively for that outfit. Or I need something romantic for that gown.' ''

She works closely with fashion director Bonnie Sonksen.

``Bonnie goes to New York, Europe and California to the openings. She brings back the trends to us. She's really good at spotting new talent, too. It's wonderful to work with someone who has that interest and enthusiasm about fashion.''

So, how does she put the show together?

``Weeks before the International Show I begin picking out the clothes and arranging for the delivery. . . Sometimes I get nervous that they won't get here in time, afraid that those arriving by air will get fogged in someplace. I've even gone out to the airport to pick them up myself. Once, in the early days, for some reason the clothes were shipped by train in an empty cattle car. We had to climb up into the car which was filled with straw to get them.''

As soon as possible, she works out the order in which the clothes will be shown. Then come the fittings. There will be 23 female and three male models in tomorrow's show. She does all the fittings in one day.

Next, she pulls accessories - shoes, jewelry, gloves - for each outfit and puts them into shopping bags which are set next to the clothing.

She makes a chart that lists the model's name and the clothing and accessories to be worn and tapes it next to the model's backstage station. That way the dressers can make sure everything goes out on the runway the way it should look.

Rehearsals start about two days before the show. The first is done for the choreography, without the show clothes.

``Choreography comes easy to me,'' she said. ``Because I have modeled I can move easily to the music.''

``David runs on a fast track at these shows,'' Sonksen said. ``She's a real pro and her experience as a model is a great help. When she throws her headset down during a rehearsal and jumps up on the runway to show them how she wants it done, it gets done right.''

The first dress rehearsal is the day before the show. The final dress rehearsal starts at 8 a.m. the day of the show. The audience is store employees from all the Frederick & Nelson stores who jam pack the downtown store restaurant.

``They are the hardest critics of all,'' Mann said. ``I'm likely to have the shoe buyer say, `David, that shoe is absolutely wrong for that dress.' We've been known to make a change before the first noontime show.''

Marnie Crawford, Mann's daughter, is her assistant.

``She started when she was little more than a child,'' Mann said. ``She helped tape shoes for the shows at first.'' Masking tape is put on the soles of all the shoes so they won't get scuffed up.

Tomorrow, Mann will be wearing a headset, standing in the back of the room where she can see the show. Her daughter will be backstage.

``I'll pass questions and instructions back to her like `Is your ivory group ready?,' or `Things are dragging a bit. Speed it up a little.' ''

The clothes are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most expensive outfit in the spring show will be a $20,000 Carolyne Roehm evening design. Do Seattle women really pay that kind of money for clothes?

``Not a lot of them do, but there are some,'' Mann said. ``We have one customer who travels with her husband. She'll wear a gown once in Seattle, once in New York and once in Europe. She'll wear the gown maybe three or four times.''

Mann laughs now at things that once seemed disastrous.

``Once we were putting on a huge show in a hotel in Portland,'' she said. ``We blew the fuses with our lighting and music. The models froze on the runway. I jumped up on stage and said `This show is so hot that we blew the fuses. Please bear with us.' They did.''

She said she always worries that a model won't make it on time.

``It almost happened. I got a telephone call from a man who said he worked for the Washington State Patrol. He said one of our models had called them from the telephone in her car and said the car had broken down on the Evergreen Point Bridge. She asked him to call me and say she was on her way. She had gotten a ride with a truck driver.

``Another time we had the idea of using two darling 3-month-old lion cubs in the show. But they didn't care for show biz and came out snarling at the audience and clawing at the air. Needless to say, they appeared in the first show only.''

There's a great camaraderie between the models and the staff during the show. ``It's fun,'' said Hilary Heffernan who will be modeling in the shows for the second season. ``It's the only show like it in town with multiple showings. David is fun and easy to work with. She has a good eye for putting the right model in the right clothing, clothing that you feel good wearing. It helps very much that she's a former model herself.''

David Sabey attended his first International Fashion Show last fall right after he took over full ownership of Frederick & Nelson. He enjoyed the show so much he came back with a group of friends the next day.

``Fashion like this is a presentation of art,'' he said recently. ``We interpret fashion as art. Frederick & Nelson will continue to showcase culture and art.

``David is so warm and some of her personality comes through in the show. We're really lucky to have her. She needs an arena for the show and we're going to see that she has it.''

There is another family twist to the story of the woman behind the scenes. Seven years ago she married Hugh Mann, retired vice president of visual display for Frederick's. They met in 1946.

``We were good friends. I thought he was cute and lots of fun. But we were both dating the people we later married.''

Mann could still take a place on the runway if she had to. She has retained her model's figure and wears a size 6.

She doesn't exercise but ``I'm running all day in my job. I never wait for an elevator. I'm always running up or down the escalator. I hardly ever sit down.''

Nor does she diet.

``I'm a sweet freak,'' she admits.

Mann has no plan to retire in the near future.

``I love everything I do,'' she said. ``It's always different, always fresh and new. It's fun.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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