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Liberte, Egalite, Fashion Take the Stage

February 27, 2010

An attractive, eclectic crowd of fashion lovers stormed the gates of the French Embassy Sunday for the culmination of Fashion Week. The event spotlighted new designers bringing a forward-thinking esprit to the Washington fashion scene. 

Kalaa, a new women's contemporary clothing line, debuted a collection designed to capture culture and world travel in a professional wardrobe. "We blend ethnic textiles with Western silhouettes" said Nisha Thirumurthy, CEO, who was inspired to start designing while working as an energy consultant in Hong Kong. "I spent hours walking through Hong Kong, looking at woven textiles." (Detail from Kalaa Collection pictured at right)

Then, the Tuck School of Business MBA took her passion back to the villages of India, where fabrics not only inspire a Western designer's eye -- but help the craftswomen who weave and sell the textiles.

"Our clothes are very wearable in day-to-day life, and they also reflect India's rich handloom  tradition," Nisha said. Her business partner, Katherine Bates (to the right of Thirumurthy, photo right), brings a New Yorker's sense of immediacy to the clothes. "Through my world traveling," said the California native, "I became more and more interseted in the exquisite cuts of high fashion products, but wanted to see aspects from my travels incorporated in the detailing." A Californian openness combines with a global flavor to inform Kalaa's designs. See more here.

Speaking of flavor, Mie 'n Yu's Emily Jarmuth and Oliver David donned stylish designs from Georgetown as they surveyed the scene from the VIP lounge. The eclectic international restaurant has consistently raised the fashion and global hipness factor in Georgetown. For her part, events manager Jarmuth wore several items of clothing bought in Georgetown boutiques. "It's the only part of Washington with a distinct style," Jarmuth said. "It's our Manhattan." For his part, Oliver is a fashion designer himself. "I'm insprired by Edith Head," he said, referring to the famous Hollywood costume creator. (Emily Jarmuth and Jimmie Jones, FashionWeek DC associate producer pictured at left)

Just beyond the catwalks and the camera's was a mini-boutique set up by Heydari, the Georgetown women's clothing designer. "Heydari" is Mariam Heydari, who combines and exotic Eastern aesthetic with a modern women's sense of movement and style. "After 25 years in retail," her Web site says, "I learned that clothing has to be comfortable, in motion and at rest." Light fabrics float around the body, flattering and concealing in just the right measures. Heydari's captivating collections have led to three separate stores in the area, including Helia's at 1338 Wisconsin Ave. NW. A new jewelry line in gold, silver and gun metal offers pearl wearers a stylish yet simple alternative to the repetitive and mundane. See more here.  

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CAG Goes Underground to Investigate Black History

February 25, 2010

"Escape on the Pearl," Mary Kay Ricks' gripping tale of the largest mass escape of fugutive slaves in American history, was the topic of the February meeting of the Citizens Association of Georgetown at Mt. Zion Church on 29th St. Monday. In the spare but elegant main hall of the church, speaking to about 100 Georgetown residents, Ricks swept away the monochromatic myth of courageous whites helping meek and frightened blacks as they escaped slavery on the "Underground Railway." Instead, she described some of the clandestine and extreme measures to which blacks had to go to escape legalized bondage.

The event drew a wide cross-section of Georgetowners.

"I shouldn't admit it, but I don't come to these meetings that often," said Carl Colby, filmmaker son of William E. Colby, the ex-CIA director. Colby is set to release a two-hour documentary film about his controversial father, who also lived in Georgetown. "I'm a huge fan of Mary Kay and her husband Tom Ricks." The latter, erstwhile author of Fiasco and Washington Post reporter, will appear in the documentary premiering this spring.

Besides the official history on the agenda, there was plenty of unofficial history of the meeting's attendees. Frida Burling, hosting the author at her home before the event, greeted Colby like a son. "We've been friends for four generations," the stately Burling announced. Burling's son, David Winslow Burling, was Best Man at Colby's wedding. (Pictured at left: Pamela Hinds, Frida Burling and Bo Jonsson)


The Big Brains were out in force. Patrick Clawson, Deputy Director for Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and senior editor of Middle East Quarterly, also came to hear Ricks' remarks. "I am a regular at CAG meetings," he said. Clawson described enthusiastically a historical reenactment in Georgetown in which he had participated.

But academics weren't the only ones interested. Carter Bowman of Mt. Zion introduced Ricks with some stirring words, and Catherine Bowman, his sister (at left, with Thomas Brock) offered a real-life perspective on the evening's topic. "I was born and raised in Georgetown," she said. "There are only nine black families still living here."

In the 1920s, Bowman said, Georgetown was segregated. "We had separate schools, separate churches." Black families were concentrated between 24th and 28th Streets, she said. Above P Street, all the residents were white. President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed for equality among the races, and the most stringent forms of segregation eased. Then, with the advent of the Kennedys in Georgetown, the atmosphere became more tolerant, Bowman said, but the rising profile of Georgetown as a social hub drove real estate prices up. "What became of the black people of summer?" Carter Bowman intoned, introducing Ricks. "They forgot their history, and they died."

CAG President Jennifer Altemus had a parallel experience in her professional role at the Library of Congress, hosting the Dalai Llama during his visit to Washington last week. "He was so calm," she said. "He was so humble and relaxed. He made everyone feel at ease." That's the same feeling Altemus, CAG executive director Betsy Cooley (pictured above between Patrick Clawson and Jennifer Altemus) and program director Robin Jones gave the attendees as they gathered for a pre-meeting reception on the church's first floor.  

But don't be deceived. Altemus is busy preparing her fellow board members for the public discussion of the Georgetown University plan, which will likely stir debate. The University's aggressive growth and sometimes high-handed attitude toward residents has evolved into a cautious coexistence.

Speaking of controversy, ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels expressed displeasure that Philly Pizza, which, due to community efforts, was supposed to be shut down by D.C. regulatory authorities, was still operating. "Someone called them today, and they said they'd be open til 12:30 a.m.," he said, shaking his head.

Carl Colby with longtime friend and Georgetown doyenne Frida Burling.

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Mayflower Blooms for Festive 85th

February 22, 2010

Family and friends joined Mayflower Hotel General Manager Satinder Palta to raise a special glass of bubbly Wednesday at a reception to kick off the venerable hotel's 85th anniversary year. The site of presidential inaugural balls since Calvin Coolidge's in 1925, the iconic hotel is celebrating with a special rate and a series of events, including a Diamond Dinner, Champagne & Orchids Ball, and Mother & Daughter Dress-Up Afternoon Teas. (Satinder with Hisaoka Communications President Wendy Gordon, right)

It was at the Mayflower that FDR threw birthday bashes, Winston Churchill attended a State Dinner, Ronald Reagan's and Gerald Ford's funerals were planned, where Eliot Spitzer a.k.a. George Fox had a number of expensive encounters with a female "escort," and John F. Kennedy, as a young Congressman, kept an apartment. J. Edgar Hoover ate lunch almost every day there for 20 years. And President Harry Truman lived at the Mayflower for 90 days, leading to its moniker as Washington's "second best address." (The "best address" would be... Georgetown?)

David Marriott, son of the famous hotel brothers Bill and Richard -- who own the hotel as part of Marriott's luxury Renaissance chain -- mingled jovially on the swish mezzanine level for the kickoff toast. True to the Marriott hallmarks of hard work and keeping business in the family, David started out as a sous chef in a Salt Lake City Marriott.

"I washed dishes, too," he said. Now that Marriott is a global hotel brand, it's easy to forget that it was a restaurant company for its first 30 years, starting as a root beer stand. Asked what he thought of a new USDA study claiming that eating out once a week causes an average two-pound weight gain per person per year, Marriott waved it off. "That's ridiculous," he said. He looked fit and trim, as do all the Marriotts. Maybe they don't eat out? "We eat out all the time," David said. (Pictured with Marriott's Gordon Lambourne, above.)

GM Palta described the days when a pre-presidential Barack Obama stayed at the hotel regularly. He had one Secret Service officer with him then. One morning, as Palta stepped outside his room to pick up the newspaper, he saw a shadow down the hall doing the same. "Hey Satinder, what are ya doing?" asked the junior Senator from Illinois.

"Going to work out," said the manager.

"I'll go with you," the future president said. They ended up playing pick-up basketball at the nearby YMCA. The Mayflower holds 15 memberships to the Y, so that guests can swim in an olympic-sized pool if they like. The Y is not just popular among hotel honchos and future presidents. Media bigwigs like Bloomberg's Al Hunt and The Washington Post's Amy Argetsinger work out there too.

Obama, Hunt and Argetsinger are just the latest denizens of a unique neighborhood anchored by the hotel. Marilyn Jarboe and John Mack (with Keith McClinsey,  pictured above) actually grew up at the Mayflower, where their father was General Manager from 1941-1970."In the 40s, there were only five hotels in town," said Jarboe. "We're Mayflower people. It's our family."

In anticipation of its 85th anniversary, the Mayflower issued an “amnesty” request for guests to return items that had been taken from or given away by the hotel throughout the years. Banquet chairs, the cufflinks of a former General Manager, even a bathtub are now displayed in the Treasures Returned exhibit curated by hotel historian Keith McClinsey.

The hotel will offer a special 85th Anniversary rooms package that is available weekends through February 2011. The rock-bottom rate is $185 per night and includes deluxe accommodations, breakfast for two in the Café Promenade, a bottle of Iron Horse Vineyards customized signature Mayflower 85th Anniversary Sparking Wine and a collection of 15 Historic Mayflower postcards. A deal like that has to cause a renaissance in the Washington hotel market.

The Renaissance Mayflower Hotel is located at 1127 Connecticut Avenue, NW. For more information, call 202-347-3000 or visit


Photos: Above right, Greg Thornton and Stephanie Johnson. "Oscar," a longtime Mayflower staff member, is honored, right. John Arundel, Associate Publisher of Washington Life, with Beth Solomon and WL's Senior Editor Kevin Chaffee. Above left, Capitol File's Jennifer Blacker with Chaffee.

Photos by RJSmith.

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