St. John and its faithful

IT'S been two years since the palace coup, since faceless corporate executives seized control of the beloved St. John empire, drove out its royal family and attempted to drag it into the 21st century.

But the patent-pump brigade wasn't having it.

And after 18 stormy months at the Irvine-based fashion house, with a revolving door of senior execs and creative types, the queen is back at the helm: the grand dame herself, founder Marie Gray.

And last month, St. John fans, 350 of them, from as far away as Chicago, filed into a tent outside the Island Hotel in Newport Beach for the label's first runway show in two years. It was the first collection that reflected Gray's touch since she left in 2005. Gray, along with her daughter Kelly (1) — you remember, the blond who appeared in every ad for decades before that dark angel Angelina Jolie usurped the role — were both summoned back last fall as creative consultants.

"I am happy to be back," Kelly Gray said. Her parents built the company (St. John is Marie's maiden name), turning a neat knit dress into a $400-million empire. "We wanted to take the classics and give them a few tweaks."

That's right. The classics are back (4). So, too, are plenty of the swishy, silvery pieces and spiky boots (3) a hottie like Jolie adores. A high-collared leopard swing coat and a short black boat-neck shift (2) were two modern standouts.

But that's not what the faithful were wearing. The St. John ladies turned out in their beloved knit suits and layers of gold chains and pearls, despite the blazing afternoon. Hearts couldn't have been pounding faster.

Longtime customer Priscilla Ketscher (6) wasn't about to miss the comeback, and she perked up a dramatic coat with a girlish black bow around her ponytail. Togetta Ulmer (5) wore her heart on her rainbow-speckled bouclé sleeve.

Post-show, a trio of friends all named Donna were as giddy as teens at a Justin Timberlake concert. "We're all wearing St. John," said Donna Noble. Chiming in, Donna Datson stated the obvious: "Is there anything else?"