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R.S.V.P. : Tips for Stylish Trip Down Bad-Taste Lane

In the car culture of Los Angeles, the limousine may be the ultimate status symbol. A quick look through the Yellow Pages reveals a dizzying array of accouterments with which one can appoint a hired car: moon roofs, color TVs, VCRs, quadraphonic stereo systems with CD players, wet bars, fax machines, bodyguards, cellular phones, and even “personalized napkins” (the final touch to an elegant evening).

The question: When does the well-appointed limousine run the red light of decorum and crash squarely into bad taste?

“Limos with Jacuzzis are in decidedly bad taste, as are those stretch-stretch-stretch limos,” best-selling author Jackie Collins says, adding that she believes the elegant car can only come in black, white or silver.

Charlie Scheips, project manager for ART-LA89, the L.A. Contemporary Art Fair, is even more strict. “I don’t think they should be anything but black,” he says. “And believing that a limousine makes you a more important person is in very bad taste.”

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“The redeeming value of a limousine is to be in company you enjoy without worrying about the driving,” restaurateur Piero Selvaggio says. “I see the new long stretch limos, and I think I would not like to be inside. I would feel silly.

"(Limousines in) colors are even worse. They are looking to other people to be noticed. They’re stretching it, like they’re stretching the limo itself.”

Ellen Byrens, a Beverly Hills socialite and charity worker who often travels by limousine, stresses that “black is the only acceptable color. Really, they’re only for transportation, not entertainment. Have you heard about the ones with the hot tubs? Disgusting.” As for the new super stretch limos, the ones that almost require a flexible joist in the middle to traverse corners, Byrens says, “they should live in them--not ride them.”

Screenwriter Bruce Wagner, who began his Hollywood career as a limo driver, has developed his own opinions on limousines from the perspective of both the front and the back seats. “Stretch limousines are really for the nouveaux riche ,” he says, the curled lip evident in his voice. “When I see one of those block-long stretch limousines, I know the person inside is one of two things: Either some prom kid, or some guy who pays for Ike Turner’s bail or something.”

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