Who Will Glitter at Center Guilds' Fashion Show?

So much to do, so little time. "I started working out this morning at 3:30 a.m.!" joked a breathless Christine Rhoades, preparing to strut her stuff before a panel of judges at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Wednesday morning. "I can't believe I'm up and out this early!"

Looking super-slim in a black and sizzle-pink knit by St. John, Rhoades--daughter of new Center Chairman William Lyon--was among 100 women who auditioned for the chance to model in the Guilds' fashion show, set for Sept. 18 at the Center.

"I thought it would be a good way to take the day off!" teased Rhoades, pacing in a holding room with lanky Donna Bunce, who had also slipped into a slinky St. John for the tryouts (wearing a knit dress was a prerequisite--all the better for judges to examine each would-be mannequin's silhouette.) Besides being a member of the Mozart chapter of the Guilds, Rhoades is incoming president of the Center Stars, a busy-busy support group.

The judges--who included the fashion show's producer/director Carlton Burnett and Kitty Leslie, fashion coordinator for Newport Center Fashion Island--furiously scribbled notes at a small table as the women waltzed by.

"We're looking for a sense of style," said Leslie, looking like a super-model herself in crisp black linen walking shorts and matching jacket. "That's a big stage." (Indeed. When the show is presented, the models will parade before a 3,000-strong crowd in Segerstrom Hall.)

"Some people have it, and some don't," Leslie continued, with a wave of her pencil. "It's a confidence, a knowing how to put it all together."

Can a person fake it? Absolutely, Leslie said. Some of the most extraordinary models can seem plain and simple until they summon up their oomph-power. "I'll never forget a top model I knew coming up to me in a restaurant (as herself) to say hello," Leslie said. "I didn't recognize her. When they go on stage, they put on their glamour role the same way they've put on their makeup."

Burnett, known in local circles for the fashion extravaganza he annually stages for the Huntington Harbour Cancer League, said he was looking for women who had the potential "to make it happen."

"This is a big event, the first time in the country that a fashion show has been presented on stage at a performing arts center," he said. "We want women with the ability to transform themselves. They don't have to be professionals at this point. But they should be close."

When Burnett and a local modeling agency are finished with them, the women will be able to perform like superstars, he said. "I want people in the audience to look up and think: 'My God, that's my mother! I've never seen her look like that . Why hasn't she done this all of her life?' "

Also among the hopefuls was Diane Heidorn, a member of the Carmen Dragon chapter of the Guilds. "I just kept my head to the right the whole time," she piped, after taking her turn before the judges. "Just like I did when I was on a drill team in high school!"

Model wanna-be Betty Kraft, a member of the Arthur Fiedler chapter of the Guilds, looked upon the whole experience as an "adventure."

"This is great fun!" How did she prepare? "Oh, I've been doing a lot of looking in the mirror and a lot of walking."

Former model J. B. Howes, a member of the fashion show committee and president of the Carousel chapter of the Guilds, was one of the first to try out. "I tried to project confidence and fun," she said. "When I go to a fashion show, I like to watch a model who's having fun and looking great in her clothes."

Since she has young children, Howes has put her modeling career on hold. But she hopes to get back in the swim someday, she said. And she's not the least bit worried about becoming too old for the business. "Age is a matter of the mind. And if you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

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