Seconds Best


Once Tom Bruno has a celebrity in his sights, she almost never gets away.

"I saw Morgan Fairchild at breakfast one morning and said, 'Morgan, that white dress you had on the other night, you've worn it already. It was all over the Globe, the Enquirer. Give it to me."

The actress politely declined but eventually offered up several alternatives.

Bruno, a design consultant and sometime sales associate at Theodore in Beverly Hills, and accomplice Patti Cappalli, a fashion designer-turned-pet product entrepreneur, could barely contain their glee last week as they sifted through racks of loot. Together with a few assistants, the pair has been working every day, night and weekend for months to solicit and organize what could amount to the largest sale of one-of-a-kind and limited-edition designer clothing the public has seen since MGM Studios auctioned off its costume library in the 1960s.

The cache of pre-owned garments--many of them with the original tags still intact--will be priced to move under the "Gently Used" banner during Divine Design '96, which runs today through Tuesday at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Along with about 50 other discount boutiques (stocked by such designers as Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Richard Tyler, Tommy Hilfiger and Mossimo), the shop will help raise money for the AIDS charities Project Angel Food and DiFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS).

The six-day fund-raiser also showcases more than 40 fantasy rooms created by top interior designers. Visitors can walk away with decorating ideas--or with a piece of the $2 million in furniture and home accessories for sale on the same floor.

To stock Gently Used, Bruno collected hundreds of items--gowns, cocktail dresses, suits and sportswear--formerly owned by socialites and celebrities. Sizes range from 2 to 14. "We are picking up about 10 new items every day," he says during the final week of preparations. Donations from Alana Stewart, Joan Van Ark, Barry Manilow, Paula Abdul, Elton John and Linda Gray had recently joined items given by Elizabeth Taylor, Sharon Stone and Bette Midler, among others.

"Just look at this stuff. This is absolutely fabulous," Cappalli says, holding up a red Scaasi cocktail dress with floral appliques.

The donor?

"Well, it's obviously from somebody very tiny, somebody who likes red," she says with a hint of mischief. "It's from Michael Jackson."

Cappalli is also particularly fond of a red sequin-covered bustier and long matching skirt made by Armani. What sold for $4,000 new will go for $1,000 on opening night and even less if it languishes on the rack. Items still available on Saturday will be marked down daily, hitting 90% off on Tuesday.

Bruno's favorite is a St. John knit jacket and matching skirt in mint condition. "[Cosmetics pitchwoman] Tova Borgnine wore this on QVC one day for two hours," he says. "Look, it even has the dyed-to-match shoes and the little green suede handbag that goes with it." At $600 for the works, it's 75% off original retail.

"[And] Tom has donated some things from his personal wardrobe . . . like this," teases Cappalli, holding up a pink silk ottoman coat with marabou-cuffed sleeves.

"Yeah, I wore it all the time at home to tell my guests that dinner was now being served," he fires back.

Actually, Phyllis Diller wore it once, to an awards banquet. Her suitcase of donations also included A-line dresses and cocktail shifts by her personal designer, "Omar of Omaha." But Bruno predicts a fight over the gold lame matador pants and psychedelic-print poncho.

"Can't you just see it with a pair of white go-go boots?"

* Tickets, $20, are available at the door. Info: (310) 201-5033.

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