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Camping Out with Hot Dogs, But No Nouvelle Restraint

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Glenn Bernbaum pitched a tent last night beside Mortimer's, his exclusive beanery on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and the social set descended with bells on. They love camping out for a good cause.

''It's called Fete de Famille, a family get-together to support the fight against AIDS,'' Mr. Bernbaum said, peering over his trusty hornrims as Nancy Kissinger, Bill Blass, Jerry Zipkin and 600 others drifted into the tent on Lexington Avenue at 75th Street.

More than $1 million was expected to be raised at the party and a related raffle next Monday - all for the new AIDS Care Center at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

As high-profit benefits go, this one started out on a low key. Dress was not black tie. Dinner was hot dogs, chili, and Mortimer's own little ''society sandwiches.'' And one of the entertainers was Christopher Mason, a 27-year-old wag from England, who held forth at a piano inside the restaurant with an original song dedicated to the so-called Nouvelle Society and titled ''The Nouvelle Restraint.'' Lacroix made them big and was king for a day But the pouf had the fate of a fallen souffle Bold simplicity both in behavior and dress Is the new fad that's purged this last year of excess.

Old guard leaders like Judy Peabody and Pat Buckley laughed. So wicked, this nascent Noel Coward, they said. Mrs. Buckley called for an end to ''Marie Antoinette time.'' Then Blaine Trump, Mai Hallingby and others in the new order laughed, too. When Mr. Mason came to the verse about charity galas resembling ''the last days of Rome,'' everyone looked around for Felix and Elizabeth Rohaytn. Ostracized for saying the same thing a few years ago, the Rohaytns bought tickets to the party but were nowhere to be seen at the time. 'Nouvelle or Vielle'

Some say the social milieu is undergoing a correction, like the stock market. Not Arnold Scaasi. ''There is no restraint,'' the designer of party dresses insisted, ''nouvelle or vielle.''

What there is, said Mario Buatta, is the appearance of restraint. ''The press has been laughing at the nouvelles, so now they're trying to blend in with the crowd,'' the interior decorator said, rolling his eyes.

Sister Parish is the soul of restraint, so there was no point in asking her. Or Betsy Whitney, the last of the three Cushing sisters, making a rare appearance on the party scene - in a red fedora. Cornelia Guest was there too - in red hair - as were Dominick Dunne, Fran Lebowitz, Malcolm Forbes and John Fairchild, the publisher of Women's Wear Daily, who coined the term Nouvelle Society. Mr. Fairchild said nothing about the nouvelle restraint but he did kiss Pauline Trigere, who has been pleading for a reconcilation with him in full-color ads.

Other fashion designers in the tent were Mary Ann Restivo, Carolina Herrera and Donna Karan. Miss Karan repeated a prediction of two weeks ago that ''home-cooked dinners'' soon will hold sway, so she may be for the nouvelle restraint.

Then a Brazilian band marched through the tent, followed by three women in sequined G-strings and feathered headdresses. Everyone followed them into the bar where the women gyrated to drum beats and it appeared that the nouvelle restraint was no more.

Nice try.

Click here to read this story at nytimes.com

 
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Christopher Mason