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Being There: An Affair to Remember

A night out with a singing couturier at the Red Cross One Hundred.


For their $50 to $100 tickets, the guests could marvel at how fashion, and an affinity for the late Princess of Wales, have linked Richmond socialite Fontaine Minor to someone who could be called the Robert Goulet of London.

The main event this night is a serenade by guest of honor David Emanuel, a couturier best known for co-creating Princess Diana's wedding gown. Emanuel recently has used his high-society design work to help launch a surprising career as a vocalist.

The evening, which Red Cross officials say raised about $54,000 for local programs such as disaster relief and emergency services, was by all accounts a success. "It's double what we expected," says Phyllis DeMaurizi, director of events and grants for the Greater Richmond Chapter of the American Red Cross, of the funds raised.

Shortly after 7:30, the perspiring guests are beckoned from the tent-draped lawn and waved onto a red carpet. They pass below large gold letters spelling "David" that are hanging from a second-story balcony. Once inside, they take seats in the Minors' foyer and living rooms. The scent of gardenia is everywhere. Gardenias dangle from silver garlands. Slim packages wrapped in white paper and tied with a red ribbon rest in all the rented white chairs. Unwrapped, each package reveals a David Emanuel CD, along with an itinerary for the night.

First up: a "salon concert" by Emanuel. WRIC's Lisa Shaffner, sharply dressed in a red satin gown and looking more like Sharon Stone than Roxanne Gilmore or Hillary Clinton, invites the men to doff their tuxedo jackets. She introduces Emanuel.

Emanuel, dressed in a white tuxedo with red carnation boutonniere, descends the staircase that is covered with red roses and a likeness of a red tulle dress. He performs a medley of tunes from "West Side Story": "Tonight, Tonight," "Maria" and "There's a Place for Us." His voice echoes through the halls like a lounge singer's does aboard a cruise ship.

Emanuel stops singing, and speaks softly, distilling what must be on everybody's minds: "The whole thing that binds it together between the Minors and the Red Cross is love. And love changes everything." He bursts into song once again. For another hour, Emanuel sings Anne Murray covers, show tunes, something he calls a "reggae version" of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Some people, especially those in chairs near the back, appear to grow hungry or thirsty and venture outdoors.

The pool in the back yard is pristine. Two fountains spring from it. The glow of five red crosses lights up the white wall that borders the pool. Only a few people seem bold enough to break away from the crowd to admire the pool closely.

A 6-foot ice sculpture of the Statue of Liberty towers over the banquet table in the backyard. Nearby stands the highly ornamented "Go Fish!" fish that Mrs. Minor commissioned mural artist Ed Trask to paint last year. "It has images of Princess Diana all over it," Trask explains. Trask is here on his 35th birthday.

Just after 9, the rest of the crowd spills out. Emanuel's concert is over. Outdoors, people mingle, eat and drink, and fuss over the flowers. Each table has a centerpiece. Each appears to be a cross section of a disco ball topped with white roses that form a box and red roses that form a cross. The flowers are then topped with a miniature red-tulle dress form. The entire assemblage somehow rotates.

Heath Rada, CEO of the American Red Cross' Greater Richmond Chapter, and his wife, Peggy, have just returned from a work-related trip to Africa. They stop and speak to former Lt. Gov. John Hager and his wife, Maggie.

Behind Rada, admirers and friends scramble to reach Fontaine Minor for a "hello" or, better yet, a picture. Some succeed. Minor wears a strapless red dress made of tulle that sparkles with a kind of silver glitter. She matches the centerpieces, the flowers, the flair of it all. A woman asks her if Emanuel designed her dress. He didn't, Minor tells her, but thanks her for "the compliment."

Then she races to catch up with Emanuel, who is being ushered outside.

In the doorway Rada pauses. He seems to understand a thing or two about the importance of making connections. The outpouring of emotion he has felt tonight, he says, "hits close to home" and makes him grateful. "I think Emanuel's music is so powerful," he says. "So inspiring." S