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Originally published August 4, 2014 at 8:03 PM | Page modified August 4, 2014 at 10:28 PM

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Butch Blum store’s well-dressed birthday party; saluting the USO

The Butch Blum store turns 40 — fashionably. And the Seafair Ball raises money for the USO.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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I’m an ink-stained wretch. I don’t have the money to shop at Butch Blum.

Oh, but you should, people told me over and over the other night, when the downtown Seattle clothing store celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Go see Royal, people said, invest the money, and you’ll wear it forever.

Hang on. Royal Roles?

“I know,” Roles said of his moniker as he led me into the anniversary party, held in the courtyard behind the store at One Union Square. “I had nothing to do with it.”

Oh, but as the men’s luxury buyer, Roles has had plenty to do with dressing Seattle’s semi- and serious swells (and now their grown children) in decades of designer duds.

Inside, there was Butch Blum himself. Forty years in retail. The man deserves a medal.

“It’s a long, long time to be doing the same thing,” he said.

His mother wanted him to be a doctor. He dreamed of being a professional golfer, “But I wasn’t good enough.”

In college, he started working for Nordstrom, then Jay Jacobs and the Bon Marché. He met and married his wife, Kay Blum, who once worked for NeimanMarcus.

Forty years later, Blum has mastered “A certain aesthetic. A taste level that’s inherent. A timelessness.”

But it’s not just about the clothes, Blum told me. It’s also the customers.

“They are way beyond clients,” he said. “They’re a very special group of people.”

So are the Blum kids: Case, 28, an architect, and 26-year-old twins Bryce, a lawyer, and Kyle, known as “The King of Trees” because he works for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The boys gave a lovely speech to their parents. “We love you and we’re proud of you,” Case said for them all.

Raising a glass were Marnie Kernand Peter Click, the man who brought us Fat Bastard wine back in 1998. (”It’s a fun, friendly brand with a little hippo on the label,” he said with a shrug. “It took the intimidation out of wine.”)

Kathryn Haggitt Garrisonsaw someone wearing the same Maria Luisa B dress she bought at Butch Blum five years ago, “But I don’t care.”

Marlys Palumboand her husband, Ralph, both graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in the late ’60s and started shopping at Butch Blum for “lawyer clothes” not long after.

“Isn’t this where you got that blue corduroy suit with the suede patches on the elbows?” Marlys asked Ralph.

“Coulda been,” he said, then paused. “I killed the corduroy.”

Now he prefers a shirt with no tie, a jacket with a pocket square, jeans and socks that match the pocket square.

It was a common look in the crowd of nicely graying men and tanned and toned women who sipped cocktails, while parkour guys jumped and rolled round the courtyard; then took in a fashion show of upcoming looks, including Ji Oh.

“I almost didn’t go to her showroom,” Kay Blum said as we sat on the stairs. “And I said ‘Kay, do your job.’ She’s going to be the next big thing.”

That was followed by a finale of former fashions: ’70s-era Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin. Armani from the ’80s.

“I’m having flashbacks of virtually everything I ever purchased,” said James Dayka, a client since 1983. “Now I’m having an urge to buy. But I don’t want to go in.”

Oh, but you should. Go see Royal, invest the money ...

Go, go USO

Oh boy. This wasn’t looking good.

The lights were too bright, the band was playing “Folsom Prison Blues” and there was a woman in uniform dancing with a golden retriever. Really.

But it was still early for the Seafair Ball, held Friday night at the Seattle Design Center. History assured me, this one was a bit of a barnburner.

When it started 33 years ago, the Seafair Ball was held on a super ferry four stories tall. They loaded hundreds of people on the boat and ran out of beer before they even left the port.

“Absolutely fabulous,” recalled Joe Robertsof Admiral Jet, who owns the Seafair Ball trademark and was there for the first party. “Everyone had a blast.”

Over the years, the event moved around, from Union Station to the Center for Contemporary Art to the Shilshole Bay Beach Club, always raising money for a good cause.

This year, the goal was $300,000 for the USO Northwest to expand and upgrade its facility at Sea-Tac Airport. About 10,000 servicepeople pass through there every year — and sometimes end up sleeping on the floor.

“It’s like an overgrown homeless shelter,” said Tim Bogle, the USO’s director of development.

“It’s just not appropriate. Troops are coming home, the deployments are over, but there is still a lot to do. It’s still a dangerous occupation.”

He stood there with volunteers Felicia Sessler(an aerographer with the U.S. Navy) and Kelly Tortorice, who subbed the boring USO polo shirts with white blouses and skirts of exploding blue tulle, and were ready to talk up the organization.

A sampling, from Tortorice: “The USO is the wet kiss on the side of the cheek when they first come home.” All right, then.

As we talked, a steady stream of partyers came in. Lots of women in short dresses and high heels being guided and gawked at by men in both suits and uniforms.

“Military guys and draft dodgers,” Roberts cracked as we took it all in. “I want to see them all.”

He credited real-estate man Mike Mercer for his marketing skills; and philanthropist Dana Frank for bringing in her considerable social artillery to fill the room.

“It’s a younger crowd and we’re trying to keep it going,” Roberts said. “And you can’t do that with old guys.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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About Nicole Brodeur's Names in Bold

On Tuesdays, I tell you about my travels through some of the week's social and philanthropic events — not just the ones for the swells, but those for work-a-day folks who care about making this region move and improve. 206-464-2334

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