What do women CRAVE?

A renaissance is taking place among women - in a tide of clothes, chick lit and flicks. Copying men is going out of style. Romance and home, fashion and fun are surging back.

At the same time, according to Oprah, women letting themselves go is a crisis in this country. More than three-quarters of women polled did not feel worthy to take care of themselves.

After several decades of women's lib, what is going on?

Melody Biringer sees women's low self-worth and their resurgence toward small joys as two sides of one coin. The Queen Anne resident is giving what she calls a CRAVE Holiday Shopping Party next Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Seattle Center's Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. The boutiques, pink cocktails, spas and fashion shows that women love will be gathered under one roof.

Women of all ages are going through a kind of midlife crisis, Biringer asserts. "Women take care of everyone else; they feel so guilty when they do something for themselves. I feel like women are coming out and saying, 'It's time for me to do what I love.'"

A CRAVE party gets women out of their everyday life, out of the heaviness, like a huge dose of retail therapy, Biringer observes.

One of the joys of being female is being with other women: sharing, shopping and relaxing.

"When a woman spends time and effort on herself, it makes her feel happier," she says. "That happiness helps a woman's family. The family becomes happier and has more harmony. Husbands say, 'You need to do that more often.'"

Biringer got the idea for a CRAVE party because she wanted to attend one.

Daughter of the Biringer family, whose name equals delicious, Northwest berries and quality products, Melody had been working since she was 18. She found herself a work-aholic. She began to crave being around other women, creative women, so she gave a home spa party with massage therapy and some of the small treats women love, such as pink cocktails.

"I did not realize how much I needed this," she said.

But even that was hard because each woman who hosted the party had to make time to clean the house and invite friends. After a couple of years, Biringer decided to host a large CRAVE party at the Ruins, a private club on Roy Street.

"The women wore their pajamas at this swanky club," she recalled. "They didn't have to get dressed up, but just be girls for the night. It was a big hit."

She used her experience in managing, marketing and selling to create a business that contains all the things she loves--the shops, spas, goodie bags, chichi cocktails, party atmosphere and live entertainment.

"I put all these things under one roof, and it sold out from day one," she said. "I tapped into this because I need it. Then I realized everybody else does, too."

Since then, CRAVE parties have been licensed in five cities: Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; Houston, Texas; Vancouver, B.C.; and Scotts-dale, Ariz.

A night out at the shops may sound superficial. Yet I think the power of a new dress and sense of fun are at one with a thriving democracy. Jung Chang, who wrote "Wild Swans" and now lives in London, grew up in Red China. She began to dream of free- dom while reading Herman Wouk's "Winds of War," in which a woman buys a pink dress for a reception. Amazed that there was a place where women could simply go out and buy a dress, Chang closed her eyes and imagined all those beautiful gowns.

In a recent CNN documentary, a North Korean woman said she decided to escape from the harsh regime of her country because when she watched South Korean soap operas, they were so colorful and fun they showed her what she was missing.

Melody Biringer's ideas go beyond that of a simple night out for women to revive their sense of joy. She offers monthlong events called "Ladies Who Launch." Twelve women who have a business or an idea in common meet once a week for a month and listen to one another.

"Anybody with a project, or who wants a project, is welcome," Biringer said. "It's like having your own personal focus group for four weeks."

She points out that women feel guilty just to take the four weeks out and do this. During the session some women break down and cry. Their dreams are being awakened. The session encourages them to be accountable for making their dreams come true, and during the month they must make one phone call that furthers a dream.

"Women are happiest when creating and moving forward," Biringer believes.

That month is also a time to celebrate what each women has already accomplished. "Women work so hard," Melody affirms, "and seldom give themselves credit for their strengths and achievements. We stop, look and celebrate."

One morning in France, I explored the Marais district. On a quiet lane, a young man lounged outside a café. Through the doorway came the smell of coffee and fresh-baked bread and the sound of a chanteuse singing one of the sweet-sad songs unique to France. Up and down the lane, the balance of each building and the polished doorsteps, trim and awnings created a feeling of harmony.

Nowhere else on earth has the fluffy silence of a Paris lane at dawn. My feet seemed cushioned in slippers as they walked the old cobblestones; and my self seemed cushioned by the pathways of charm that, over hundreds of years, the French have constructed through life's ups and downs. The French attend to small joys like a master artist to a painting.

Biringer also believes in affirming the small things, the little indulgences in life we tend to pass over. Some of her tips: call a friend, take a bath, enjoy a warm croissant at Le Panier in Pike Place Market.

On a visit to Morocco, Biringer met a guy who, as his family had done for three generations, baked bread for the whole village. It was all he did all day long, among the scent of baking bread and the women coming and going with the loaves.

A CRAVE party is like a fresh-baked loaf of relaxation and joy. All a woman needs to do is show up and enjoy.

For more fun ideas, read "CRAVE, An Urban Girl's Manifesto," published by Melody Biringer and Audrey M. Beaulac. It's a lighthearted guide to Seattle neighborhoods, shops, spas and restaurants. The reader is also introduced to some Seattle women who are making their dreams come true, and the philosophy that helps them succeed.

The CRAVE Holiday Shopping Party Wednesday, Dec. 7, 5-9 p.m.

at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle Center

To register, visit www.craveparty.com e-mail crave@craveparty.com or phone 282-0173. Preregister for $15, or pay $20 at the door

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