The phone call came a few weeks ago. "Are you sitting down?," asked my editor in a voice waaaay too sweet for that time of day in the Newsday newsroom.
"I think we may've found this year's Project Prom girl."
"Annndd?" I asked warily.
Boom. That's how the Carbone Quintuplets of Old Brookville -- believed to be the first Long Island quintuplets ever -- became this year's Project Prom p-e-o-p-l-e. Austin, Brianna, Francesca, Brandon and Marissa, were born in exactly that order on Sept. 8, 1993 at 26 weeks into the pregnancy. With birth weights ranging from 1 pound, 9 ounces to 1 pound, 12 ounces, they came home healthy some three-and-a-half months later. On June 21, the fab five, now 18 and seniors at Locust Valley High School, all will attend their prom at the Woodbury Country Club with more than a little input from Newsday's fashion staff.
Laura Vera, a health and physical education teacher at their school, nominated the Carbones without telling them. She sent in their Christmas card and told us, "They're the kind of kids that, as a parent, you hope your own kids turn out that way. They're grateful, always offering to help out and have a lot of school spirit."
We were sold, but their mom Denise, wasn't, despite Newsday's offer to pick up the tab for the prom dresses and tux rentals. "It was almost unheard of back then to have quintuplets, and a lot of people wanted us to do things, from Oprah, to Diane Sawyer, to Jane Pauley, to reality shows," she said. "I've always tried to keep it on the down-low. I wanted them to be grounded and grow up as regular kids."
This supermom knows a thing or five about child rearing. When they were infants, the family went through 50 diapers a day. As for college hunting? It took two years to visit all the choices.
But back to prom, mom said she'd leave the decision up to the kids and called a family meeting. "I felt they were old enough to decide," she said. "Whatever the girls wanted to do was fine," Austin said. As for the girls, it was a debate. But in the end, Francesca said, "It sounded pretty cool and like something totally different, so we got excited."
Suffice it to say, the adage "It takes a village . . ." was never more appropriate.
First off, a shopping fest at the New York City showroom of BCBGMAXAZRIA, where two whole rooms were draped with gowns and dresses from three of the company's collections -- BCBG, BCBG Generation and Max and Cleo. A center table was brimming with evening bags and jewels, and a swat team of BCBG staff turned out to help the girls and render opinions. And of course, there was mom and her sister Elizabeth Matthews, who did more than her fair share of zipping. Four hours later, each of the three girls had selected two primo choices for the prom. "It's how the other half lives," Marissa said of the process. "It was like we were celebrities."
It was comparatively serene, two days later, when we took the boys to Victor Talbot in Greenvale, where owner Victor Scognamiglio styled two smart rental looks for them. "I'm not picky," said well-coifed Brandon, who looked super sharp in his single-breasted tux worn with a white shirt and Windsor knot-tied tie. Scognamiglio called the look "red carpet. Jay-Z would wear a knot like this." For shaggy haired Austin, it was a retro "Mad Men" meets Rat Pack shawl-collared, double-breasted job worn with a purple bow tie and striped lavender suspenders.
The following week brought (forgive the pun) the mother of all shoots to the Newsday studio. The Carbone kids, their mom, their aunt and teacher Laura Vera turned out. Along with them, a super glam squad from nuBest in Manhasset, a photographer, stylist, two video crews, assorted editors and art directors -- you get the picture.
For sure, Project Prom is always just that -- a project. And though magnified fivefold promised to be a brute, it was great fun, mostly because of these confident, delightful kids who get along beautifully, though their mom confesses, "When they play Monopoly, it's a bloodbath." Each Carbone has a distinct personality: Austin, the poised charmer; Brandon, mellow and sweet; Marissa, the darling live wire; Francesca, the hilarious individualist; and Brianna, the thinker whose smile lights up her eyes and the room and who summed up the gig in one word: "Awesome."
So, now that the Carbone quintuplets have done their work, it is your turn, readers, to do the girls proud, and choose your favorite dress. Vote!
1. Golden garden
A bright allover abstract floral print is amped up with shots of gold metallic thread in this feminine chiffon one-shoulder job with a pleated bodice and shirred strap.
2. The blues
Artful draping, an asymmetrical neckline and ruched bodice enhance this ombre study in blue.
1. Lemon-lime slice
This summery halter in a vivid citrus shade features a cutout at the waist and a deep slit in the front.
2. My blue heaven
A shirred bodice dappled with sparkly beads tops this graceful, classically cut gown.
Max and Cleo
1. Ruby and lace
There's a vintage quality to this rouge red jersey floor lengther that features airy lace insets at the sleeves, waist and back.
2. Black magic
A notched, sweetheart style bodice tops this flowing, sheer black chiffon skirt that reveals -- surprise -- a hip little bandage style striped mini beneath.
Need help? Learn how to vote at newsday.com/shoptalk.
All votes must be received by June 1, 2012.
Clothing, bags, accessories: BCBGMAXAZRIA
Makeup: Ana Naso and Jessica DeRosa
Hair: Dawn O'Neill and Mayra Minquez (all of nuBest Salon and Spa, Manhasset
Stylist: Denise Delise, Hamptons Models