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Huntington mom's Red Carpet career

Monday will be an ordinary day for Huntington mom Dianne Vavra. Laundry, food shopping, booking playdates. But after dinner she'll kiss her husband and head to the airport. And then she does this 180.

Tuesday, she'll be in Los Angeles, tracking limos and celebrity beauty appointments, reviewing decorations at the uber-chic Chateau Marmont for the party she's throwing that night, praying for good weather (the party's outside), wrangling heat lamps and having a tent on standby. Then the party - cocktails, dinner and glamour-ama chitchat with 30 of Hollywood's hottest women: Sharon Stone, Emmy Rossum, Angie Harmon, Amber Valletta and more.

vvvvVVVVVV. Feel that? That's the glamour industry shifting into high gear, as it does every year the week before the Academy Awards. And Vavra is part of an elite squad of designer-clad, perfectly coifed, molto manicured beauty execs who help stars look like stars on Oscar's red carpet.

As vice president of public relations for Dior Beauty, Vavra has the job of keeping the Dior name in the minds of celebrities, makeup artists, magazine editors and, of course, American consumers, who purchased some $200 million worth of Dior cosmetics, fragrance and skin care products last year. Hey, good economy or bad, mama needs her lipstick.

Since Vavra arrived at Dior in 1998, she says, the company has gone from being the 12th most-mentioned beauty brand in style magazines to No. 1 or 2 each month. She's proud of the part she played in that growth. That Vavra does what she does with a relatively modest budget and staff of three makes her something of a superhero in the beauty biz. And like all good superheroes, she has her alter ego - her Clark Kent moments when she's just . . . Mom.

"Dianne and Dior are synonymous in my mind," says celeb photographer (and Huntington neighbor) Patrick McMullan. "There's a certain elegance. Even her name is glamorous. But she's also a mom with a nice husband."

Alternating between these worlds might exhaust some, but Vavra seems energized.

"You have to be able to reinvent yourself," she says. "I can, like, in a minute be ready for a black-tie event."

Closet envy

The "closet" helps. Actually, it's a room she converted into a closet, and it's the one sign of extravagance in the Huntington home she shares with her husband, Michael Combs, a roofing contractor; their two children, Eve, 8, and Tom, 6, and Jake, a golden Lab.

The 1932 bungalow cape is narrow in front, but inside, tastefully decorated rooms meander this way and that, reaching toward a sizable backyard. Upstairs, the so-called closet contains a rack of designer gowns and chic office attire. She pulls out a bisque Dior gown she wore last year to Elton John's Oscar party. Then the slinky, vintage Valentino. There's a summery green-print Galliano. Another Dior strapless with big honkin' flower ("for my 'Sex and the City' moment," she says). And a classic white sheath (very Carla Bruni, first lady of France).

"Michael calls this 'Wilma Flintstone,' " she says, pulling out a dramatic cocktail dress with jeweled neck and bright blue leopard-ish print. "I bring home couture and that's what he sees," she says, laughing.

"Wilma" resides alongside a collection of 1940s platform sandals. A row of boots, standing at attention. Bags, bags, bags. Plus a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk (snagged at an East End garage sale) and a vanity full of Dior cosmetics.

Vavra lets Eve and her friends play with the clothes, makeup and a tin of costume jewelry. "This is the dress-up house," she says proudly.

Don't mess with nuns

Her own childhood was creative. But closetless. Literally. Vavra and her older sister grew up in Manhattan in a one-bedroom apartment with Dad, a banker, and Mom, who worked at an after-school program. The Vavra girls shared a bedroom that had once been the dining room - hence, no closet.

Mom's cosmetics fascinated way more than Crayolas, and Vavra's makeup doodles covered baby books, dolls, even living room walls. Her mother didn't scold; she enrolled Vavra in art class.

The nuns at Vavra's Catholic school were less indulgent. Always looking to "jazz up" their uniforms, she and a friend would push the dress code - wearing one black shoe, one white. Then, in fourth grade, she decided to try cream blush.

"IS THAT MAKEUP?" the nuns demanded.

Um . . . no?

"They made me wipe it off with those hard bathroom paper towels," Vavra recalls. Then she polished church pews. Many, many pews.

"To this day I can't dust with Pledge . . . the smell," she says, then chuckles. "Well, that's what I say, anyway."

Not that she won't get dirty. Her family spent summers in Quogue, fishing, crabbing, digging for worms. "I'm not afraid to touch slimy things," she says, rattling off names of bait - snapper, flukeheads - as easily as designer labels.

She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and kept returning to Quogue in summer, eventually meeting Combs, of Westhampton.

"She's a city girl with a local girl attitude," he says.

They married in 1992, and while he worked on roofs, she worked her way up the corporate ladder, first at Estee Lauder, then as marketing director for the Walt Whitman Mall. In 1998 came the call from Dior.

Mommy's with whom?

Dior Beauty is part of the French luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). But Vavra's midtown office is all function, no frills. Boxes of samples are piled high. Reams of statistics list what brands get mentioned in which mags, and how often.

Granted, the job has perks.

"Where are you?" her husband asked recently, calling her on her cell phone.

"Having lunch at the Four Seasons," she said.

"Nice," he replied sarcastically. "I'm eating peanut butter and jelly in my truck."

Sometimes news of the glam life leaks out. Like when Eve told her teacher Mommy was on vacation with Sharon Stone.

Not quite. Vavra works on ad campaigns with Hollywood icons like Stone and Charlize Theron, and brainstorms product ideas with socialite Tinsley Mortimer. It can be heady. Or heart-pounding, as you watch the pricey Chopard necklace slip from Stone's neck as she's hustled through a Paris red carpet event. That time, Vavra pulled a "crazy, Power Ranger move," she recalls, busting through bodyguards to catch the bauble before it hit the floor.

Vavra and Stone are now friends, both trying to balance home and work life.

"Women walk in mother skin, friend skin, sister skin, boss and employee skin, neighbor skin," notes Stone, via e-mail. "Deep down, it's all the same . . . same hearts and souls. Diane and I haven't forgotten that."

In fact, walking in different "skins" probably works to Vavra's advantage.

"Being a wife and mom definitely helps you multitask," says Vanity Fair beauty director SunHee Grinnell. When hours are limited, Grinnell notes, "you don't have time to mess around."

Beauty at the Oscars

Since Oscar nominations were announced last month, Vavra has been trying to entice actresses to wear Dior cosmetics. She snagged Freida Pinto, the young beauty from " Slumdog Millionaire," in January.

Trying to keep a beauty brand visible is no easy task. Unlike red carpet fashion, the point of makeup generally is to not be noticed. Enhance, yes, but covertly.

Vavra admires makeup artists, and suspects Eve might one day join their ranks. At the mall, they often stop by Sephora for a mommy makeover. Eve gets to work - blue shadow, ruby lipstick, orange blush - however the muse strikes. Vavra, like her own mother, encourages the artistry, walking proudly around the mall with her fab new look.

"We'll run into Michael, and he'll be, like - whoa," Vavra said.

At home, life is low-key. No nannies, thanks. The couple get the kids ready each morning, and Vavra waits at the bus stop. Combs picks them up after school and cooks dinner - which is best, she admitted. (She's been known to burn coffee.)

"Yes, she works for a glamorous company and goes to exciting events," Grinnell said. "But at the end of the day, she's a mom. That centers her."

When Vavra returns home, she turns off her BlackBerry to focus on Eve's homework. Or Tom's shouts of "the squiggly part, Dad, fix the squiggly part," calling attention to a section of electric racetrack that's come undone. Later it's reading time, maybe a game, before the kids go to sleep.

In this industry, "you can get sucked in by ego," Vavra acknowledged. "Then I come home to a family that's normal, grounded. And a husband who doesn't care about the latest drama of the day - which can be a magazine that credits the wrong shade of lipstick. Michael will say, 'Are you kidding me?' "

She laughed at the thought.

"It's nice to have a fresh perspective."


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