the Insiders


The Champagne flowed a little more slowly, shows actually started on time and there weren't the usual scrums -- and nasty bouncers -- at the entrance to events. Few were in the mood to play during London Fashion Week, which this season was a strictly business affair.

Everyone seems to have commerce on the brain: One designer told me that U.S. buyers' budgets are down 30 percent for the big luxury brands -- and "far more" for the smaller, independent labels, so it's time to explore new ways of doing business.

Celebrities in Hollywood go to three types of parties. First are the dinners, held at another celebrity's house. Then there are the fetes hosted by brands. Third are the benefits. Benefits establish celebrities as serious individuals. On Thursday night, Josh Brolin and Diane Lane co-hosted a Vanity Fair and Dior event for Brandaid, where everybody came out a winner. Lane wore Dior, but she paired it with glasses and looked very serious. The director Paul Haggis gave a speech. He started the organization, which buys art in countries like Haiti, auctions it at higher prices, then sends the money back to the countries where it was originally bought. It's actually rather neat. Still, he said, "Everything is dirt cheap. We wanted to price things in this economy so the value will go up. You will not get deals like this in a couple of months."

LOS ANGELES -- It's nice to know that even as the future of industrial capitalism is looking shaky, there's still corporate sponsorship here, and there are still actors who will show up at a lunch for some free sunglasses.

Thursday afternoon, Oliver Peoples and the jewelry company Van Cleef & Arpels cohosted an event at a house in Bel Air and lined the walls with sunglasses designed by the actress Zooey Deschanel.
February 19, 2009 9:54 PM


Slumming It

Every year there are certain parties everyone in Hollywood clamors to get into. The Vanity Fair party the night of the show. Variety’s the night before. Both of those are on this year, and wrangling tickets is harder than ever — Vanity Fair, insiders say, cut the list nearly in half as it downsized from Morton’s to The Sunset Tower Hotel.

But the other event that’s likely to be a seriously hot ticket is Fox Searchlight’s Sunday night party. The reason? “Slumdog Millionaire.”

With Nate Silver predicting in New York Magazine that the film has a 99 percent chance of winning the Oscar and (most people in Hollywood are in agreement with him) that puts the studio in a different sort of hot seat, the one everyone wants to be in. Further, Fox Searchlight and its chairman, Peter Rice, are also coming off the success of “The Wrestler.” And that movie’s lead actor, Mickey Rourke, seems to be in a race with Sean Penn of “Milk” for Best Actor.

Two years ago, Rice bought “Little Miss Sunshine” for $10 million, and it went on to gross $60 million in domestic receipts. Then he and Fox Searchlight acquired “Juno,” and it did $143 million.

So Rice is establishing himself as a kind of young Harvey Weinstein. And lots of people will want to kiss the ring. Or just see those cute stars from “Slumdog” in the flesh.

Despite the grim prospects for 2009, retailers and vendors cite one positive aspect of their current situation: now, at least, they know what they're dealing with.

Unlike the last Vegas market, the industry is prepared for soft selling. They've trimmed assortments and open to buys; manufacturers have tailored their collections and adjusted pricing. In the immortal words of Tim Gunn, the retail community is trying to "make it work."

The economy is in the dumps. No one is shopping. But here in L.A. during Oscar Week, things seem to be more or less business as usual.

For the last day or so, WWD has been on a fact-finding mission, buzzing around parties, annoying celebrities and stylists, trying to get a sense of what people might be wearing on the red carpet come Sunday.

After a couple of false starts -- that would be parties at which the expected celebrities didn't actually show up -- we hit the mother lode this afternoon at a luncheon for Andrea Lieberman's new clothing line at Barneys New York in Beverly Hills.
Until fairly recently, the Oscars really were about the awards. But then came corporate sponsorship, the red carpet, and Joan Rivers, whose fashion commentary turned the pre-show into a bigger event than the actual awards. And she wasn't even hosting on ABC.

This year, the folks who throw the Oscars have settled on Tim Gunn, Robin Roberts, and Jess Cagle of "Entertainment Weekly." Running things behind the scenes is Robert Morton, a/k/a Morty, the well known former executive producer for "The David Letterman Show." WWD caught up with him Monday and he was happy to talk about everything from Joaquin Phoenix's much-lampooned stint on Letterman to what ABC has up its sleeve this year.

WWD: I think I should just start out by saying that you look fantastic, because even though we are doing this by phone and I have no idea whether that's true, that's what everyone says when interviewing someone during the Oscar pre-show. So you look fantastic. Who are you wearing?
Robert Morton: Who am I wearing? To the Oscars?

Retailers finish their fiscal years at the end of January, after catching their breaths and attempting to trim their inventories and redeem gift cards once the holidays ended.

That means that we're about to be swamped, and possibly hosed, by a tidal wave of earnings results. They're not going to be pretty, but neither will they be quite as ugly as they appear at first. Let's hope all these earnings guidance revisions have prepared us properly. But how can we get a firm grasp on what these numbers mean and overcome numerical sensory overload?
Dupre.jpgWhat could be more exciting for a reporter than having Valentine's Day dinner with Ashley Dupré, freely discussing her scandalous past and career ambitions for the future?
Iron is the new black for fall.

There isn't anything such as a bad color, but every color has its own story to tell.

Color reflects the personality of the wearer and the sensibility of the designer. Sometimes, as with the top 10 Pantone colors chosen by New York designers for fall -- with iron ranked number one and the rest heavy on somber and neutral tones -- they even provide a window into the public's mood at a particular moment.

I didn't focus on the intricacies of color until I met Leatrice Eiseman, executive of the Pantone Color Institute, which created the standardized international reference system for determining ink colors. 

Shephard Fairey with one of his artworks.
What's the difference between street art and graffiti?

Like many things, it's in the eye of the beholder, and that's why Shepard Fairey can simultaneously be honored with a high-profile retrospective at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art and be arrested by the Boston police department on vandalism charges at the opening-night celebration for the exact same exhibit.

Through much of its 64 years, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. has meant many things to a wide swath of the American beauty world.

First, it was seen as the chief definer and main architect of the modern prestige business in the U.S. But many executives also viewed Lauder as more of a family operation than a corporation.

The Lauders always referred to their family ties, and that bond was continually strengthened by the maestro himself, Leonard Lauder, who presided over industry events in New York as the patriarchal leader. He was so widely admired that many of the creative types in the industry felt they only could work for him.

This filial warmth has been gradually cooling since 1995, when Lauder acquired the cold shackles of public ownership.

It's getting harder to tell the good news from the bad news in fashion.

Take Avon Products Inc. The beauty giant Tuesday said fourth-quarter sales fell and would be pressured for the "foreseeable future," but profits rose 80.3 percent as costs and expenditures were trimmed. Even with the increase, Avon's earnings of 54 cents a diluted share came in a nickel below analysts' estimates.
What to make of this muddled picture?

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