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When Mary J Blige was in pain, the world knew it. Her album “My Life” was a manifesto that captured the despair of women in the ghetto, a tale of life and loss that mirrored the singer’s offstage troubles. Then she started to feel better and became determined to take the world with her. Her last two albums were called “The Breakthrough,” and “Growing Pains,” and moved her past her Billie Holiday stage. Think of her now as the Oprah Winfrey of hip-hop soul.

On Wednesday night, the singer showed up at a massive shopping party at Gucci’s Fifth Avenue flagship, and was determined to do more than help sell clothes (or score some free ones for herself). The event was a benefit for the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now, which Blige started with branding expert Steve Stoute.

This story first appeared in the September 18, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As she explained: “Steve is a friend of mine and a business partner. Being that he knows my movement and he knows exactly who I am, he said, ‘Mary, what is it that you want to do? What is it that inspires you?’ I said, ‘Helping women.’ He was like, ‘Why don’t we start a foundation?’ I said yes.”

Gucci was a logical spot for a fete, because, as Blige put it, “We know so many women who come in and out of Gucci. This is our spot.”

Blige herself has been dropping her cash on the brand’s bags, clothes and shoes since the early Nineties. “When I got enough money to come to Gucci, I was here,” she said, with a laugh.

What are the biggest issues facing women today? “Insecurities due to lack of education and insecurities due to lack of self-love and confidence,” she said. “Anytime you abuse drugs and alcohol, that stems from your childhood. It creates this ball of insecurity. It turns into an inferiority complex and you end up believing that you’re nothing.”

So does that make shopping at Gucci a sign of self-love or a need to compensate?

“Well, shopping at Gucci because you want the clothes to dress in, and it makes you feel good externally, that’s one thing,” Blige said. “But if you feel good about yourself already and you’re shopping at Gucci, that’s better. That’s everything. If you deal with your issues and then buy a coat, wooeee!”

Downstairs, Donald Trump made a beeline for Serena Williams, telling onlookers and press that she’d done nothing wrong talking back to the referee who went on to throw her out of the U.S. Open last weekend. And LeBron James was everywhere, though few could talk to him due to a very intimidating group of bodyguards.

“You’re going to delete that photo right now,” one of his goons told a fan who tried to take a snapshot of the basketball star.

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