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NEW YORK — During her 21-year reign as the host of “Style with Elsa Klensch” on CNN, Elsa Klensch spent five months out of every 12 in fashion pit stops such as Paris, London and Hong Kong. She also spent endless hours in their sterile airports. To bide the time, Klensch did what many other travelers do: She read mystery novels.

“I love John le Carré and P.D. James,” she says. “My husband says he can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write a mystery myself.”

Three years after leaving the cable news channel, Klensch will debut her first work of fiction, “Live at 10:00, Dead at 10:15” (Forge), this September. It’s an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery centered around a family-owned fashion house where everyone — from the hot young designer to the controlling publicist to the freebie-loving magazine editor — has a motive to kill.

“I can’t say every character is a touch of somebody on Seventh Avenue, but they are blends of characters,” Klensch says cautiously. “The world of fashion is very small.”

For this novel, the beginning of a series starring television producer Sonya Iverson, Klensch stays away from defining her characters simply by the labels they wear. When she does describe clothing, it’s with the same intellectual bent she employed on TV. One evening dress is “very thin, stretchy fabric on top. And the bottom is just a whiff of parachute silk — not transparent but almost.”

When “Style with Elsa Klensch” began in 1980, she was often the only fashion journalist who arrived at shows with a TV crew in tow, interviewing designers who weren’t nearly as media friendly as they are today. “They feared me, and then they welcomed me with open arms,” Klensch says of the designers. “There are two great things for television — one’s sport, one’s fashion,” she adds. “They both are mesmerizing.”

Now that her show is over, Klensch, who still attends the shows each season, is able to enjoy the impact it had. “I actually brought fashion to so many women,” she says at her Manhattan apartment, which is decorated with finds from the Far East. “My object was always, ‘The design is important, not who’s going to wear it.’”

This story first appeared in the August 5, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

If she were doing a show today, Klensch says she’d rethink her approach but would stay away from celebrities. And if she were ever to write a memoir, Klensch would leave out her Australian childhood and the war reporting she did in Vietnam, where she married her husband, Charles, in 1966. “It wouldn’t be an autobiography,” she says, “just flashes of my life in fashion.”

— Jamie Rosen

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