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NEW YORK — When Salma Hayek, Jennifer Connelly and Renée Zellweger descended the spiral staircase of Louis Vuitton’s glass-enclosed Magic Room on Friday morning to announce their involvement in a new initiative to fund cancer research, it was not entirely surprising to see the scientist behind the cause standing on the sidelines as the photographers went straight for the stars.
“Actors and fashion,” theorized Hayek, “we get more attention than we deserve.”
This may be the case, considering the press conference drew far more camera crews than actual reporters, although the actresses’ participation and a gala they’re cooking up with Louis Vuitton was conceived as a means to draw attention to the formation of the United Cancer Front. Founded by Lilly Tartikoff and Dennis J. Slamon, the drive is different from many existing fund-raising programs for cancer research in that the money they collect will be fast-tracked to a group of 35 scientists who are openly sharing information and developments with one another.
Traditionally, scientists applying for such grants must submit detailed proposals, a time-consuming process that often restricts their research or means their work could be outdated before it is even approved.
“I am someone who has been completely obsessed with moving science forward,” Tartikoff said. “This will raise unrestricted funds for high-risk, but high-payoff research.”
Slamon and his colleagues conducted research that led to the development of Herceptin, a breast cancer treatment approved by the FDA in 1998 that has been credited with saving many lives, including that of Nancy Ryder, president of the public relations firm Baker Winokur Ryder, who encouraged the actresses to become involved in UCF.
To that end, each of them will work with Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs to create a charm for the house’s signature bracelet. The originals will be auctioned at the first UCF benefit in Los Angeles in late October, an event entirely underwritten by Vuitton, said Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, president of Louis Vuitton North America. After that, the charm bracelets will be sold in Vuitton stores around the world, with 15 percent of proceeds earmarked for the charity.
“Lilly [Tartikoff] works with these people on a daily basis and she knows what it’s like, she knows the lack of resources and options for women that, unfortunately, was the paradigm of the past,” Zellweger said. “She spends her days and nights trying to change this, and it’s working and it’s inspiring.”
The actresses were less forthcoming, however, when it came to revealing what they’re planning to design as charms.
“I’m not going to tell you,” Hayek said, although she offered a hint. “I want to look for a symbol that represents health, probably an Egyptian symbol, but it’s going to be secret.”
“I like the idea of keeping it secret,” Zellweger added. “It’s going to be hard to narrow it down, but it will be something personal, about the reasons why we’re involved.”
“Maybe I’ll change my mind,” Hayek came back, “and do something not so Egyptian.”
Given the problem Louis Vuitton’s been having with counterfeiters on Canal Street lately, perhaps the less said, the better.