NO MERCIER FOR BALMAIN: The calendar for the couture shows in Paris in early July just came out — and Balmain isn’t on it. Sources said the house has parted ways with designer Laurent Mercier, who stayed for only three ready-to-wear collections and one couture outing. It could not be learned if the couture atelier is kaput, or if a search for a successor is under way. The house has had a revolving door in its rtw department, and many couture clients exited along with Oscar de la Renta, who bid adieu after a decade as its couturier last July. But sources said Balmain remains the leading suitor for the soon-to-be-shuttered Thierry Mugler fashion house. Balmain president Alain Hivelin and other key executives were traveling in France Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Could they be measuring up Mugler’s high tech factory in Angers, west of Paris?

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Less than two weeks after rejoining her signature fashion house, Jil Sander faced the press in Paris Wednesday night at the launch of her new women’s fragrance, Jil Sander Pure, created by Coty Inc.’s Lancaster Group. So what’s it like for Sander to be back in the fashion spotlight? “On the one side, it seems like I never left,” she mused. “On the other, three years seem like a long time.” No matter. Sander looked radiant and confessed it’s been hard to keep herself away from designing her next men’s and women’s collections. “I’ve been working every day, up to 24 hours a day,” she said. “Everyone’s motivated, happy — almost emotional. Maybe it’s like it had to be.”

FASHION’S FLEUR: Fashion legend Fleur Cowles was on hand at Henri Bendel Wednesday afternoon perusing the Fifth Avenue window it has created in her honor. The retailer is working in conjunction with Pratt Institute’s Manhattan Gallery, which is featuring a retrospective on Flair Magazine and its founder Cowles. Despite her years, Cowles hiked upstairs to Tiffany Dubin’s Lair in Bendel’s to see vintage copies of her old magazine. “I love thisshop,” said Cowles. “It has always meant luxury and elegance and is one of those old traditions that hasn’t broken down.”

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