ON THE ELLEN TRACY TRAIL: Rumblings that Ellen Tracy might be close to getting sold are getting louder. The company was almost sold six years ago to Bain & Co., with Financo brokering the deal, but owner Herb Gallen nixed the transaction late in the game. Bain is not interested in Ellen Tracy this time around, a source close to the company said. Gallen is married to design director Linda Allard. Liz Claiborne, said to be a strong contender, remained silent. "We don’t comment on rumors," a Claiborne spokeswoman said last week. Ellen Tracy officials declined comment. It could not be learned whether Financo is a player. Financo chairman Gilbert Harrison was unavailable for comment last week. Word is that neither Tommy Hilfiger, Retail Brand Alliance, Dickson Poon nor Bain & Co. are vying for the brand. The talk has some retailers worried about the future of the brand under new ownership. "It won’t be the same — no matter who gets it," said one store executive.

LEAN CUISINE: No kidding. It looks like a Karl Lagerfeld restaurant could be the next episode in the designer’s adventures in weight loss. Lagerfeld, whose low-fat diet helped him shave — and keep off — 90 pounds, says he’s keen to open an eatery in Paris, provided he can secure the right location. The reason, he admits, is partly selfish. "Then I can go out for lunch and have exactly the kind of food I want," Lagerfeld said. "Not that I’m mad for owning a restaurant — but it’s convenient." Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Houdret, the physician and nutritionist who co-authored Lagerfeld’s "3D" diet book due out this fall, is also dishing out advice on how to eat well and stay slim. According to Lagerfeld, Houdret recently opened a spa near Mont Saint-Michel, where he teaches people how to prepare the kinds of meals outlined in the book.

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