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.

UNTIMELY LANG: The New York Times, which opted not to cover the spring 2003 men’s wear collections in Milan last week, is getting a cool reception in Paris. Helmut Lang, who showed Sunday, did not extend an invitation to critic Cathy Horyn, in town to cover men’s fashion week for the paper. A Lang spokesman confirmed Horyn was not invited but declined to elaborate. Sources indicated, however, the designer is simply fed up with her bitchy writing. Last February, reviewing Lang’s fall women’s wear collection, Horyn described his clothes as heavy, overthought and gimmicky. Horyn declined all comment Sunday.Meanwhile, it’s looking increasingly likely that Lang will return to Paris in October to show his next women’s collection. No word yet if the Times will make his invitation list.

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