STORE SCORE: Ka-ching. It’s the sound that makes the fashion world go round, and music to the ears of Domenico De Sole, who has been hearing a lot more of it lately. At the Gucci show Thursday night, he pointed out that the Gucci boutique in Milan pulled in about $350,000 (or 300,000 euros) last Saturday — the biggest single-day take for the Italian luxury firm in a non-holiday period. “It’s really showing the strength of the brand,” he said. “The fall collection is doing really well. We’re still up strong double-digits in Europe and we’re very strong in Japan.” De Sole and Tom Ford wouldn’t comment on the progress of the negotiations to renew their contracts with Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, Gucci Group’s majority owner, but sources said that negotiations center on long-term contracts for the pair, making the progress slow. Still, those pesky rumors persist — fueled by the Italian press — that Tom and Dom could jump ship and take over Versace. Asked about that scenario at the show, De Sole waved his hand and walked away, weary of the question. Gucci has denied Versace-related rumors in the past. But fashion insiders consider such a deal a long shot at best — figuring that if the two did leave Gucci, they’d have no problem finding investors to help them launch a new venture.



TOD’S TALK: Could Diego Della Valle be ready for his bow on the catwalk? Word has it that Tod’s, one of fashion’s most focused and successful luxury shoe and accessory labels, could be eyeing a move into a new brand extension: clothes. Della Valle is said to be working on a plan to round out his first limited-edition leather jacket, which just hit the Tod’s stores, with tops and bottoms. And a guest designer could be in the future, to give the leather pieces a trendy spin. At the same time, Della Valle is exploring other fashion ground: In January, Tod’s will unveil a jewelry collection of silver and leather pieces.



SPENDING SPREE: LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Mariella Burani Fashion Group are getting chummy — so chummy that they want to make some acquisitions together, according to Giovanni Burani, the Italian company’s chief executive officer. But he’s mum on just what businesses could induce the two companies to open their coffers. They hooked up when Burani sold 30 percent of its leather goods holding company Antichi Pellettieri to LVMH-controlled investment fund L Capital for about $29million, or 25 million euros. “We’re not ruling anything out as long as it is a part of the industry, whether it be fashion or accessories,” Burani said. Any deals with Burani would be through Antichi Pellettieri and would give LVMH a stronger base in Italy, especially since down the road it could end up converting its Antichi Pellettieri stake into one in Burani.

GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS: Dolce & Gabbana has roped in a cross section of international celebrities — all of the curvaceous ilk — for its show on Friday. Beyoncé, after her appearance at Emporio Armani Wednesday, is supposed to make a Milan encore, and will share the front-row ruckus with Sarah Ferguson and Monica Bellucci, the face of its new perfume, Sicily.

On the business front, Stefano Gabbana made it clear fashion’s feverish IPO days are not what they once were. A number of investment banks had approached the duo about an IPO during the heady days of luxury, but they passed. “If you ask me right now [if we’d do an IPO], I’d say no,” Gabbana said. “But two years from now, you never know. We’re a private company and plans can change.”



ACE OF CLUBS: Giorgio Armani played the unexpected role of nightclub impresario on Wednesday night, holding court in his new subterranean spot, Armani Privé. While the queue in front of the velvet rope lengthened outside, revelers wound their way through the labyrinth of rooms looking for the maestro. Armani said he wanted to fill a void in the Milan scene. “What strikes people about this place is that it can be rented out for special occasions and expanded for art exhibitions,” Armani said, holding court with Italian soccer players and other local glitterati. “There just aren’t that many places like that in Milan other than hotels, which can be logistically challenging.”



FACES IN THE CROWD: Talk about your role reversals. Amber Valletta’s sitting in the front row, and photographer Arthur Elgort is shooting her instead of the models on the runway. It’s for an upcoming feature in American Vogue, where models act like fashion editors and make their own picks of the clothes. Valletta has the poker face down to a science. Elgort already shot Stephanie Seymour during the New York shows and Claudia Schiffer in London, and will shoot Stella Tennant next week in Paris. Elgort, who’s used to shooting celebrities, said it’s a breeze working with the models. What’s the difference? “They listen,” Elgort said with a laugh.

SINGLED OUT: Donatella Versace’s face isn’t only on T-shirts these days. About a dozen PETA protesters set up camp in front of the Versace boutique on Via Montenapoleone Thursday afternoon, bearing large-scale posters of Donatella’s face. The demonstration drew a crowd of onlookers and policemen barricading the store’s entrance from the protesters. A Versace spokesman declined all comment on Thursday’s protest.



HEAD OVER HEELS: Shoe designer Brian Atwood imported three contortionists from Cologne, Germany, for his spring presentation. The girls stretched, bent, wiggled and did other jaw-dropping positions in their pretty pumps. “I wanted to do something that expressed the idea of how a girl feels wearing shoes,” Atwood said. No, not in pain, if that’s what you’re thinking, but rather “sensual and elegant,” according to Atwood, who also designs Versace’s footwear collection.



STYLE CITY: While fashion editors’ drivers are studying maps of Milan this week, city officials are mulling blueprints for the future fashion area Citta della Moda. Milan has been talking up plans to renovate the area near Piazza della Repubblica and Corso Como 10 into a thriving complex of showrooms, stores, offices and a large park. At a news conference Tuesday, city officials said they are busy selecting architects so that construction can start in 2004 and be finished up by 2009. Real estate group Hines and architect Cesar Pelli, the same minds behind the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York, are overseeing development of the area that will also house a fashion and design museum and a fashion school. “Through this project, Milan is the first city in the world to dedicate an entire neighborhood to fashion,” said Gianni Verga, who heads up development projects for the city.



TOM BROKAW UNPLUGGED: Hosting Tuesday’s Great Sports Legends dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, Tom Brokaw threw a few punches of his own. Before the live auction, he advised, “For all those members of the New York Stock Exchange, I expect you to bid a lot tonight because you no longer have to pay Dick Grasso’s salary.”While naming notable guests in the crowd, he said, “Bryant Gumbel is here. You might not be able to spot him. He’s lost 60 pounds. He’s gone on the no-margarita diet.”The emcee also warned camera-happy sports fans: “Respect the company we’re with tonight. We do not expect to see those on eBay.”Brokaw was more mild-mannered in introducing Walter Cronkite, saying he felt like a Little Leaguer introducing Joe DiMaggio in Yankee Stadium. Brokaw called the 1,200-member crowd’s attention to Betsy Cronkite and then recalled the Cronkites’ recent exchange with a stranger in Yellowstone National Park’s gift shop. The way Brokaw told it, a woman in line asked Walter Cronkite, “Has anyone ever told you you looked like Walter Cronkite did before he died?” To this, Cronkite responded, “Yes, madam, some people have said that to me.”“A bit flustered, the woman then turned to Betsy Cronkite and asked, ‘Walter Cronkite is dead, isn’t he?’” Brokaw continued. “Betsy then looked her square in the eye and said, ‘If he isn’t, he probably ought to be.’”

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