NEW YORK — "I wanted to come to this party so much, I bought the company for $180 million," said Paul Charron, chairman and chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne Inc. And judging by the party’s turnout and entertainment factor, it seemed to be a wise investment.Herbert Gallen, chairman of Ellen Tracy, threw a gala 40th-anniversary party for his wife and chief designer, Linda Allard, at the New York Public Library last Thursday night, and it could have easily passed for another wedding. With an hour to get the library in party mode after its closing, Robert Isabel transformed Astor Hall and the Celeste Bartos Forum into a cornucopia of fall leaves, flowers and pumpkins. Ellen Tracy, which is the number one bridge resource in every department store it sells, attracted an A-list of retailers, including Burt Tansky, Joan Kaner, Michael Gould, Christina Johnson and Hal Kahn. "Herb and Linda have always been very cooperative. We built the business together and a strong partnership," said Tansky, chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus. "They have expanded their customer base and have enhanced the relationship with all their [existing] customers."After a cocktail party in Astor Hall, guests descended to the Celeste Bartos Forum, where they had a sit-down dinner and danced to a 12-piece band. Taking the microphone, Gallen asked, "Do you know why you’re here? Because 40 years ago, I hired a little girl, and now we’re celebrating 40 years of working, scraping and gardening. This girl — she also happens to be my wife — is a great gardener, a great cook and a great designer. Can you imagine working for 40 years and having to see me everyday? Let’s toast to my wife, Linda Allard Gallen."Allard explained how she arrived from Doylestown, Ohio via Greyhound bus with $200 in her pocket and had a meeting with Gallen in his large office, after knocking on hundreds of doors seeking a job. As reported, when Gallen hired her and asked her how much she wanted to earn, she said $50 a week, and he offered her $60."I knew I liked the man right there, but I never dreamed I’d end up marrying him 38 years later. I think he took pity on me. Thank you for being the best boss I ever had, a terrific mentor who taught me everything I know about the business and a fabulous husband," said Allard. "It was all worth it," Gallen shot back.Then Traub, who called himself the "senior retailer" in the room, took the mike. "You always told every retailer how lucky we were to buy Ellen Tracy. This evening, everything is done to perfection, which is so typical of Herb Gallen. Herb, you’re one of the great people in this industry."Just as things were winding down, a surprise guest arrived: Bette Midler took over the stage at the back of the room."Whoever knew this was here?" asked Midler, about the Celeste Bartos room. "You know you’ve arrived when you play the library. Last year, we played the stadiums. This year the reference room. Somebody tell my agent."Midler called out to the audience to find Allard. "Linda Allard, flash the ring so I know where you are…. Herbie, you look so good at 87. Money looks good at any age."Midler sang several numbers, including an ode to Linda: "She got Herbie and the ring. She’s worked 40 years. The girl is tired. Goodbye Linda. Thank you, it’s Claiborne’s headache now."

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