WWD gets the skinny on some of New York City’s most notable fashion-week scoopmeisters.
This story first appeared in the February 7, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The names, the faces and the shenanigans. New York Fashion Week is filled with gossip as much as it is clothes. After all, what else is there to do before the shows start except gossip about who’s sitting opposite you? Here, a gallery of some of those desperate to catch designers and editors at their worst.
MICHAEL GROSS, THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
When Michael Gross isn’t busy digging up Ralph Lauren’s links to Karl Marx and Hasidic dynasties, he’s performing “diarist” duties, as he likes to call them, for The New York Daily News’ “The Word” column. Although he spent 10 years attending the shows from the mid-80s to the mid-90s (culminating in his book “Model”), this is only his second season hitting the tents as a columnist. He’s not sure it’s getting any easier yet. “You’re often looking for the conversation on the fly in the dark of a tent with someone who, in my case, doesn’t want to be seen with you.”
While he’ll be on the scene as part of his usual duties, Gross said he hardly aspires to insider status. “The fashion scene is not my scene. I never wanted to be of it. I would not report on the barometric pressure of André Leon Talley’s zipper, for example,” said Gross, taking a shot at his rival The New York Post, which last season did just that.
He’s not afraid his laissez-faire approach will leave him at a disadvantage versus a more ravenous columnist, either. “I thought I would be competing with everyone, but every column in town has its own little niche. I wouldn’t say mine is definitely set in stone yet. I’m trying to do something that’s intelligent and that has a little ballast.”
JARED PAUL STERN, THE NEW YORK POST
The author of Page Six’s “Nightcrawler” and the man who did splash Andre Leon Talley’s fly across the pages of The New York Post, will be back prowling the tents this season with another installment of “Show Buzz.” But if you want Jared Paul Stern to skip your show, it’s easy — just schedule it before 3 p.m.; he does all his best work at night.
“I’m the only daily columnist,” he claimed, “and I usually have to file about 3 p.m. So, I wake up, drink lots of coffee, recover from the previous night, and write up until deadline.”
After that, he’s on the prowl. There’s only one line he won’t cross — “libel. And if it comes to that, I do it as a blind item. There are very few things I won’t print.”
Or won’t do. Once, while clad in a tuxedo at a party that President Bush’s then-underaged daughters were attending, he posed as a waiter and successfully served them both drinks.
“I’m looking forward to this particular Fashion Week,” said Stern. “Someone just gave me Gisele’s latest cell phone number. I’m going to wait until there will be some big story when everybody’s trying to reach her, and then I’ll have it.”
NOELLE HANCOCK, THE NEW YORK OBSERVER
“My only previous experience with this stuff is that I used to be a B-list model back in the day,” said Noelle Hancock, the inheritor of the Observer’s “Eight Day Week” and this season’s spy for “The Transom” column.
While other columnists sniff around for scoops, “we operate more on what people are overheard saying,” said Hancock, “and if you do overhear it, you have to be absolutely positive about what was said or it’s just cut. We have a lot less of the ‘sources say’ stuff and much more of the concrete.”
Her other job this season is to cultivate a few of the sources her editors are disinclined to use and to bolster the Observer’s reportage of Fashion Week in whatever way it can. Hancock said she’s still largely learning as she goes, and her editors aren’t hesitant to use her as a sort of gossip kamikaze. “My first job was going to the ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ premiere. And I was told, ‘Your job this evening is to ask Reese Witherspoon if she’s getting a divorce. Yeah, you’re going to feel like a cockroach.’”
MARC MALKIN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE
Last month, “Intelligencer” columnist Marc Malkin got a tip that the muscle at Interscope records had managed to convince the folks at Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin that their $30,000 limited-edition watch would generate better p.r. on Enrique Iglesias’ wrist than Guatemalan president Alfonso Cabrera’s. What Malkin didn’t realize was that the president was attempting to purchase a watch that was more than 10 times the average per capita income of the average Guatemalan citizen. Within days of running the item, the scoop had been picked up by papers all over Central America, and Cabrera accused Malkin of being a pawn of his political enemies.
What made the whole thing so ironic — in addition to the fact that Malkin simply thought he was writing about how celebrities are treated more royally than politicians — is that most of the time, Malkin’s items don’t threaten to bring down people’s careers, much less Central American governments.
“I don’t go for the jugular and I’m not out to destroy people,” he said. “I do get angry phone calls…but mostly I look at it as entertainment. I had no idea who [Cabrera] was.”
One off-limit subject: Celebrity kids. It’s not their choice their parents are famous, Malkin said, adding, “If they seek out attention, though, they’re fair game. If they become like the Hilton girls, they’re another story. The best items are about lifestyles of the rich and famous, rich people doing things you and I couldn’t even imagine.”
HORACIO SILVA AND BEN WIDDICOMBE, HINTMAG.COM
Australian born Horacio Silva and Ben Widdicombe met at Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney in 1997. They quickly became friends and within three months, were dating each other. Unfortunately, Silva says, “the gags kept flowing but the sex died out.” Now, the two write “Chic Happens” together for Lee Carter’s Hintmag.com and get their kicks in other places.
With few advertisers to worry about alienating and little competition, the duo’s habit of scorching sacred cows and writing up the misadventures of designers and fashion editors quickly turned “Chic Happens” into a gossip column that almost everyone in fashion seems to read, albeit one that few in fashion want to actually wind up in.
“In our column we tend to champion the underdog, so we believe in giving credit where it’s due,” said Widdicombe. “We don’t fawn over the big players.”
Indeed. “Chic Happens” was the first column to break the news of Anna Wintour’s relationship with Shelby Bryan (as a blind item) and they regularly go after designers like Tom Ford and Calvin Klein.
“We’re much more interested in the carnival of egos than the clothes,” said Widdicombe. “You won’t see us writing about hemlines in ‘Chic Happens.’”
Their irreverence has not turned them into pariahs, though. Silva writes frequently for Details and works at The New York Times Magazine as a deputy editor for style editor Amy Spindler. Widdicombe now works full time at The Daily News’ “Rush and Molloy” column.
“Most people are professional enough not to let the column become a problem,” Silva said.
MICHAEL LEWITTES, US WEEKLY
By most accounts, Michael Lewittes should have been fired. Having penned the “Hot Stuff” gossip column for Terry McDonnell’s Us Weekly, the writing appeared to be on the wall when Bonnie Fuller came over as the magazine’s new editor 11 months ago. As he admitted, “I thought I would have to find another job.”
A year later, there’s little chance of that being necessary.
“Maybe it’s that I have newspaper experience,” he said. “You learn that there are long hours and that it’s hard work and that to succeed entails that.”
It also entails good sources — which he’s had. He broke almost all of Julia Roberts’ top-secret wedding details and was the first to print that Rosie O’ Donnell’s girlfriend was pregnant.
It also helps that his focus is narrower than that of “Page Six” or “Rush and Molloy.”
“The daily columns can write about New York political figures and novelists. I have a smaller world. It’s Britney Spears, Madonna, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. That’s what the readers want.”
And of course, that’s what Bonnie wants.