HOT TOPIC: Madonna is no stranger to controversy, but the latest claims go right to the heart of her humanitarian efforts — and indirectly implicate Gucci in the process.

On Wednesday, claimed the singer “has conned both UNICEF USA and Gucci into helping her raise money for the Kabbalah Centre and Madonna’s patron gurus, the Berg family.” The article claimed Madonna’s charity, Raising Malawi, is a front for the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, and thus implied that Gucci’s Feb. 6 benefit to aid UNICEF and Raising Malawi, which Madonna cohosts, ultimately benefits the Kabbalah Centre.

This story first appeared in the January 11, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I think that the claims in the story are outrageous, they are incorrect, inaccurate, hurtful and malicious,” Liz Rosenberg, Madonna’s publicist, told WWD. “The reality is — and it’s never been a secret — that the Raising Malawi organization was cofounded by Madonna and Michael Berg, who is one of the spearheading executives of the Kabbalah organization. The Raising Malawi organization is completely separate from the Kabbalah, and they are run as two separate organizations.”

The report also suggested Raising Malawi had plans to indoctrinate “unsuspecting Malawi orphans into their brand of mysticism,” having flown in teachers from Malawi to Los Angeles to “retrofit them for Kabbalah.”

“There are no religious lessons being taught to the children of Malawi,” Rosenberg said of those claims. “It’s tragic, because Madonna has put her passion and love and money behind a project that is saving children’s lives, giving them food, health care and schooling. The money that is being raised at the Gucci benefit is being divided between UNICEF and Raising Malawi.”

She added that the funds raised that night are earmarked for the building of a girls’ school in Malawi. “There is a board, where accountability will be very clear and very specific, and all funds will be accounted for,” Rosenberg said.

Gucci, too, issued a statement refuting the claims: “The accusations are not true. By agreement with Raising Malawi, the gifts and donations dedicated to Raising Malawi from this event will go directly to Raising Malawi, which is a legally distinct entity from the Kabbalah Centre or from any religious organization. Proceeds from this event are specifically allocated to support programs for orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS, including the building of a girls’ academy in Malawi.”

WILD BOYS: Houston socialite Becca Cason Thrash hopes to make the Louvre even more “Notorious.” A concert by Duran Duran under the museum’s iconic I.M. Pei pyramid headlines a three-day event being organized by Thrash, vice chairman of American Friends of the Louvre. To be held June 9 to 11, “Liaisons au Louvre” will span multiple events, including a lunch at the American Embassy, high tea in Christian Lacroix’s gardens, cocktails at Baccarat and a black-tie gala at the museum, which includes private viewings of the most spectacular galleries and a seated dinner before Duran Duran lets rip its musical reflex. Thrash says she hopes to raise more than $2 million by inviting about 250 prominent people from America, along with VIPs from Mexico, Europe and Asia. Ticket prices are $10,000: less for French residents.

MONEYBAGS: Sluggish holiday sales may have sent jitters through U.K. retailers, but at the other end of the market, it seems consumers aren’t holding back. Despite having a price tag that runs up to a heady 13,000 pounds, or $22,000 at current exchange, for an alligator skin version, Burberry’s Warrior bag already has enough takers to warrant a waiting list. The drawstring tote, part of the spring accessories collection, hits Burberry stores later this month. (Prices for the purse in plain leather start at a slightly more modest 1,595 pounds, or about $3,150.) The bag is the latest in a series of Burberry ultraluxe accessories, including the studded leather Knight bag, which retails up to 11,000 pounds, or $21,000, for an exotic skin version. To satisfy demand, Burberry recently held a series of trunk shows specifically for the limited edition versions of its luxury bags — such as the Knight, the Manor and the Ashcombe clutch — in python and alligator skins. The events took place at Burberry stores in cities including London, Las Vegas, Rome, Madrid, Kuwait and Moscow. And, to add a bespoke flourish, the bags, whose interiors carry a plaque engraved with each owner’s initials, were delivered to customers in limited edition quilted leather boxes.

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