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A torrent of immigrant VIPs in town for a week of the most glamorous parties of La Rentrée raised the normally still waters of Paris’ social swim to flood level last week. “Parli Italiano?” was the question of the night when director Franco Zeffirelli arrived for the world premiere of his “Callas Forever,” starring Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons. On the 25th anniversary of the singer’s death, the film tells a fictional story of a gay English rock-group manager who coaxes La Callas from retirement to make a film of “Carmen,” a role the real Callas recorded but never performed onstage.

At a party afterward at the Italian Embassy, Ardant’s realistic lip-synching — and Karl Lagerfeld’s alluring costumes — drew favorable comments. But at least one acquaintance of La Callas questioned Zeffirelli’s celluloid hagiography of the diva.

This story first appeared in the September 26, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It’s a fraud,” Guy de Rothschild said. “It is a nice movie, but Callas was not like that. Not as pretty and she did not smile so much. She was even mean!”

The next night, the spirit of resurrected genius also animated a gala opening, sponsored by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault, of the blockbuster exhibition “Matisse Picasso.” After a private viewing at the Grand Palais and a revival performance of two ballets with costumes by the artists, tout le monde went to the Pavillon Ledoyen for dinner. One of the first guests to arrive was John Galliano, who greeted fans and friends, each of them inquiring about where to find a cocktail.

“Why is everyone asking me?” he asked with a laugh.

The sparkling parade of guests included Bernadette Chirac — a guest of Arnault and his wife, Hélène — as well as Hedi Slimane; Eric and Arielle de Rothschild; Amalia Lacroze Fortabat on the arm of the Duke of Lugo; Lilianne Bettencourt; Farah Pahlavi, the Shabanou; Carla Fendi and Nicholas and Eugenie Clive-Worms (née Livanos). She wore an elegant pair of JAR earrings, a 30th-birthday present from her husband. On each disk-shaped earring, three groups of diamond XXXs — the Roman numeral 30 — commemorated the occasion.

“When Judy Taubman saw them,” reported Clive-Worms, “she said, ‘How clever. Nicholas can give them for your 30th, your 60th and your 90th birthdays.’”

The following night, many of the same crowd, as well as Hélène David Weill, Cécile Zilkha, Marina and Michael of Greece, Sydney Picasso, Pierre Rosenberg and Beatrice Rothschild, Lee Radziwill, Susan Gutfreund, Deeda Blair and Sandy and Jean Yturbe attended a gala preview of the Biennale des Antiquaires, the most important art and antiques fair in Paris. With summer tans still visible on some faces, members of the social crowd were already talking about their winter plans. Doris Brynner said that she still loves the mountains, but has given up skiing. More or less.

“It’s like an old lover you can’t resist,” she joked. “I go back to it from time to time.”

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