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It’s unclear whether Matthew Mellon’s 44th birthday dinner in New York Monday night was for business or pleasure. Sure, the banking heir, who has started a luxury cashmere collection with his 25-year-old fiancée, Noelle Reno, was surrounded by a handful of longtime friends and family, including his uncle, Jay Mellon, and cousin, Justin Patterson. But the guest of honor’s nearest and dearest were outnumbered by fashion editors, publicists and social swells, many of whom admitted they weren’t all that tight with the birthday boy. “I’m not sure why we’re here,” said one guest at the intimate affair. Another attendee noted he’d only met Mellon two weeks ago, during a late night out at Los Angeles hot spot Teddy’s.

Of course, that didn’t stop any of them from trekking to Socialista in the far West Village for the affair, grabbing up free drinks and feasting on empanadas, black cod and chocolate souffles. “I’m really so moved by everyone who came,” Mellon said to the crowd, which included Vikram Chatwal, Dori Cooperman (who helped coordinate the guest list), Alvin Valley, Rose Bar doorman Damion Luaiye and Jennifer Creel.

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“When I first met Matthew, he said he was five years younger than he is,” Reno recalled. Since then, she added, “we’ve been through death, divorce, rehab….”

And now, business. Mellon and Reno, whose home base is London, are in town to show their knit line called Degrees of Freedom at the St. Regis today. Pin-thin and poised with the press, Reno bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Mellon’s ex-wife, Tamara, and she seems to share the Jimmy Choo exec’s ambition. Perhaps Reno will pick up some tips on brand building when she and her betrothed hit Monday night’s party for Halston, where Tamara also serves as creative director (the former and future Mrs. Mellons are said to be friendly).

In case anyone in attendance was still unaware of the couple’s new venture by evening’s end, Mellon helped drive the point home. After blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, he stood up to thank his friends for their support, before adding: “And I encourage you all to come by and see Degrees of Freedom.”

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