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NEW YORK — Gwyneth Paltrow is painfully familiar with cancer. Her father, Bruce, died of complications from the disease in 2002, and the actress said many of her friends have been diagnosed with cancer — some are still fighting it.

So Paltrow jumped at the chance when the Entertainment Industry Foundation approached her to become the 2008 ambassador for its annual Key to the Cure campaign with Saks Fifth Avenue.

This story first appeared in the July 29, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“If there is anything I can do to help raise money, especially with a charity like this, I will,” Paltrow told WWD. “I read about the charity and how aggressively they are trying to find a cure, not only for women’s cancers but also for other cancers. They target a lot of different areas out there. They support people who are coming up with innovative ideas to cure cancer. It’s an issue that touched me in a lot of ways.”

Paltrow added that the initiative will also donate money to the Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund.

She is the sixth Oscar-winning actress to become the ambassador to the KTTC program. This year, Karl Lagerfeld created the special T-shirt to benefit the initiative.

The 2008 effort also marks a milestone for Saks. It’s the 10th anniversary of Saks’ charity shopping event, which, in conjunction with its vendors and partners, has raised more than $28 million for cancer institutions.

Saks Fifth Avenue first partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and its Fashion Targets Breast Cancer program in 1999, and in 2003, teamed up with EIF’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund and launched KTTC. For the past six years, Mercedes-Benz USA also has provided additional financial support to the initiative.

Since 1999, more than 100,000 T-shirts have been sold, with the most successful designed by Diane von Furstenberg and promoted by Hilary Swank, and Juicy Couture with Renée Zellweger. A Saks spokeswoman said multiple purchases of the T-shirts are frequent, with some shoppers buying 10 at a time. Saks stores in Atlanta; Indianapolis; New Orleans; Indianapolis; Phoenix; Chevy Chase, Md.; Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa, Fla., have been the most successful in raising money.

“I consider KTTC one of the most important fund-raising and charitable activities that we undertake,” said Saks Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Stephen I. Sadove. “It started 10 years ago as a breast cancer program in partnership with the CFDA with Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, and in 2003, we decided to make it our own initiative against all women’s cancers.

“We’re committed to supporting the causes we believe in, and cancer and cancer research is at the core of who we are,” Sadove said. “Eighty-five percent of our customers are women, and we are committed to giving back to our communities. Whether it’s breast cancer or other cancers, it touches so many of us. I lost a sister to breast cancer. It’s important to keep the awareness high, to keep the research going and to find a cure.”

Money raised through this year’s initiative is expected to reach more than 50 organizations, including the Women’s Cancer Research Fund, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the Nevada Cancer Institute and the Cleveland Clinic.

This year’s shopping weekend will take place Oct. 16-19 at all 53 full-line Saks stores, 48 Off 5th Stores, and Shoppers will find special items to benefit the cause, including the $40 Lagerfeld-designed T-shirt, which features two crossed arrows emblazoned on its front, one of which is topped with a heart, and an illustration of the Kaiser himself on the back.

Paltrow, who is wearing the T-shirt in the public service advertisement that was photographed by Julian Broad, said she likes Lagerfeld’s design, particularly because of his self-portrait.

“It doesn’t look like it’s printed,” Paltrow said. “It looks like somebody drew on the shirt, and it’s sweet and cool at the same time. It looks quite homemade, which I really like. I want to buy a whole stack of them and give them as presents.”

Mercedes-Benz is again creating a limited edition vehicle to benefit the cause — a white metallic version of the 2009 S550 sedan with a beige and black interior, among other features. The car will be available at Mercedes-Benz dealerships in September, and the car maker expects to take in $1 million for the cause through sales of the 1,000 cars.

“It gets our dealer excited, gives customers something special, is a national platform we can activate locally and at the end of day, it is all for a good cause,” said Stephen Cannon, vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the initiative, Saks, EIF and Mercedes-Benz USA also will cosponsor a road trip, with cancer activist Lori Raimondo, traveling to 11 Saks stores in the special sedan. Raimondo plans to meet the local media and community partners, as well as cancer survivors that support KTTC. Raimondo will blog about her experiences at

“One in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime in America,” said Lisa Paulsen, president and ceo of EIF. “It touches everyone. We found…that more and more women are investing in this campaign because more women are touched by cancer.”

Paulsen pointed to the developing breast cancer program Biomarker Discovery Project as a particular success. “It’s now going into phase two of the trials, and is showing a lot of efficacy,” Paulsen said.

Dr. Lee Hartwell, director of The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said the basic goal of the Biomarker Discovery Project is to develop methods for identifying signals of early cancer in the blood, and projected that its development would take another three years.

“The EIF was really the first group to recognize the importance of this approach and fund it, and so their activity has catalyzed a lot of other work that is going on out there,” Hartwell said. “It brings attention, but it’s also bringing results.”

The Entertainment Industry Foundation Women’s Cancer Research Fun leadership consists of honorary chairs Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, with co-founders Kelly Chapman Meyer, Jamie Tisch, Anne Douglas, Marion Laurie and Quinn Ezralow. Each has different reasons for participating in the organization.

“There is not a woman alive who is unscathed or untouched by cancer,” Wilson said. “For me, the idea to actually fund scientists to help find a biotester, which would be a blood test for breast cancer, is very important. That is in our reach in our generation.”

Tisch said the T-shirt has been extremely successful in raising awareness and bringing in money to fund research. “Just having Gwyneth Paltrow, Renée Zellweger or Glenn Close gets acknowledgement from the general public, both men and women,” she said. “People recognize it now, and have come to look for it around October.”

Chapman Meyer agreed, adding that the T-shirts also served to help those affected by cancer on an emotional level. When a friend of her sister was in the hospital dying of cancer, Chapman Meyer recalled sending a batch of the Stella McCartney designed T-shirts for the patient and her friends. “They all wore it around her bed, rallied and put her in the T-shirt,” she said. “I think it just gave this friend of theirs who was dying of cancer hope that maybe her daughter wasn’t going to.”

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