MS. VERSACE GOES TO WASHINGTON
Byline: KEVIN WEST
NEW YORK — The chartered Gulfstream II was scheduled to fly Saturday at 11 a.m. But when Donatella Versace’s makeup artist, Ayoko, arrives for duty at the Versace townhouse on East 64th Street, Donatella is still asleep and no one really knows where Naomi Campbell is.
It’s the day after the VH-1 fashion awards here, and Donatella is zipping down to Washington to attend the National Italian American Foundation gala, where she’ll accept the Fashion Excellence Award and the Friendship Award bestowed on her late brother Gianni. And where she’ll meet Bill and Hillary. The Clintons have attended the annual event for four years and are scheduled to come to this one.
But the night before, Donatella hosted an all-star party at the house to celebrate the award she won at VH-1 for Best Secondary Collection, and people stayed late. When her husband, Paul Beck, turned in at the sensible hour of 1:30 a.m., Mick Jagger, Jim Carrey, Kate Moss and U2’s The Edge were still raising a ruckus beneath the Frank Moore paintings in the dining room, and Bono was asking for a tour of the Picassos and Schnabels upstairs. Naomi Campbell and Courtney Love didn’t leave until 6 a.m.
So Ayoko waits — she’s used to waiting by now. Everyone in the world of Versace has to reset their watches to DST — Donatella Standard Time. Even British Airways once held the Concorde for Donatella. For the family’s majordomo, Thomas Trautman, to reschedule a flight from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey is a minor logistical problem.
Tracking down Naomi is tougher. Presumably, she’s asleep somewhere and has turned off the ringer on her Motorola cell phone — which is engraved “Naomi” in elaborate script — because it’s never out of reach when she’s awake.
Ayoko and KCD publicist Marcus Ebner go upstairs to watch “Style With Elsa Klench” in Gianni’s bedroom. Ebner explains that the family is trying to use the room casually — so that the doors to Gianni’s floor of the townhouse don’t close and stay sealed forever.
Paul Beck comes downstairs around noon. It turns out he’s been up for hours — making phone calls upstairs. Carefully groomed and dressed in black with a platinum Rolex, he weighs in on the awards show of the night before. Mark Wahlberg’s nerdy styling, he thinks, was maybe a bit much.
“Either the hair or the glasses or the tie,” he says. “But not all three.” Wahlberg, he adds, has just been shot for the new Versace Jeans ad campaign.
Finally, the moment of truth arrives: time to wake Donatella. Thomas gets the chore.
“I’m always the one who has to wake her,” he grouses. When he comes back down, though, the report is good — she’s up and feeling fine. Ayoko heads upstairs. A buzz goes through the townhouse. It’s time to move.
Thomas reports that, somehow, Naomi has been located and she’ll join Donatella and the group at the plane. By 1 p.m., bodyguard Aaron Freeman, who also works for Prince, has the luggage stowed in the first limo, and the peripheral entourage pulls away as Donatella descends in the elevator from her top-floor suite.
When they arrive at Teterboro, the jet is waiting on the runway. Naomi is not.
“Where are you?” Donatella asks her on the cell phone. “We are on the plane.”
Five minutes later, Naomi arrives — hair piled atop her head and face hidden behind oversized shades. She tosses her Vuitton duffel behind the seat, and the plane taxis down the runway. The flight attendant, Stacey Wilson — who grew up on a farm in North Carolina and can’t be more than 24 — looks a little helpless as she asks Donatella to please not smoke until after the plane takes off.
When the plane arrives at Washington’s Dulles Airport, two stretch limos are waiting on the tarmac to whisk everyone to the Four Seasons in Georgetown. The NIAF event will be held at the Hilton on Connecticut Avenue — but clearly, no Versace is going to stay at a Hilton. The Versace group is joined in the Presidential Suite by Interview magazine’s Ingrid Sichy, who has just arrived from Atlanta, where she was visiting Elton John. Naomi is hungry and wants scrambled eggs with Tabasco and fried chicken. Room service and KFC oblige.
Then disaster strikes — the zipper on Naomi’s white couture gown (by Versace, of course) breaks. She’s distraught. Donatella is furious. Although someone thought to pack a spare dress, apparently that’s not the point, because even after Naomi has changed into a knockout black column dress, tensions still run very high.
Finally arriving at the Hilton, Donatella, Naomi and Beck go to the private reception for the guests of honor, who will sit at the head table during dinner. The 3,000 guests can get close enough to the dais seating to admire Donatella’s huge diamond rings, and maybe even catch a snatch of conversation between her and fellow honoree, Al Pacino, but there’s no chance of rubbing shoulders with the stars.
That honor is reserved for the President, and he’s an hour late: It’s his wife’s 50th birthday, and they are celebrating with friends. But when, at long last, he arrives, he goes around to shake each honoree’s hand. Then he goes back to talk to Donatella a second time before he and the First Lady leave, and dinner begins.
The awards begin after dinner, when Naomi announces the Gianni Versace Scholarship for Fashion Design, and Donatella thanks NIAF with brief remarks. From there, the glamour factor is about nil, but by 11 p.m., the limos are rushing the Versace group straight back to the airport.
For the first time all day, the dark cloud that has hung over the entourage lifts. Donatella seems to have been absolutely charmed by Clinton.
“The President said to me, ‘It was such a tragedy what happened with your brother, but I am so proud of you for the way you have handled it,”‘ she reports as the jet climbs to 20,000 feet. But it was another comment that really won her over.
“He invited me to come for a private dinner at the White House.”
“OK, I’ll see if I’m free,” she said teasingly. “Let me check my agenda.”
And what did the First Lady say?
“I’m not a Spice Girl,” she whispered in Donatella’s ear, “but ‘girl power.”‘