THE SWEET SMELL OF DURESS: Are the critics at the New York Times as mean as Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist from the Fifties on whom the show “The Sweet Smell of Success” is based? That’s the word in and out of the building following a Ben Brantley review of the show that ran in the Times on March 15, in which the critic called the production a “narcotic concoction” and insinuated that he fell asleep mid-show. So why did the Times print yet another pan of the show in this Sunday’s paper? A spokesman for the Times said Friday, “It is our usual practice to run separate reviews daily and Sunday,” but rumor has it the second review was assigned when Times book critic Michiko Kakutani marched into editors’ offices and announced she was ashamed of the paper for printing Brantley’s review. In an attempt to placate Kakutani, editors sent Margo Jefferson to re-review the show, but to their surprise, the show had a soporific effect on her as well. She called the current adaptation of “Success” a source of “confusion, thwarted hope, and then dull wonder.”For his part, Brantley claims to have no knowledge of Kakutani’s attempted intervention. “I read the [Jefferson] review, which seemed to be pretty similar to mine in opinion, but if there’s anything going on [at the Times], I wouldn’t know about it. I just write my little reviews from home.”

PRESIDENTIAL PLEAS: Cerruti employees, let go as part of new owner Fin.part’s cost-cutting measures, are campaigning for some presidential support during the current election season.The disgruntled ex-workers sent letters to all 41 presidential candidates participating in the race, detailing their gripes. They also canvassed First Lady, Bernadette Chirac, — who seems to be on the receiving end of these pleas lately. (The Yves Saint Laurent atelier workers wrote to her, seeking her help in saving their jobs.) The Cerruti group has not yet received a response from Mme. Chirac, according to Arlette Edelhauzer, a former employee. The letter spells out the complaints and notes, in a nutshell, that big “financial holding” companies that buy up brands for the prestige “are not aware of their artistic and cultural importance, they are scornful of their savoir faire. The talent, the passion, the dedication and the transmission of knowledge that make [Cerruti] an international reference, are completely ignored and are in danger of disappearing soon. Paris is losing its soul and its prestige by renouncing its ateliers and its couture houses.” Nino Cerruti himself is not too happy about the situation, either. As reported, the designer, who sold his business last year, recently complained, “I built the house on human values, which have been abandoned. [Fin.part is] ruining the house’s heritage.” For his part, Gianluigi Facchini, president of Fin.part, recently reacted bitterly to Cerruti’s criticism of Fin.part’s handling of the business. During the Paris runway shows this month, Facchini questioned why he was being slammed “by the same person who thought it best to sell the company because of the difficulties encountered in developing feasible projects,” adding, “Our goal, ever since the first day after the purchase, was to make the Cerruti label really international and global without giving up on our strategies.”

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