CALVIN’S HIRE: Calvin Klein is beefing up his design ranks, having lured Francisco Costa as a design director for his women’s collection, WWD has learned. Costa was designing for Tom Ford at Gucci before joining Klein, where he will be working under the designer and Tim Gardner, creative director of design.

DEAR FIRST LADY: Thanks for the dinner — but could you see about getting Gucci Group’s Tom Ford or even Alexander McQueen to take up the couture reins at Yves Saint Laurent and save our jobs? That’s the gist of a letter sent by employees at the YSL couture house to French First Lady Bernadette Chirac last month and leaked to the Paris media this week. Chirac had hosted a dinner for employees at the Elysee Palace following the January finale show by Yves Saint Laurent, who is retiring and shutting his couture house this summer, affecting about 110 employees. The letter contends that the couture house needn’t cease activity since Christian Dior, for example, has survived successfully without its namesake designer and is thriving under designer John Galliano. The YSL workers are waiting for an answer. Meanwhile, all parties declined comment.

HIGH FIVE: Topping off Paris Fashion Week, super-trendy boutique Colette threw a bang of a party Wednesday evening to fete its fifth anniversary. “It seems like we just opened,” marveled Sarah, who operates the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore shop with her mother Colette (neither of whom use surnames). Hundreds of fashionables — including Hussein Chalayan, Azzedine Alaia and Gilles Dufour — turned up to celebrate. And to keep the party cranking, Colette commissioned the Paris cabaret club Crazy Horse to put on a risque show in its downstairs cafe.

POLO FILMS: The Ralph Lauren folks had to turn people away from their store Thursday at 888 Madison Avenue. No, it wasn’t overly crowded — the store was closed due to filming of a Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant movie all day. The movie, which is still untitled, is produced by Bullock, Furtis Films and Castle Rock Entertainment and directed by Marc Lawrence (“Miss Congeniality” and “Forces of Nature.”) In it, Grant plays a real-estate developer and Bullock is his attorney, who has no personal life. “It went really well,” said a Polo spokeswoman. “Ralph came over to meet with Sandra and Hugh.” And did they talk fashion? Nope. “They talked cars.”

AWARENESS COUNTS: Star power and good will pervaded Bloomingdale’s on Wednesday night when Meryl Streep presented Katie Couric with Bloomingdale’s “Caring Star” award for co-founding The National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance. Streep also plugged A&E’s “New York at the Movies” documentary that she’s hosting on St. Patrick’s Day, and Bloomingdale’s plugged its own Hot @ campaign, through March 24, featuring its “coolest” products of the season. Italian movie star Giancarlo Giannini was there, too, since he’s hosting A&E’s “Italy at the Movies” documentary, but he didn’t get in a plug. Streep invoked the late great Audrey Hepburn, who once plugged Bloomingdale’s as among her favorite Manhattan haunts. “I remember Audrey Hepburn once told me, ‘I have breakfast at Tiffany’s, lunch at Cartier, and fun at Bloomingdale’s,”‘ Streep said.
Couric couldn’t actually be there, since she was away on assignment, but she addressed the crowd via the big plasma screens that Bloomingdale’s hung from the ceilings just for the multipurpose occasion, and her pitch was all about public awareness. “Colorectal cancer is over 90 percent curable — if detected early,” she said. Her “Today” co-host, Matt Lauer, accepted the award on her behalf. “No one was talking about colorectal cancer, until Katie really broke down that barrier,” said Dr. Mark Pochapin, medical director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastroenterological Cancer, named after Couric’s late husband. Then Bloomingdale’s chairman Michael Gould presented a $15,000 check from the Bloomingdale’s fund of the Federated Department Stores Foundation, to the center.

FULL CIRCLE AT HALSTON? Reports have been circling Seventh Avenue for weeks that Halston is on the hunt again for a new designer following Piyawat Pattanapuckdee’s less-than-stellar debut for the house this season. Josh Patner of Tuleh, Jason Bunin and high-level designers from some of Seventh Avenue’s most revered ready-to-wear houses have met with Halston executives, according to sources, to succeed Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall and Craig Natiello, all of whom have left Halston’s revolving doors in a huff. But Duke’s evidently gotten over the bad feelings he had upon his departure in 1998 — he sued for breach of contract — and has thrown his hat back into the ring, the latest designer to have reportedly talked with chairman James J. Ammeen about reviving the brand. But licensing veteran Merle Sloss, who’s assisting Ammeen at Halston, denied all of the above. “We’re not actively looking right now,” she said. “A lot of people talk, but I don’t know why people say what they say. Maybe Randolph Duke’s just looking for a new job.”

PAM’S BACK: Call it a real-life case of Hollywood survivor: Red carpet favorite Pamela Dennis isn’t sitting out this Oscars, telling WWD Thursday that she’s decided to take up a week-long residence starting Monday at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills to service her famous and socialite clients. The move marks her return to business, she enthused, including big plans for a Manhattan boutique filled with product, from footwear to furnishings. “I’m abiding by my noncompete,” she assured, referring to her departure from the Leiber Group (formerly Pegasus Group), “but servicing my private customers.” It’s been exactly a year since the very public and acrimonious split between the designer and her former backer, Leiber, which retains the Pamela Dennis trademark and through a partnership with the Kay Unger Group continues production under the Pamela Dennis Evening brand.
“They think they can recreate me without me,” continued Dennis. “But my customers are calling saying they want the real Pamela Dennis.” Prior to Pegasus, Dennis has sold her name to Cheil Industries, a subsidiary of Samsung Group of South Korea. Even she admitted her story has the ingredients of a Lifetime network movie.
The designer said she is following the noncompete agreement by not selling to retailers until February 2003, when she also plans to open her own store. In the meantime, her ideas will only be available made-to-order to individual clients. How does the label read? “It has to say By Designer Pamela Dennis,” she said. With the next phase next year, she will rename the company — but just what remains mum for fear, she said, the Leiber Group might copyright the name before her.
Dennis added she is close to signing a short-term lease for a loft studio in a Manhattan neighborhood, either SoHo, TriBeCa or Chelsea. The new phase will be mostly family financed, although she is considering some offers. “But only minority interests. After assessing these unfortunate partnerships, I’ve learned that I prefer to keep it in the family.”

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