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NEW YORK — J’accuse!

This story first appeared in the November 3, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It was slow going for the first hour of Fashion Group International’s annual designer benefit on Thursday, but boy did things heat up when Donna Karan took the podium and pointed the finger at her own chief executive, Fred Wilson, who’s widely rumored to be taking over the reins of Saks Fifth Avenue — although she was the last to know.

“Fred, you are my family and you always will be,” said Karan, jabbing the affable executive, who is credited with cleaning up her business since it was acquired by LVMH Moët Hennesy Louis Vuitton. Karan stoked the flames a bit more when she threw her hat into the ring for any available jobs in the industry.

“There’s so many of the designers here I want to work for,” Karan told the audience. “When I saw Dries Van Noten, I had a coronary attack. I’d like to experience other areas of design. I’ve always said I’d love to design Jean Paul Gaultier. MAC, I’ll do makeup. Calvin [Tsao], if you need an assistant in your studio. Fred, if you find you need a replacement as the ceo of my company, I’m available….As a woman, I’d like to see a woman standing here next year running for president. Of course, I’m available to do that as well.”

Karan was half-kidding, but FGI’s annual Night of Stars hasn’t usually been a provocative affair. But this year, the celebrity factor threatened to overwhelm the event, as Liza Minnelli, Demi Moore, Lisa Marie Presley and daughter Riley Keough, Uma Thurman, Grace Jones and Iman nearly eclipsed the designers. There were many on hand: honorees Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Gaultier, Van Noten and Philip Treacy, Pierre Cardin, plus Amanda Brooks and Bryan Bradley, Behnaz Sarafpour, Miguel Adrover, Zac Posen, Maria Cornejo, David Meister, Cathy Hardwick, James Purcell and Pamela Dennis — many of them wearing their own designs or dragging a gaggle of models in their latest collections. Tsao was honored for architecture, and awards were also presented to Cartier and John Demsey of MAC.

“Can you believe this?” asked Michael Kors as he escaped the media pen, about 20 minutes after his arrival with Karolina Kurkova. “This used to be so small, and when we pulled up, Karolina turned to me in the car and said, ‘I’m really shy.’”

Fortunately, she was kidding, and worked reporters all along the red carpet in a yellow lace dress. Gaultier wore one of his first men’s skirts from a 1985 collection, while Chloë Sevigny looked more sophisticated than usual, in a white Jeffrey Chow gown.

“We have the same hairdresser,” she said.

Minnelli wore a coat by Gianfranco Ferré, who was also in town last week.

“It’s a coat he made just for me,” Minnelli said. “That’s all you need: a little Ferré, some slacks and a tan job.”

Grace Jones arrived with her customary zeal, in long leather gloves, an Issey Miyake dress and one of Treacy’s elaborate hats, a ruby crystal-covered, form-fitting skullcap that covered her eyes and extended a foot beyond her head, leaving her mouth the only visible part of her body. The waiters circling her table kept bumping into the hat, knocking the poor thing around all night.

“At least she only had to put on half the makeup,” Iman said.

The late entrance of the Dolce & Gabbana entourage led to another round of paparazzi madness, as did Thurman’s in a stunning gown by Gaultier.

“They say God is in the details,” she said in presenting an award to the designer. “When you take a Gaultier dress and turn it inside out, I think God would feel well served by Gaultier.”

But it was Demi Moore who stole the evening as she presented Karan’s “superstar” award. Moore usually complains about her nervousness in public speaking at these events. She began with an ode to making dreams into reality, something about tenacity, diversity and adversity, before pulling out a surprise, Karan’s 1972 recommendation letter for membership in FGI, a hand-written note from her former employer, Anne Klein, which the actress read aloud:

“‘Her personality is one of maturity, evenness and pleasant and courteous in every respect. Her character is one of objectivity, accomplishment and every job carried out. In addition to her accomplishment as a designer, Ms. Karan has excellent organizational skills and a fine sense of detail.’”

Given Karan’s own admission that she is rarely any of the above, the letter drew a few laughs. But if she’s really heading out to the job market, at least she’s got a handy reference.

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