FIGHTIN’ WORDS: At a Pinault-Printemps-Redoute news conference on Thursday (see related story, page 9), Gucci boss Domenico De Sole boasted that his luxury group would soon become the first to have two brands of equal stature: Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. A few hours later at the Christian Dior show, De Sole’s archrival, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, was asked what he thought of De Sole’s claims. Arnault guffawed: “We already have four or five star brands: Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Hennessy, Moet Chandon. I’d say Mr. De Sole has a lot of ground to make up.” Also at the news conference, De Sole offered an analogy suitable to his fashion warrior ways. “Growing up in Italy, I remember reading about president Truman saying that the two great publicity machines were Stalin and the U.S. Marine Corps,” he said. “I would like to add a third: Gucci Group.” De Sole was referring to the group’s editorial windfall last year: 44 magazine covers and 2,292 pages featuring their products.

SANDER ON THE SIDELINES: Alber Elbaz is showing his debut collection for Lanvin on Sunday, but word just surfaced that it might have been Jil Sander. Sources said Sander and Morgan Stanley took a look at Lanvin last year when beauty giant L’Oreal decided to get out of the fashion business and sell the French house. Ultimately, Lanvin sold to a group of investors known as Harmonie SA, led by media baroness Shaw-Lan Wang. Since selling her company to Prada Group and exiting as head designer, Sander’s name has been linked to many firms, including Hermes and even Jil Sander. Meanwhile, her noncompete agreement with Prada is in effect until early next year.

SEX SELLS: Now that Miuccia Prada is exploring her sexy side on the runway, will she go all the way with a steamy ad campaign? The designer has been quizzing editors and stylists for suggestions on a suitable photographer for her upcoming fall campaign and many fingers have been pointed at Helmut Newton, the master of, shall we say, master-and-servant imagery. Newton was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But it’s true Prada has been of several minds about her campaigns lately. The current black-and-white spring campaign, lensed by Steven Meisel, was her third try for the season, after scrapping two earlier shoots.

KARL CREAM: Karl Lagerfeld’s hotly anticipated diet book won’t be out until April. But already, beauty buffs in Paris are gobbling up advice, jockeying for position at cosmetic counters in search of what they’re calling “Karl Lagerfeld cream.” In recent interviews about his dramatic loss of 90 pounds, Lagerfeld has sung the praises of Clarins anticellulite products for slimming down his hands and also La Prairie’s “Caviar” products for the face, saying the latter products save him from looking like a “wilted flower.” Meanwhile, Lagerfeld, who now boasts a 26-inch waist, will be unveiling a new line of jeans at his Lagerfeld Gallery show today, which he developed in partnership with Diesel.

BATTLE ROYALE: American editors, who urged the Chambre Syndicale to shorten Paris Fashion Week, have embarked on another campaign. This time, it’s personal. They say Denise Dubois, longtime director of external relations at the Chambre, has been asked to retire, but the editors want her to stay and have written letters of protest. Chambre president Didier Grumbach acknowledged receiving them, but declined to comment.

YSL DU JOUR: Tom Ford channeled Betty Catroux for his first Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche collection. Could his fall collection, to be shown Monday, be inspired by Catherine Deneuve? Sources said Ford’s fall collection will feature lots of chantilly lace, black leather and velvet, softened by lots of bows: tres Belle de Jour. And word has it that Deneuve, who recently sang a farewell song to Yves Saint Laurent at his retirement show, might be the guest of honor.

CARGOS A GO-GO: Last season, fashion editors in Paris were trading intelligence on where to score an ultra-scarce Balenciaga lariat handbag. This season, all attentions are being focused on Nicolas Ghesquiere’s low-slung green cargo pants, which retail for about $700 to $750. The Balenciaga flagship store pre-sold about 60 pairs, with customers around the world in hot pursuit calling with credit cards in hand. Not to worry, though: another shipment is expected in mid-March. Meanwhile, home sewers are furiously patching together Ghesquiere’s filmy tops with chain-mail trim.

PAINTED LADY: Guess who’s now doing the makeup at Yves Saint Laurent? Linda Cantello, who has worked backstage with YSL creative director Tom Ford for years, has been tapped as a freelance artistic consultant for makeup. She succeeds Terry de Gunzburg, who had been YSL’s in-house creative director for makeup. “[Linda] is in total harmony with Tom’s philosophy that women must always be sexy,” explained Chantal Roos, president of YSL Beaute. “She translates [his] world of fashion into the world of beauty.”

ROAD TO SPLITSVILLE: Best known for lush historical dramas, movie production team James Ivory and Ismail Merchant’s next project is a contemporary tale based in Paris — and shooting begins Monday. “Le Divorce,” a tale of matrimonial strife, will star Kate Hudson, Glenn Close and Matthew Modine. It is based on the novel of the same name by Diane Johnson. “The story’s really, really funny,” said Merchant at the Christian Dior show on Thursday, where he sat front row with Ivory. “And it’s very modern — about life today.”

SHORT LIST: Terry Jones, who founded the magazine I-D more than 20 years ago, will compile a book of the most influential fashion designers working today. Entitled “Fashion Now,” it will be published by Taschen this fall. “At the beginning, we wanted to stick to 100 designers, including both established and new designers. But it’s hard to choose. The industry seems to be prepared to support innovative designers today. Look at Gucci’s support of Lee [Alexander McQueen].”

THE SMELL OF VIKTOR-Y: Are four nostrils better than two? We may know soon. The high-flying Dutch design duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, who show on Saturday, are said to be in pursuit of a partner to launch their first fragrance. According to sources, one of the candidates is French beauty giant L’Oreal.

ANOTHER RED ALERT: Speculation that Marzotto is poised to announce its acquisition of Valentino from the current owner, HdP, reached another boiling point late Thursday. An Italian wire service proclaimed the deal done and said it would be made official at Valentino’s Paris runway show on Tuesday. But a Marzotto spokesman denied the report and said the group would “make an announcement when there was going to be something to announce.”

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