ART RACE: Bernard Arnault is inching closer to establishing an art museum in Paris. Sources said the luxury goods titan is in final talks with architect Frank Gehry to build an art foundation in the Bois de Boulogne in western Paris, the vast and picturesque park where Christian Dior shows its couture collections. It is understood a deal could be finalized by August. The foundation would mark another chapter in the epic rivalry between luxury titans Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and François Pinault, whose family controls PPR and Gucci Group. Last April, Pinault unveiled his collection of modern and contemporary art at Palazzo Grassi in Venice after plans to build a Tadao Ando museum in Paris were scuttled. Reached late Friday, a spokesman for Arnault had no comment.

ISLAND LIFE: Although Tommy Hilfiger Corp. pulled the plug on Karl Lagerfeld‘s New York operation last week — returning the Lagerfeld Collection business back to Paris and ending the Karl Lagerfeld contemporary line — that won’t keep the designer from pursuing his love affair with the New York. Lagerfeld said Friday he would continue to show Lagerfeld Collection during New York Fashion Week, shooting ad campaigns and editorials in Manhattan — and he held out the possibility that he might bring the Chanel cruise line back Stateside after a successful outing at Grand Central Terminal last month. “I’m very much a fan of showing abroad. Fashion can be like an ambassador,” he quipped. To be sure, Lagerfeld is forever on the move. Just back from the U.S., he’s off to Rome this week for Fendi, and already is plotting a fashion show in Monte Carlo in December for Chanel’s luxury pre-fall collection. And besides preparing for the upcoming Chanel couture show, Lagerfeld’s other sundry projects include lensing a new eyewear campaign for Chanel, this one starring Shalom Harlow.

GETTING THE PICTURE: In photography parlance, Martine Sitbon has her camera set on the slow-exposure setting. At the opening of a World Press Photo exhibition, hosted by Azzedine Alaïa in his lofty Marais gallery last week, the Belgian designer confirmed she’s gearing up to rejoin the fashion rat race for the shows next spring. The designer slipped off of the fashion radar when she filed for bankruptcy in 2004. “I’m excited about starting over with a new energy,” said Sitbon. Meanwhile, photographer Reza Deghati, who attended the event with fellow snapper William Klein, disclosed he would soon be working on a photographic project with none other than Monsieur Alaïa himself.

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A VERSACE DEBUT: That Versace clan has a hard time keeping away from the catwalk — and 24-year-old Francesca Versace is no exception. A niece of Donatella Versace — and her late brother, Gianni — Francesca made her catwalk debut last week as one of 40 BA honors graduates at London’s Central Saint Martins student graduation show. Her 11-piece collection featured long — and short — cashmere wool ruffle-front dresses, short padded coats lined in silk and lingerie-inspired lace and cashmere romper suits. “It was inspired by my childhood memories in Como, and the romance of the lake,” said Versace, referring to the family’s Como palazzo. “But it was also sexy and filled with the things I love to wear.” Her parents, Santo and Cristiana, and brother, Antonio, cheered her on during the show, held in a hall in London’s East End — a far cry from the cobbled streets of Milan. Versace, who says her heart is in fashion, won’t be going into the family business, and is instead “exploring opportunities” with other fashion brands. She said her last name has absolutely been a boon. “There are so many advantages and connections that come with it, but the teachers were tough on me during my four years here. And that toughness helped me grow up.”

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