GUEST LIST: Giorgio Armani has received another RSVP for his couture week festivities in Paris, and it’s a big one: Cate Blanchett. The actress is expected to join the likes of Tina Turner, Katie Holmes, Rosamund Pike and Tinsley Mortimer as Armani presents his fifth couture collection, launches prestige skin care for men and women and inaugurates a new-look boutique on Avenue Montaigne in which clothes and accessories will be presented in wardrobes and trunks.

GUCCI’S GREEN: It looks like Gucci Group’s balance sheet is set to get a cash injection. A well-placed source said that real estate company Gruppo Statuto recently bought the building housing Gucci’s offices on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone for 180 million euros ($232 million) and intends to rent part of the space back to Gucci for commercial spaces. Statuto, is still mulling what to do with the remainder of the building, the source said, but it might use some of the palazzo’s 48,400 square feet to expand another of its properties, the Four Seasons hotel. Both Statuto and Gucci declined to comment on the state of the building. Regardless, the deal doesn’t affect the Gucci flagship down the road.

ASPREY’S MADISON MOVE: Asprey has signed a lease to open a New York flagship at 853 Madison Avenue, the company said in statement Friday.

As reported, the British luxury jewelry, ready-to-wear and accessories brand will open a 7,500-square-foot unit on the shopping thoroughfare in April, housed in a space formerly occupied by part of the Yves Saint Laurent store.

“A strong presence in New York has always been a key element in our development strategy,” said Gianluca Brozzetti, Asprey Group’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “We have chosen very prestigious locations that will allow Asprey to present its products in a more exclusive and intimate way.”

Asprey exited its loss-making 20,000-square-foot flagship in Trump Tower in March, after the company was sold to Sciens Capital Management LLC and Plainfield Asset Management LLC. Since then, Asprey had been trading from a temporary location at 50 East 57th Street. The new store’s concept will be based on the brand’s Norman Foster-designed New Bond Street London flagship, the company said, and will carry Asprey’s entire collection, including fine jewelry, men’s and women’s apparel, accessories and silver gift items.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

HOP TO IT: Comme des Garçons is taking the Mickey out of Disneyland. Disney Japan approached the Japanese brand to feature Oswald — a rabbit designed by Walt Disney in 1927 before he came up with Mickey Mouse — on T-shirts, shirts and wallets. For his big debut, Oswald will get center stage in two new display units designed by Rei Kawakubo for the brand’s Dover Street Market store in London and its Paris boutique. The kiosk-like constructions will be used to sell select products, wallets and fragrances.

V FOR VICTORY: Dior’s fine jewelry designer, Victoire de la Castellane, has set Feb. 13 as the date for a Paris ceremony where she will be decorated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. “I’m thrilled to be able to accept the recognition on behalf of all those artisans across the ateliers of Paris who’ve helped me achieve it,” said de la Castellane, who has made her mark at Dior with collections such as the Incroyables et Merveilleuses and the Fiancée du Vampire.

HAVING A BALL: While Karl Lagerfeld has a knack for first identifying major modeling talent, he is also known to sometimes do castings from his immediate circle. To wit: Sebastien Jondeau, his strapping bodyguard/private secretary who is never far from his elbow, has turned up in Chanel’s summer look books, which have been shot by Lagerfeld. Although the ruggedly handsome Jondeau’s preferred sport is boxing, he looks convincing athletic dressed in Chanel’s rugby-themed sport collection, which includes a hooded sweatshirt, taffeta fitness pants and a CC-logo rugby ball. Meanwhile, word has it Lagerfeld has wrangled a new member of his entourage — the hot indie singer Cat Power — to perform at the Chanel couture show on Jan. 23.

FAMILY TIES: Yohji Yamamoto‘s daughter, Limi, is following in her father’s footsteps. She is said to be jetting in from Tokyo to Paris to attend her father’s ready-to-wear show in February, and she is also gearing up to put on a show of her own in the City of Light come the fall.

HOT LOTS: Photo booth or Paolo Roversi? Chances are, fashion folks would prefer the latter and will be bidding up a storm when a chance to sit for a portrait with Roversi goes up for auction Jan. 25 in Paris during the Sidacation AIDS benefit gala at the tail end of couture week. Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent have also dipped into their extensive private art collection and are offering up a serpent-shaped vase by Niki de Saint Phalle to aid the charity. The signed piece from 1991 is one of a numbered series of 50.

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