NEVER-ENDING: The rumor that will not die keeps rearing its medusa head: Italy’s Il Sole Wednesday reported Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole have invested $287.5 million, or 250 million euros, to buy a controlling interest in Versace SpA. A Versace spokesman vehemently denied the rumor — yet again. While neither Ford nor De Sole could be reached Wednesday, De Sole in the past has gone on the record denying the duo plan to buy Versace, although the Italian press doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, speculation continues to grow over what Tom and Domenico will do next — even though their contracts with Gucci don’t actually expire until April 2004.

This story first appeared in the November 13, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A DESIGNER DISCOUNT PLAN?: Once again, the Council of Fashion Designers of America held its annual membership meeting on Wednesday, and once again, it was off limits to the press. So, once again, here’s what happened:

This year, the CFDA accepted a little swag from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and its fancy new restaurant in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle with a free luncheon for its designing members. Among the many who attended the three-course affair — a Mandarin-style caesar salad, tofu cakes over green beans served with grilled salmon and a white-chocolate “pagoda” filled with mango sauce — were Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Rebecca Taylor, Koos van den Akker, Mary McFadden, Cynthia Steffe, James Purcell, Kay Unger, Monika Tilley, Arnold Scaasi, Gerard Yosca, Reed Krakoff, Bradley Bayou and Marc Bouwer.

Alas, the usual fireworks were few and far between. Even as Stan Herman, president of the CFDA, attempted to josh regular gadfly Joan Vass, she remained conspicuously silent throughout the meeting.

Robert Lee Morris, however, picked up the slack with an unusual proposal. He suggested CFDA members who have their own stores should offer a 25 percent discount to fellow members “so we can buy from each other.” At least Herman liked the idea, as he noted he recently made a purchase at Calvin Klein during a 40 percent off sale and discovered he was offered a 30 percent discount on top of that. “So I got 70 percent off,” he reportedly said. (Good thing this wasn’t on the S.A.T.)

As for the more mundane business, Peter Arnold, the group’s executive director, was said to have told members that the new CFDA.com Web site has received 100,000 hits since it was launched. He also disclosed that the organization’s proposal to offer access to a health care plan to members should be activated around January.

ARTS AND CRAFTS: Rx Art, a nonprofit agency that raises funds to get original works of art into New York City hospitals, has brought together an impressive collection of fashion designers, artists and other creative sorts for its second annual fund-raiser — a ball featuring an auction of one-of-a-kind Christmas ornaments.

Besides the butterfly- and rhinestone-laden piece designed by the ball’s honorary co-chairs, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, the auction at the ball on Nov. 18 will include such fashionable tree trimmings as a vintage jet-beaded ball by Tuleh’s Bryan Bradley, a glass-beaded fish from Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro and a large foam head with a feather duster Afro from Barneys’ resident wit and creative director Simon Doonan.

Among the nearly 100 other participants are artists Tom Sachs, Maurizio Cattelan and Cindy Sherman, chef Rocco DiSpirito, photographer Patrick McMullan, architect William Sofield, jeweler David Yurman, Stephen Sprouse and Zac Posen. Bids for each ornament, which all currently can be viewed at Rxart.net, start at $100; the agency’s founder, Diane Brown, hopes to raise $250,000. The affair will take place at Dolce & Gabbana’s downtown showroom.

UNEXPECTED TREASURE: Lara Flynn Boyle got “Punk’d,” MTV style, when told she’d get free clothes from Los Angeles boutique Jack Henry as long as she’d wear them to events and credit the store. Boyle twirled and waltzed in the pricy frocks, gushing, “I feel like a ballerina,” only to find out she would be charged $26,000 — minus a 7.75-percent discount — for the 14 bags of clothes she chose. “I can’t afford this!” exclaimed the devastated actress. “I have only one credit card on me and it’s not going to go through. Well, I guess I won’t be paying the plumber this month.” “She took it like a champ,” said owner Tia Browsh, who ended up giving Boyle a vintage Halston dress worth $900. MTV chipped in a Plein Sud jacket and a Joey and T bandeau top. The episode airs Sunday at 9 p.m.

CASE SOLVED: After an appearance in Chicago at Barneys New York, Anthony Camargo, co-owner of Anthony Nak, hopped in a cab and left behind $250,000 worth of his earrings and necklaces in the trunk. With only a preprinted blank taxi receipt, which is the norm in the Windy City, Camargo notified the police and described the driver to other cabbies. His gumshoe legwork was in vain. But after driver Mohammed Hussain found the loot, he dug out Camargo’s business card from the suitcase and e-mailed Camargo, who had returned to Austin. The jewelry designer flew back to Chicago to give him a $1,000 reward and a pair of $5,000 earrings.

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