NEW RECRUITS: Five limousines in Paris are ferrying some of couture’s newest recruits: 14 American women here for a fashion extravaganza organized by Judy Price, the founder and former owner of Avenue magazine. It’s the 10th year she has brought “women with means” to discover the “magic” of couture, and this time, more than half of them come from California, a first. Price mused that it’s no doubt the result of couture’s heightened presence in Hollywood, and all the new wealth in the entertainment and media businesses. “I’m so excited to be here,” squealed Jennifer Smith Hale, 27, of Santa Barbara magazine and a high-fashion first-timer. Other California girls here include writer Pamela Beck, co-author of “Rich Men, Single Women,” and Laura Siart, a “non-practicing lawyer,” who says she’s “simply interested in seeing the clothes.” Their “haute” field trip began Sunday with a lunch at the Bristol and a dinner at the chateau owned by linen titans Francoise and Marc Porthault. Also on the agenda this week are private shopping visits at Hermès and Chanel, meetings with the heads of Cartier and Christian Dior — and, of course, the shows.
STAGE LEFT: The edgy Paris graphic design duo Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustinak, or M/M, who art directed Paris Vogue until last fall, have traded pages for stages. They’re creating sets for “Antigona,” an 18th-century opera by Italian composer Tommaso Traetta. It will debut in Montpellier in May and move to Paris this June. “It’s a first for us,” said Amzalag. “But it’s a Baroque fantasy, which is perfectly suited to our work. The sets will be totally black and white.”
DOLL HOUSE: Olivier Theyskens has quietly introduced the first fragrance with his imprimatur for the house of Rochas. Poupee, or Doll, went on sale over the weekend exclusively at the house’s Rue Francois 1er boutique. “We wanted to keep it very private,” said Theyskens, adding that the perfume will be introduced more widely in about a month. Photographer Horst Diekgerdes shot the ad campaign. “It’s very Rochas,” continued Theyskens. “Very feminine and very couture.”
MUSEUM QUALITY: Fashion continues to thrive in museums. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is about to establish a fashion wing, with the debut exhibition devoted to Karl Lagerfeld. But don’t expect a retrospective, according to Olivier Saillard, a curator of the Museum of Fashion and Textiles in Paris, who is traveling to Russia next week to work out the details. Meanwhile, at home base, the museum’s current Viktor & Rolf show will be replaced by “Elsa Schiaparelli ‘Shocking!’” in March, followed this fall show an Hermès-sponsored exhibition devoted to handbags. On tap for 2005: A solo exhibition for Yohji Yamamoto.
MISS VARVATOS: VF Corp. might want Nautica out of the women’s business, but men’s wear designer John Varvatos (who came along with the Nautica acquisition and is currently back on the block) will finally — after years of aspirations —?launch women’s wear. He’s expected to show several pieces for women during his fall runway show at the Promenade in Bryant Park on Feb. 11.
INDISPOSABLE FASHION: Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa made a quick trip to Dallas on Wednesday to visit with customers at the label’s only U.S. collection store outside of New York. The store at Highland Park Village, which doubled in size and added Calvin Klein’s home collection nearly two years ago, hosted a light buffet lunch and spring trunk show for a small group of shoppers that included Summer Nielson, Jennifer Morris, Capera Ryan and Courtney Dreslin. “I’d like to get to know who comes to the store — to me, this is just as important as designing the collection,” Costa said. After a customer said she liked that she could mix Calvin Klein pieces from different years, Costa said, “I don’t want limits — I like to give options. That is the modern way of dressing. Freaks dress like runway shows. The most important quality of Calvin Klein is that it’s timeless, and it doesn’t need to be boring. I’m not interested in throwing clothing away.”
GOING ONCE: Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS has recruited Maggie Rizer to give two strangers the skinny during next month’s Olympus Fashion Week. The highest bidder for the “Catwalk @ W Hotels” package on eBay will meet the model, get a backstage tour of the Bryant Park tents and will check out the Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Luca Luca and Anna Sui shows. Online bidding starts at $10,000 and closes Jan. 28. Transportation to and from the shows and New York are included, as well as a seven-night stay at the W.
REALITY SHOW: When the clock starts ticking away the minutes on fame’s proverbial 15, the smart thing to do is to ride the wave and squeeze out every last drop of publicity. At least that’s the logic of Michael Houghton, best known as Michael H., Ally Hilfiger and Jamie Gleicher’s fashion-loving pal on MTV’s hit reality show “Rich Girls,” who will be staging a fashion show on Feb. 8 at Don Hill’s.
While not actually related, Houghton describes the Hilfigers as a “spiritual family” and even refers to Andy Hilfiger as his brother in casual conversation. The 42-year old Houghton also calls Tommy his “idol” and refers to himself as the designer’s protégé.
His show will feature around 25 men’s and women’s looks under the label Michael H. that Houghton describes as a “rock-punk, not punk rock” look inspired by Keith Richards. His fashion background involves “helping Tommy out” on the first Red Label collection in 1999 and making clothes for himself. Houghton is also the lead singer for “Michael H. and the Bashers,” a party band featuring Marky Ramone on drums, Guns N’ Roses’ Richard Fortus on guitar and Andy Hilfiger on bass. The band will play post-show.
Despite the foray into fashion, Houghton has not recovered from the reality TV bug. He is awaiting word on a show called “Rock Style” pitched to MTV on the trials and travails of — what else? — being a young designer and putting on a fashion show.
And while Tommy Hilfiger’s isn’t confirmed to attend the show, he did release this statement: “Michael H.’s rock ’n’ roll styles are cool and authentic. He understands better than anyone else what real rock ’n’ roll should be.” There’s no definite word on Ally and Jamie’s attendance either, but Houghton hopes to get Ally to model. “She loves fashion,” he says.