NEXT STEP: NexCen Brands Inc., which is mired in financial difficulties, has hired Rothschild as its investment adviser, according to industry sources. Rothschild is expected to help NexCen decide which of its assets, such as Bill Blass or Waverly, it needs to sell, and to help find buyers. Officials at Rothschild didn’t return a call, and a NexCen spokesman had no comment. Industry executives have been buzzing all week about NexCen’s financial woes, and sources believe a sale of Bill Blass could be a first step to stave off a near-term financial disaster. Sources believe Robert D’Loren’s days as NexCen’s chief executive officer could be numbered, as well.

RUMBLINGS AT LEIBER: Could big changes be on the horizon at Leiber? Sources speculate that the firm, formerly known as Judith Leiber, has taken on a new investor to help with international expansion. In February, the Pegasus Capital Advisors-owned company inked distribution agreements to open stores in India and the Middle East. There also are plans to move into Southeast Asia and Russia. Meanwhile, executives may be shuffling as the firm already has lost its vice president of marketing and public relations, Michelle Gallagher. A representative for Leiber could not be reached for comment.

NEW DEAL: Fashion jewelry company Bing Bang is partnering with Urban Outfitters on a lower-priced line called Bee 23, making its debut for fall exclusively at the contemporary retailer. According to insiders, Bing Bang’s goal is to reach a new customer without lowering the value of its namesake collection. Neither company could be reached for comment.

PARIS MEETS SOHO: Comptoir des Cotonniers, the Paris-based sportswear brand that’s part of Fast Retailing, the Tokyo-based retail group that also owns Uniqlo, is set to land in New York. The brand, which is known for featuring real-life mothers and daughters in its campaigns, will open a 1,000-square-foot store at 155 Spring Street in SoHo in September. “We like being in Soho,” said Nicolas Bertrand, communications director at Comptoir des Cotonniers, at a presentation of the brand’s fall collection at its Notting Hill, London, store Wednesday. Comptoir des Cotonniers operates stores across countries including France, the U.K., Germany, Japan and South Korea. Bertrand said the company is looking to open two more New York locations in the future. And the brand has further openings planned for this year, in Bath, Kingston and Cambridge in the U.K.; Ibiza and Palma, as well as Majorca in Spain, and in Rome, Berlin and Hanover, Germany.

This story first appeared in the May 22, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A BEAUTIFUL RELATIONSHIP: “Oscar says he’s the boss,” Loulou de la Falaise joked at the designer’s store in Los Angeles, “but we have a free and easy relationship.” Good thing for the French fashion doyenne, who’s continuing the jewelry collaboration with Oscar de la Renta that started for the fall at least through resort and spring. The complete debut collection, made in India and priced between $1,800 and $30,000, was previewed Tuesday evening with hosts Kelly Cook and Tina Craig of, and Eliza Bolen on hand. The pieces rely heavily on color, beads and a juxtaposition of rough and polished stones. The resort collection works in more shells, but de la Falaise was coy about where the jewelry is headed for spring. “Fashion goes a little bit fast. I [am looking] for gems that people know less, that might be a little more surprising,” she hinted.

MAKING THEIR MARK IN WOOL: How’s this for a new fashion catchphrase?: “Wool, C’est Cool.” If the Australian Wool Innovation organization has its way, it will be the new slogan on everybody’s lips. The AWI, which acquired the Woolmark Co. last year, is touting the new partnership by reviving the famous Wool Secretariat Award that, in the Fifties, honored designer heavyweights Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent at the start of their careers. They even have a spokesperson, queen of knits Sonia Rykiel. Ten up-and-coming designers, including the U.S.-based Tom Scott and Brit Louise Goldin, are vying for the award, now named the Woolmark Prize, and the winner will be revealed on July 3, at an exhibit of the work of all the finalists at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo. Prize perks for that lucky person? Everything from manufacturing and sourcing support to retail space at Paris’ Colette boutique. And, of course, the possibility of being known as the next Lagerfeld or Saint Laurent.

JOYFUL AUCTION: Bidding at Tuesday night’s first Joyful Heart benefit was certainly animated, with Hilary Swank promising gifts on behalf of Giorgio Armani and Mario Batali trying to provoke an Iron Chef meeting with Bobby Flay. The evening’s six auction items raised a total of $248,000, on top of the $1 million-plus the event already had made for Joyful Hearts, which helps victims of sexual assault and domestic violence through healing retreats. Mariska Hargitay founded the group five years ago and hosted its first benefit in Manhattan. Hargitay giddily amended auction items, popping out of her seat to offer add-ons as the bids got into the tens of thousands for each item. When the bids were going for accompanying Hargitay to the premiere of her upcoming movie, “Love Guru,” with Mike Myers, Swank joined in the excitement, offering to let the winner also join her in the limo and on the red carpet for the premiere of “Amelia Earhart.” “And Armani doesn’t know it, but they are throwing in some shoes with that python bag!” she exclaimed (the bag was part of the original package). When dinner for 10 cooked by Flay in the winner’s kitchen was on the block, Batali aggressively bid up to $30,000 (Babbo chef’s own offer got two bids of $58,000). The evening awarded Philosophy founder Cristina Carlino, whose brand has made products to benefit Joyful Heart and who pledged to build a house for the cause when she accepted her award.

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