HELLO, MR. PRESIDENT: Jason Wu has already won over one first lady, how about another on the other side of the globe? On Thursday, the designer met with Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou in Taipei and presented him with a dress to give to his wife, first lady Chow Mei-ching. “I hope she wears it,” said Wu, who was there to discuss arts and design with Ma for his show “The President Ma’s Weekly Journal.” “[The interview] really tested my Chinese abilities — honestly, my Chinese is third-grade level since I left Taipei at age nine,” said Wu. In town for his brother’s wedding on Sunday, Wu’s already been warned about the possibility of paparazzi crashers. “Apparently people are trying to get the first shot of her dress,” he said, with a laugh. “We had to keep the location a secret. I was told people might follow me to her house or that I would have to change cars. It all sounds a little bit like ‘Mission Impossible.’ I’m like, I’m just a fashion designer.”
IMAGE CONTROL: Tainted by the Bettencourt affair, the image of L’Oréal has plunged to 22nd place in a ranking of France’s 30 largest companies published Saturday. In a similar survey last March, the French beauty giant ranked as the sixth most admired firm. Commissioned by the Journal du Dimanche and carried out by Ipsos-Posternak, the poll was based on telephone interviews with 952 adults and considered representative of the French population. It puts L’Oréal in the environs of such low-ranking firms as France Telecom, ranked 29th after being rocked by a wave of employee suicides. Supermarket operator Leclerc and automakers Citroën and Peugeot took the top three spots. L’Oréal chief executive officer Jean-Paul Agon told the weekend paper that he “wasn’t surprised” the scandal had a reverse halo effect on its image, but called it “unjust for the company and its employees.” He also said it has had no impact on its sales in France.
What started as a simple dispute between L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and her daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, over assets Bettencourt gave to French photographer François-Marie Banier, has exploded into a political scandal endangering the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
GOING INCOGNITO: A dressed-down Uma Thurman with son Levon Roan went almost completely unnoticed when she showed up at Sotheby’s Wednesday night for its event, “Modern Views: A Project to Benefit the Farnsworth House and the Glass House.” The crowd — including Yvonne Force Villareal, The Four Seasons’ Julian Niccolini, Gigi Mortimer and Olympia Scarry — were too busy checking out the silent auction items — works by the likes of Alessandro Twombly, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Morris and Karim Rashad, inspired by Mies Van Der Rohe and Philip Johnson’s respective architectural gems — to notice the actress, who kissed director Sarah Morris and plopped down on the floor to watch her film “Points of Line” screening in one room. Proceeds from the evening benefited the preservation of the two houses, including the $107,000 raised by a short live auction toward the night’s end.
REALITY CHECK: Fine jewelry pieces might be within reach for everyone soon, at least virtually, that is. A new augmented-reality application due to launch on Boucheron’s Web site, myboucheron.com, today will allow visitors to virtually try on a selection of the house’s rings and timepieces using a “magic mirror” screen technology. Interactive screens using the application are also due to be installed in the windows of certain Boucheron flagships and department stores, though a date has yet to be set. Meanwhile, among new hook-ups, Boucheron during Paris Fashion Week introduced its JwlryMachine high jewelry interpretations of the Horological Machine No 3 watch that was designed by cutting-edge Swiss creative laboratory, MB&F.
NEW IN TOWN: There is Sotheby’s and Christie’s and….Heritage Auction Galleries? Although not as well known as the others in some circles, Heritage is the third-largest auction house in the world — and is out to raise its profile in New York. The firm has opened an office on Park Avenue and, beginning this month, will hold auctions in New York at the Ukrainian Institute on Fifth Avenue, where Debbie Bancroft and Tiffany Dubin co-hosted a dinner Wednesday night to introduce it to the social set (including, ironically, Sotheby’s former owner, Alfred Taubman, and his wife, Judy, Dubin’s parents). Others in the crowd at cocktails and dinner included New York First Lady Michelle Paterson, Nicole Miller, Somers Farkas, Rachel Hovnanian, Hilary Geary Ross and Wilbur Ross and Kenneth Jay Lane — who miffed quite a few when he lit up and smoked away during dinner.
CHRISTIE’S AND COWLES: Jewelry belonging to the late Flair magazine editor and socialite Fleur Cowles will be sold at Christie’s London on Dec. 1. About 30 pieces, including Cowles’ trademark 94.98-carat rough emerald ring, will go under the hammer as part of a larger, twice-yearly event known as “Jewels: The London Sale.” The pieces are being sold by Cowles’ widower, Thomas Montague Meyer.
Keith Penton, head of jewelry at Christie’s London, said the collection is small and highly evocative. “Fleur’s approach to jewels is fused with a passion for design. She saw them as an artistic extension of her personality and was photographed many times wearing favorite pieces, such as the uncut emerald ring and large baroque pearl and diamond brooch,” he said. “It did not matter to Fleur whether they were made of gilt metal or fine diamonds. She mixed materials together with true creativity and confidence. A number of the items to be sold were designed by Fleur herself; others were given to her as gifts.”
In addition to the emerald ring, the pieces include an antique floral rose-cut diamond necklace that converts into a tiara; a gold and old-cut diamond bangle that Cowles designed herself, and the baroque pearl and diamond brooch, which Eva Perón was said to admire, and which Cowles would refer to as her “Fabergé” piece — although it was not from the Russian jeweler. Top-end estimates range from about 700 pounds, or $1,120, for the emerald ring to 20,000 pounds, or $32,000, for a three-carat diamond ring. All figures have been converted at current exchange.
MR. CLEAN: When it comes to fashion tie-ins, just one refrain applies: anything goes. That’s the only way to explain Thakoon Panichgul’s Wednesday appearance at the Kenmore Design Studio to celebrate the appliance company’s new line of washers and dryers. He didn’t actually design or consult on the new models, which feature a system that allows troubleshooting data to be sent directly to the Kenmore tech department via phone line. Rather, the designer was there to discuss the increased garment care the new styles offer. “In this economy, they give you an option other than dry cleaning,” said Panichgul, who recently bought an earlier model for his Catskills home. “I love washing my silks in the machine.” Reminded that his pricy wares aren’t exactly toss-in-the-washer durable, he noted that some of the opening exits from his recent spring runway — the cottons, for instance — were.
But, really, what exactly was he doing there shilling laundry appliances? Is a sponsorship in the works? (A Kenmore rep said no.) Did he score a free washer and dryer? (The company offered, but the designer declined, having just bought his own.) Is this leading up to a Panichgul-designed machine next spring, embellished with Swiss eyelet patterns? Not likely, he said, pausing to add, “but never say never.”