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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Della Femina’

Fern Mallis and One Criminally Dressed Designer | Dishing With a Global Ambassador

LunchAtMichaelsIt’s been somewhat of a mixed bag at Michael’s this month with plenty of the famous faces usually spotted on Wednesdays having already hightailed it outta here for the Hamptons, Nantucket and other chichi vacation spots. Between TCA, Allen & Co.’s recent summit for movers and shakers and the seemingly daily announcements touting seismic changes in publishing, we’ve also noticed it’s been a bit quieter (in terms of bold face names, not decibel level) at 55th and Fifth in recent weeks. Still, in service to our faithful readers, we kept our weekly date to check in on those intrepid power lunchers who are still dishing despite summer’s siren call.

Mickey Ateyeh, Diane Clehane, Bisila Bokoko and Judy Agisim.

Mickey Ateyeh, Diane Clehane, Bisila Bokoko and Judy Agisim.

Today I was joined by fashion industry insider Mickey Ateyeh, fresh off her vacation in Italy, who, it must be said, knows everyone who is anyone. Mickey put together today’s lunch to introduce me to her longtime pal, PR maven Judith Agisim, who, in turn, brought along her client Bisila Bokoko. I’d seen Judith in this very room many times but never had the occasion to meet her. And, as you already know, in certain circles, all roads lead to Michael’s.

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Kerry Kennedy, David Zinczenko and Exclusive Dish From Monica Lewinsky’s New PR Guru

LunchAtMichaelsWe missed all the big doings on Monday when President Bill Clinton was at Michael’s for a private lunch in the Garden Room and stuck around to press the flesh in the dining room on his way out the door. Oh well, next time. Today, the usual suspects were, as usual, operating at full tilt around the room, where the decibel level made it hard to hear all the dish my fascinating lunch date was serving up.

I was joined by Dini von Mueffling, co-founder of HvM Communications, a boutique public relations firm that represents a myriad of clients, including hotter-than-hot The Organic Pharmacy and wine expert Antonio Galloni’s Vinous. Having launched the business with partner Laura Henson just five years ago, HvM toils in an impressively diverse number of disciplines, including beauty, wellness, fashion, art and design, business, real estate, nonprofits, and startups.

Diane Clehane and Dini von Mueffling

Diane Clehane and Dini von Mueffling

But to pigeon hole the former intrepid journalist (more on that later) turned entrepreneur is to greatly understate her impressive CV. She is also the co-founder of Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education, which she founded in 1992 when her dear friend died of the disease. Dini ran the foundation for three years and currently sits on the board of directors. Love Heals is the leading provider of HIV/AIDS education in New York City and, reports Dini, has helped educate over 650,000 young people in person and tens of thousands of others through its programs.

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George Lucas and Joan Hamburg’s Next Act I David Zaslav at The Mirror Awards

LunchAtMichaelsOur weekly lunches at Michael’s always deliver plenty of star power and today was no exception. When I arrived a little before noon, I was followed in the door by none other than George Lucas, who, I’m told, happened to be walking by the restaurant yesterday with his new baby daughter and her nanny in tow when he inquired if there might be a way to “squeeze him in” today. I kid you not. He’s always seemed incredibly low key on his many visits to 55th and Fifth any time I’ve seen him here. Today, the multiple Academy Award winner showed up casually clad in his signature look: a sport short, jeans and sneakers and headed right for his table, forsaking the glad handing that is favored by his fellow West Coast brethren. Despite being the first one there, he was one of the last to leave, spending the entire time deep in conversation with an elegant white-haired lady we didn’t recognize. Talking about the joys of fatherhood, perhaps?

George Lucas with a friend at Michael's

George Lucas with a friend at Michael’s

The room filled up quickly with plenty of familiar faces, including social types and publishing big wigs (Kerry Kennedy, Jay FieldenJay McInerney, Jack Kliger) as well as a fair number of fashionable folks (Joe Zee, Tomas Maier, Fern Mallis). Unfortunately my date was under the weather, so after I made my rounds I hightailed it over to Cipriani 42nd Street, where there were plenty of Michael’s regulars on hand to salute Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav, who was honored with the Fred Dressler Leadership Award at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University’s Mirror Awards. In attendance: Gayle King (mistress of ceremonies), Discovery ID’s Henry Scleiff and Tom Freston, who came back from a trip to Afghanistan so he could present the award to his longtime pal “The Zas.” Tom affectionately called David “a colorful cowboy” and reminisced of David’s earliest days in cable when he “kicked some ass!”

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Art Garfunkel and Good Housekeeping‘s Campaign to End Childhood Hunger

LunchAtMichaelsThere wasn’t much that could top last week’s head-spinning celebrity scene at Michael’s, so today was pretty quiet by comparison except for the random appearance of Art Garfunkel. I guess I could have asked him about Paul Simon‘s recent trip to a Connecticut courtroom and perhaps gotten him to weigh in on his erstwhile partner’s domestic woes, but I only noticed him on the way out the door. It’s hard to fathom, I know, but in the era that spawned Kimye there are some celebrities who prefer to go unnoticed. However, the same cannot be said the mavens and machers who are Wednesday regulars at 55th and Fifth. After all, if your power lunch isn’t documented for posterity, what good is it? Present and accounted for: Star Jones, Jonathan Wald (most recently of the now-defunct Piers Morgan Tonight), ex-CNBC talker Larry Kudlow, Ed Klein and Andrew Stein (together at Table 3) among the crowd of familiar faces.

Diane Clehane and Jane Francisco

Diane Clehane and Jane Francisco

I was joined today by Good Housekeeping‘s smart, vivacious new-ish EIC Jane Francisco, and we had plenty to talk about. We shared horror stories over malfunctioning tape recorders during celebrity interviews (more on that later) and traded favorites among our mutual passions, which included books (she’s a big Jane Austen fan) and scripted TV drama (she’s a “binge watcher” of The Good Wife, Scandal and past seasons Mad Men – no spoiler talk, please). But I was also interested in finding out what the transplanted Canadian (who was born in Michigan, but headed for The Great White North with her family when she was 4) had to say about her experience taking the reigns at GH, a quintessential American brand. Having come from Chatelaine, Canada’s leading women’s lifestyle brand and the country’s largest paid circulation magazine, Jane was no stranger to helming a major media franchise with a broad audience when she was tapped for the top job in November of last year. “When I first met with Ellen Levine (Hearst’s editorial director and former GH EIC), we had lunch and she told me Good Housekeeping was ‘uniquely American,’ but I grew up with it and both my mother and grandmother read it in Canada.”

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Sigourney Weaver, Howell Raines and Barbara Walters Enjoying Semi-Retirement

LunchAtMichaelsThere are Wednesdays at Michael’s and then there are Wednesday’s at Michael’s. Today was one of those days. I could hardly keep up with the steady stream of famous faces that sailed past my table and made for some of the best people watching at 55th and Fifth in a long time. First came early arrival Montel Williamswho kept himself busy with ear buds and his phone. Next came Joy Behar (who I didn’t notice until she took off her sunglasses) and two pals who were waiting for another person to join them. A little birdie told me the mystery guest was going to be none other than Barbara Walters, so I kept an eye on the door for what seemed like forever in hopes of grabbing a quick chat with her before she made it to her table. Minutes before Barbara arrived Sigourney Weaver showed up looking absolutely ageless in Prada (and from what I could tell, next to no makeup). The Oscar nominated actress (we loved her best as Ripley!) and The New York Botanical Garden’s biggest cheerleader was clearly concerned she’d kept her guest waiting because she’d gotten stuck in traffic so she dashed by before I could utter a word to her. Drats. When Barbara, who was impeccably dressed in black and white, finally arrived, Michael’s chivalrous GM Steve Millington was waiting by the door to take her by the arm and personally escort her to her table. Let me tell you, a real hush fell over the room when the world’s most famous semi-retiree made her way into the dining room. Throughout lunch, plenty of well-wishers, both famous and “civilians,” stopped by her table to pay their respects.

Dr. Phillip Romero and Diane Clehane

Dr. Phillip Romero and Diane Clehane

After making my rounds in the dining room and having made sure Barbara, Joy and their friend had finished their lunch, I made my way over to their table. When I told Barbara that her final appearance on The View, where she was joined by what seemed like every female broadcaster who has followed in her trail-blazing footsteps, including all her View cohosts as well as Jane Pauley, Katie Couric, Deborah Norville, Connie Chung, Joan Lunden and Oprah Winfrey (who managed to score the center square in the iconic photo of the seismic sorority) was one of daytime television’s most memorable moments, she took my hand and squeezed it. “I’m so glad,” she said. “It was really something.” Even more moving, I told her, was her two-hour special that aired last Friday night, where her long-time producing partner Bill Geddie interviewed her about her amazing life and ground-breaking career. What was it like to be the subject rather than the interviewer? “Bill was terrific,” she told me. “We didn’t want to have it be ‘then she did this and then she did that’ so we did it that way. I’m glad everyone seemed to like it.” I had so many questions I wanted to ask, but didn’t want to overstay my tenuous welcome (it’s a bit of a delicate dance sometimes) so I left the trio to order dessert. No word on what Barbara has planned for the summer but in her column in The New York Post this week, Cindy Adams wrote that she and Barbara planned to travel abroad together this summer. I’d say Ms. Walters has more than earned some time off after her long good-bye.

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Star Jones, Donny Deutsch and the Skinny on Wacoal’s Sexy New Ad Campaign

LunchAtMichaelsAs Wednesdays at Michael’s go, it was a relatively quiet scene at 55th and Fifth today, but the joint was still jam packed with the usual suspects doing their power lunch thing. You know who they are by now, but your intrepid Lunch columnist is here to serve: Star Jones and Donny Deutsch represented the talking head contingent, while Jeff Greenfield and Jerry Della Femina held court at their usual table (6) with pals Dr. Gerald Imber and Michael Kramer (the boys have been meeting for their weekly lunches for decades!) There was also the requisite representation of PR mavens, including Hearst’s Deb Shriver, Susan Blond and Lisa Linden in attendance. Perhaps all the celebs were saving their strength for tonight’s offerings at The Tribeca Film Festival.

Susan Malinowski, Diane Clehane and Leslie Stevens

Susan Malinowski, Diane Clehane and Leslie Stevens

If you ask me, our table was having the most fun because I was joined by two of my favorite Gotham power gals Leslie Stevens and Susan Malinowski. We’ve known each other since preschool (not really, but you get the picture) and our paths have crossed in interesting ways throughout the years through various jobs and clients. Back in the day, Susan, now vice president of marketing at Wacoal America, was my boss at Danskin-Pennaco Hosiery. Leslie, who helms her own PR firm, LaForce + Stevens, with partner James LaForce, worked with us as a consultant. Today, Susan is shaking things up at Wacoal America and Leslie’s agency is handling spreading all the big news about what’s happening with the brand. Read more

Michael Strahan, Maria Shriver and Dishing With LuAnn de Lesseps

LunchAtMichaelsAnother Wednesday, another “Bravolebrity.” For the final leg of this month’s reality-show trifecta, I was joined today by LuAnn de Lesseps (the “Countess” to you), fresh off her trip to Chicago for an appearance on The Steve Harvey Show where she made over a few fashion-impaired civilians with oh-so-stylish looks from her new clothing line, the Countess Collection. (It will debut on Shop HQ, formerly known as Shop NBC, in May.) LuAnn is a regular contributor to Steve’s show, weighing in on all kinds of haute topics, from text etiquette while dating to how to dress like a million bucks without breaking the bank. When I lunched with her last summer, the conversation focused mainly on her role on Real Housewives of New York City and her fledgling music career. But these days the clever and stunning LuAnn, who clearly knows when to say when, has scaled back her presence on the Bravo screechfest (she’s now being billed as a “special guest star”) and is focusing primarily on “brand-building” her eponymous lifestyle brand, which, she says, is founded on the principle of “chic made easy.” After six seasons on Housewives and one of only two of the original New York City cast members left standing (tabloid favorite Ramona Singer is the other), LuAnn says, “I’m grateful for the platform the show has given me. I came into it with no preconceived notions. I didn’t watch reality television and I didn’t know what I was getting into. I signed on to do “Manhattan Moms” and thought it was going to be this nice little family-oriented show, but it turned into something else. I’m fearless and  have always had a real sense of adventure.” I’ll say.

Diane Clehane and LuAnn de Lesseps

Diane Clehane and LuAnn de Lesseps

LuAnn’s pre-Bravo life already read like something out of a Danielle Steel novel. The Connecticut native and nursing student who dabbled in the pageant circuit went to Europe to try her hand at modeling, but when that didn’t work out, a series of whirlwind events landed her a gig on Italian television even though she didn’t speak a word of the language. ”I was a big star — the Vanna White of Italy — paired with a man that was like their Bob Hope. Twelve million people a week were tuning in!” By the time she left three years later, she was fluent. Between bites of her crab cakes, she told me when she met her now ex-husband, Count Alexandre de Lesseps, it was “magic.” As for her much-discussed title as a result of her marriage, LuAnn thinks it’s ridiculous that people assume it’s some trumped up affectation. “The de Lesseps have played a very important part in French history,” she explained, citing her husband’s descendant Ferdinand de Lesseps as the architect of the Suez Canal and the man who played a huge role in gifting the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

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Bette Midler, Al Roker & Bravo’s Bickering Brokers From Million Dollar Listing New York

LunchAtMichaelsWhen it comes to Bravo’s ever-expanding slate of reality stars, it’s hard to keep the players straight without a scorecard. Between the Housewives, hipsters and wannabe singers, few have retained more than a few seasons of fame (or infamy) outside the realm of their melodramatic universe give or take a few Life & Style covers. I can count the number of Bravolebrities on one hand that have left an impression on me beyond registering their sheer delight at their own insta-fame. That’s why my lunch with Luis D. Ortiz and Fredrik Eklund, stars of the network’s Million Dollar Listing New York, was such a pleasant surprise.

Luis Ortiz, Diane Clehane and Fredrik Eklund

Luis Ortiz, Diane Clehane and Fredrik Eklund

Besides being charismatic, funny and extremely well dressed (more on that later), these guys are driven beyond belief and smart as hell. Over the course of our lunch to dish about the new season, (premiering next Wednesday, April 2 at 9 p.m) I learned quite a bit about Fredrik and Luis (unfortunately their castmate Ryan Serhant was tied up at a pitch meeting and never made it to Michael’s.) Fredrik heads up the country’s top selling real estate team (which he founded) at Douglas Elliman. Between bites of his Cobb salad, he told me he sold 36 apartments last year, raking in 2.2 million in commissions during season two. So far this year, he’s sold $400 million (yes, you read that right) worth of real estate. Luis, who now works with Fredrik at Elliman, where he heads up his own real estate group, has sold over $300 million in residential real estate in the past three and a half years.

Almost thirty minutes before the appointed hour, Luis arrived at Michael’s and we sat at the bar chatting about the fickle finger of reality television fate waiting for the rest of our party. Besides being struck by Luis’ impeccable made for GQ style (a perfectly cut, made-to-measure suit “from a tailor in Mexico,” Patek Philippe watch and a Zara coat I’d kill for), I couldn’t help but notice his laser-like focus on my questions. The guy knows how to listen (a very underrated character trait, if you ask me). When I inquired if he thought the show had created a ‘character’ for him he said, “Television can’t edit you differently if you are yourself. I respect myself and I’m myself at all times. I understand the need for drama, but the business is inherently dramatic enough that we don’t have to make things up. I feel like the camera is telling the truth.”

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Woody Johnson, Jared Kushner and a Haute New Hollywood Handbag Designer

LunchAtMichaelsSince so many media mavens and talking heads have headed to the West Coast for Oscar week, my lunch today with designer Michelle Vale was particularly timely. Just a few days ago, Michelle sent off several of her handbags to LaLa land in hopes that a certain Best Actress nominee will walk down the red carpet carrying one of her creations come Sunday night. If the actress, whose name for the moment is top secret (“But she’s a big Oscar person!”) utters Michelle’s name when she is asked the million dollar question of the night — “Who are you wearing?” — by E!’s Giuliana Rancic, that could mean very big things for the designer. “You never know what’s going to happen,” Michelle told me. “An actress can pick a dress and change her mind at the last minute. She can look in her suitcase and pick up something else. I won’t know until I see her on television.”

Diane Clehane and Michelle Vale

Diane Clehane and Michelle Vale

No stranger to the celebrity scene, Michelle’s collection of sophisticated, versatile designs that allow women to customize their bags by selecting a variety of  different hardware and straps  — all made right her in New York City — have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Kate Bosworth and Kate Beckinsale. Michelle also managed to score valuable television exposure on Gossip Girl, a favorite of fashionistas everywhere where posh Upper East Siders played by Blake Lively and Leighton Meester toted around the Amex Black cards in Michelle Vale handbags.

While fashion was part of Michelle’s DNA — dad was a senior vice president of Sasson Jeans, favored by aspiring disco divas everywhere in the 80s, and mom once owned a boutique, she never planned on going into the business as a career. “I used to go to Studio 54 with my father,” Michelle told me. “It was such a big part of my childhood that I wanted to something completely different, so I got a master’s in counseling  children which, as it turns out, has come in handy in this business.” It was when the accidental designer got pregnant quickly after getting married that she decided she wanted to do something that allowed her to stay at home with her newborn son. “I literally started the business with my son in my lap,” she said.

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A Conversation with Robert De Niro’s Film Archivist | New Dish on Gone With The Wind

LunchAtMichaelsI was joined today by my good friend ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong who I first met (where else?) in this very dining room seven years ago. Joe has introduced me to countless interesting folks over the years including Carl Bernstein, Elton John and the late Elizabeth Edwards. He’s had a long and storied career in journalism having been at the top of the masthead of Rolling Stone and New York Magazine as publisher and has served as a trusted advisor to ABC News. These days when he’s not holding court here at Michael’s or dispensing invaluable advice to his faithful friends in the media biz, he’s a tireless champion of many worthwhile causes and institutions including the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin where he sits of the board of directors. Back in the day, Joe was editor in chief of the Texas Law Forum at the University of Texas School of Law. (Harry Ransom was his beloved mother’s English teacher — “Everything comes full circle!”) Today, he invited me to join the Center’s film curator Steve Wilson,  Alicia Dietrich, public affairs representative and  Jennifer Tisdale director of public affairs who dazzled me with fascinating stories about the Center’s extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia among many other types of cultural and literary artifacts — just in time for the upcoming Oscars.

At Table One: Front (from left) Steve Wilson, Diane Clehane, Jennifer Tisdale; Back: Alicia Dietrich and Joe Armstrong

At Table 1: Front (from left) Steve Wilson, Diane Clehane and Jennifer Tisdale; Back: Alicia Dietrich and Joe Armstrong

The gang was in town to meet with various news outlets to discuss the Center’s upcoming ’The Making of Gone With the Wind” exhibition, timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of one of the most iconic movies of all time. The exhibition will run from Sept. 9 through Jan. 4, 2015 and is a must-see for film buffs. Gone With the Wind was the most nominated film of 1939, scoring 13 Academy Award nominations, including a nod for Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to be nominated and win for Best Supporting Actress. No small feat since that year was truly one of Hollywood’s best with Wuthering Heights and The Wizard of Oz also competing for little gold men that year. Among the 300 items drawn from the Center’s collection from David O. Selznick‘s archives that will be on view: rare audition footage, storyboards from the film and three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, including the famous “green curtain” dress, marking the first time these costumes were on view together in 25 years. A gloriously illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title was published by the Center and University of Texas Press last fall with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movie host and film historian Robert Osborne.

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