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Posts Tagged ‘Rob Weisbach’

Special Fashion Week Edition! Dishing With the Designer Who Makes Taylor Swift Shine

LunchAtMichaelsWith Fashion Week in full swing, the crowd at Michael’s today was full of stylistas (Glamour‘s Connie Anne Phillips, Tom Ford‘s CEO Tom Mendenhall) and media moguls (David Zinczenko and Jim Smith) refueling for the home stretch of shows. (Big guns Ralph, Donna and Calvin still have their runway shows to do) After all, surviving the crowds at Lincoln Center requires nothing short of herculean strength. We prefer to watch the shows the most clever designers livestream (thank you, Oscar de la Renta!) or post to their sites afterwards because we can only pretend to be fabulous one day a week — on Wednesdays, of course.

Diane Clehane, Paige Novick and Mickey Ateyeh

Diane Clehane, Paige Novick and Mickey Ateyeh

Speaking of fabulous, I was joined today by jewelry designer Paige Novick and our mutual friend, accessories maven Mickey Ateyeh and had a terrific time dishing about the fashion biz. (Sorry, but some of the best stuff is off the record.) Paige launched her signature costume jewelry collection at Bergdorf Goodman in 2008 and then added Phyne by Paige Novick, her fine jewelry collection, with Saks Fifth Avenue in 2013. She recently celebrated an important milestone, having been admitted into the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) last month. “It was surreal,” Paige told me of being surrounded by the top guns in the industry at the welcoming reception and being congratulated by CFDA president Steven Kolb and designer Stan Herman. “I was so happy to be part of ‘the club’ in the best sense of the word.”

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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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Dishing With a Downton Abbey Star

LunchAtMichaelsThere are Michael’s lunches and then there are Michael’s lunches. Over the course of all the years I’ve been chronicling the scene on Wednesdays at 55th and Fifth for this column, I’ve had plenty of occasion to dine and dish with the famous and infamous, strivers and stars and more than my fair share of pop cultural icons. When I think about what I love most about this gig, I have to paraphrase Forrest Gump: Each Wednesday at Michael’s is like a box of (very expensive) chocolates because you never know what you’re going to get. Today, I got the chance to spend a delightful few hours with Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs. Patmore, the blustery and big-hearted cook on Downton Abbey, my absolute favorite television show. As anyone who follows my posts on Facebook and minute-by-minute recaps for XFinity knows, I am beyond obsessed with the PBS hit, so I was more than a little excited about the chance to have a lengthy sitdown with one of my favorite actors of the series. And Lesley didn’t disappoint.

Diane Clehane and Lesley Nicol

Diane Clehane and Lesley Nicol

She arrived — and looked quite chic in leather pants and high heel boots! — right on the dot of 12:15 for our lunch and promptly charmed everyone in the place, telling GM Steve Millington the dining room was “gorgeous” and graciously chatting with a few fans who stopped by the table to say their hellos. As she looked around the mercifully subdued dining room, I explained that Michael’s was the place to be for all sorts of movers and shakers and, of course, the random celebrity. “Joan Collins was here a few weeks ago,” I told her searching my mental Rolodex for the name of a British star I could mention. “Probably ate a few lettuce leaves,” said Lesley. I knew I’d love her.

We quickly dispensed with ordering (Dover sole for two) and settled in for our chat — and after five minutes I felt as if I’d known her forever. Lesley told me she was in town for a flurry of meetings with her new New York agents at Bauman Redanty & Shaul, who she’d hadn’t yet met, and with casting director Avy Kaufman. Her PR rep, Andrew Freedman, who moved his firm from New York to Los Angeles a few years ago, had managed to arrange our lunch between all these big doings.  She’d also found time to take in a Brooklyn production of Julius Caesar, whose all-female cast included her good friend Susan Brown as Casca. But, she confided, she was really looking forward to tonight’s after-party for Thor on the off chance she’d get to meet her celeb crush, Sir Anthony Hopkins, who appears in the film. “He is just gorgeous,” she said as she speared a Brussels sprout, “If he’s there, I’ll probably be too tongue tied. I’ll just drop down and die.”
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A Rodale Refugee Reunion; Christine Lahti Penning a Memoir?

1003_mockup.gifAs faithful readers of this column know, in the meta media universe that is Wednesdays at Michael’s, there is no end to the way fellow diners are connected. I was joined today by Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief and chief content officer of Reader’s Digest and the author of New York Times‘ best sellers The Digest Diet and The Digest Diet Cookbook. Minutes after Liz sat down, David Zinczenko arrived and the two Rodale refugees exchanged a big hug and chatted while I made the rounds in the dining room. When things settled down, Liz explained that both she and Dave got to know each other during “The Steve Murphy Era” at Rodale when she was Prevention‘s EIC.  ”It was Dave who paved the way for so many editors to write books – including me,” she added. During those halcyon days at Rodale, Liz penned Flat Belly Diet!, which sold a million copies, and the equally successful Flat Belly Diet! 400 Calorie Fix and became an in-demand health and fitness expert on television, securing a spot as a regular guest host on The Doctors and appearing regularly on Good Morning America, which she still does for Reader’s Digest. She’s even logged two seasons on The Biggest Loser.

Liz left Prevention to helm Every Day with Rachael Ray and, in 2011, landed her “dream job” at Reader’s Digest, which has even taken her to the Oval Office. In an interview she scored with President Barack Obama, he told her that his grandfather would have been proud to see him featured in the magazine’s pages since he tore out the jokes in his issues to save for his grandson. It’s easy to see why the stunning and energetic mother of twin eight-year-old daughters, Sophia and Olivia, finds the EIC job at the iconic publication (which as a 99 percent brand awareness rating among Americans) a perfect fit. Between bites of her kale chicken Caesar salad, she enthused about the “positive, life-affirming” stories that have been RD‘s signature throughout its long history. In fact, she told me that she had plans to bring more of that signature all-American optimism into the mix by ”returning [the brand] to its roots.” But make no mistake about it — while  features like its well-loved jokes, “Quotable Quotes” and “Word Power,” are an enduring part of the mix, this is not your grandmother’s Reader’s Digest.

Liz Vaccariello and Diane Clehane

I was fascinated to learn that the magazine was the first publication to be available on Kindle and one of the first to offer readers an app. In December of last year, digital sales overtook newsstand sales, and the magazine now has over 1.2 million Facebook fans. All this bodes very well for Liz’s plans to unveil both a print and digital redesign of the magazine next year where, she says, there will be even more opportunities for readers to share and engage with the magazine and with each other.

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Dishing With Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn; Catching Up With Michael Strahan

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It was a regular boys club at Michael’s today with not one, but two football legends (Michael Strahan, Frank Gifford), several captains of industry (William Lauder, Jonathan Tisch), publishing hot shots (Jack Kliger, Jared Kushner) and the hottest actor on broadcast television, Tony Goldwyn, who plays the adulterous, murderous President Fitzgerald Grant III on everyone’s guilty pleasure, Scandal. For the record, the power gal contingent was nicely represented by Norah O’Donnell and media mavens Katherine Oliver and Cindy Lewis.

Everyone (and I do mean everyone) was abuzz with Tony’s arrival in the dining room so, of course, I just had to say hello. He couldn’t have been more pleasant about doing an impromptu interview about the runaway success of Scandal and offered his take on being a red hot leading man at 53. It was a bit trippy, really, comparing the relaxed, friendly actor who was casually clad in a plaid shirt and jeans (he’s from Los Angeles, after all) with the uptight, angst-ridden politico he plays on the small screen. Grandson of legendary studio head Samuel Goldwyn, Tony’s has had a journeyman’s career with stints on film (most memorably as villain Carl Bruner in Ghost), television (recurring roles on Dexter and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and several roles on Broadway, including the musical Promises, Promises. Surprisingly, Goldwyn has never been a staple in the likes of People and the other glossies. When I asked him what it meant to have true stardom come along relatively late in his career he told me, “It’s definitely different than if it had happened earlier; I’m very grateful.”

Tony Goldwyn and Diane Clehane

Speaking of grateful, more than a few of my friends look forward to Tony’s steamy scenes with his co-star Kerry Washington. (His wife, Jane Musky, doesn’t watch those encounters.) “We definitely push the boundaries,” he said. I told him it’s often hard to remember that Scandal is on network television rather than cable. “In a way, it’s because of cable that [series creator Shonda Rhimes] has been able to up the level of things and be more bold.” Read more

Meg Ryan and Judith Regan “Below the Radar” on Table One

1003_mockup.gifThe spring power lunch season has officially begun at Michael’s with plenty of famous faces and talking heads (Charles Grodin, Star Jones, Lawrence O’Donnell) mixed in with the usual suspects today. None other than Meg Ryan turned up with Judith Regan and slipped in practically unnoticed. Ah, but it’s my job to tell you these things.

In the ‘six degrees of separation’ world that is the dining room at 55th and Fifth, Judith and I grew up in the same hometown of Bay Shore on Long Island. Her mother was often my substitute teacher in high school, and we’ve always had interesting chats whenever our paths have crossed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the famously fiery ex-book publisher and she told me she’s adapted a new approach of “staying well below the radar” while working on her Sirius XM show. “No one even knows where I live,” she said. I knew better than to question the strategy of staying out of the limelight by sitting at Table One on a Wednesday at Michael’s, so we talked about mutual friends and exchanged pleasantries about our families. When Meg showed up, she couldn’t have been nicer as we chatted about our daughters who we adopted from China the same year, are the same age and both wear glasses. (Sorry, but it’s all OTR.) Later, on the way out, we talked a bit more and I suspected she had plenty more to say on the subject but didn’t want to get caught it the crush of folks lining up for their coats. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

I was joined today by Stu Zakim, public relations vet and “transformational executive” (How’s that for a title?) Mike Berman. Stu, a veteran marketing guru who has helped shaped the image of Showtime, Universal Pictures and Wenner Media, struck out on his own in 2010 with his own firm, Bridge Strategic Communications. His current clients include the Montclair Film Festival, now in its second year, and Mike, a turnaround specialist and business blogger who dispenses straightforward strategies on his blog, Berman Means Business. Stu has been working with Mike since last fall to extend the reach of his no-nonsense messaging espousing a holistic approach to building businesses. With recent headlines on media mash-ups and corporate meltdowns, we had plenty to talk about. Since Mike penned his first piece for CNBC’s website entitled “Five Turnaround Tips for Ron Johnson, JC Penney and Others” earlier this week, I thought a discussion about JCP’s embattled CEO was a good place to start. In a nutshell, says Mike, Johnson “was set up to fail — he can’t fix Penney’s.”

Mike Berman, Diane Clehane and Stu Zakim

He explains, “What’s happening with Ron Johnson is a metaphor for what’s wrong with business today. You can’t hire a rock star as if he’s just come down from the mountain top with the solution to every problem. No one person is able to do what he’s saying he can do.” According to Mike, Johnson’s first mistake was expecting an already beaten down team to buy into widespread change without first stabilizing the organization and clearly articulating a long term vision for the future. Letting 10,000 people go among a shell-shocked workforce didn’t help matters, either. “In the classic turnaround, you can be a hero by coming in and reducing staff, closing under performing stores or factories for the short-term, but in the long-term that doesn’t create value and kills the economy. Executives have to ask themselves, ‘How can I make sacrifices for the benefit of the entity?” Because so many companies rely on the slash-and-burn strategy as an immediate solution to stem the bleeding of their bottom line, Mike tells me he no longer works on “classic turnarounds” because he finds them “totally souless.” Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

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Tory Burch’s Ex Dines With Ron Perelman; Kelly Bensimon Goes Back to School

1003_mockup.gifAs much as we’d like to, we can’t deliver dish from Oscar winners (Shirley MacLaine) and supermodels (Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova) every week. After a head-spinning cycle of chats with A-listers, the celebrity quotient at Michael’s was of the low-wattage variety today with reality television refugee Kelly Killoren Bensimon and comedian Robert Wuhl representing the famous (infamous?) contingent. We suspect after the Academy Awards and most schools’ winter breaks are over next week, things will be back to the usual Fellini-esque circus at 55th and Fifth.

I was joined today by SELF vice president and publisher Laura McEwen and the magazine’s director of public relations, Lauren Theodore. It was a fortuitously timed lunch (isn’t it always?), because the newly reinvigorated title is on a roll. Even before our lunch, the colorful cover of the March issue featuring starlet of the moment Julianne Hough caught my eye. It turns out, the issue debuted a new, more “extroverted” all-black logo which seems to capture the forward motion of the Conde Nast title perfectly. Since its launch in 1979, the magazine has been the bible for young fitness-focused women. Now, says Laura, the title has stepped up its mission and embraced a more encompassing philosophy of “Body/Looks/Life.”  ”They are all inseparable today,” explains Laura. “When it first launched, SELF started a movement but now it’s a way of life that has gone mainstream.”

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Naomi Campbell and Her Supermodel Castmates Dish About Their New ‘Face’

We were more than a little disappointed to learn that we missed Dan Stevens aka Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey when he lunched with producer Paula Wagner at Table One on Monday. (Doesn’t he know Wednesday is the day for lunch at Michael’s?) Luckily, today’s oh-so-fabulous lunch with the cast of Oxygen’s new ’supermodel competition’ series, The Face, more than made up for it. While in town to promote the new series, which premieres Tuesday, February 12 at 9 pm on Oxygen, supermodels Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Coco Rocha and renowned photographer Nigel Barker decided to make ‘Lunch’ their sole joint appearance on their whirlwind media tour.

I couldn’t imagine what yet another reality competition series about fashion could bring to the party, but when I watched the screener of the premiere episode in anticipation for our lunch I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from its stellar production values, The Face has some serious fashion cred thanks to executive producer and supermodel coach Naomi Campbell’s considerable star power (along with fellow coaches Karolina Kurkova and Coco Rocha) and unrivaled sense of what works. As host, Nigel Barker is a commanding yet reassuring presence. Everything on the show has an authenticity that real fashionistas will appreciate, while giving ‘civilians’ a true glimpse into what it really takes to make it in modeling. The most refreshing twist the series offers is in its approach to working with the 12 hopefuls vying to be the new face of ULTA Beauty. The contestants also get some major opportunities in the course of the show, including photo shoots with the legendary Patrick Demarchelier and challenges with W magazine. Celebrities Wendy Williams and Amare Stoudemire make appearances as guest judges.

Coco Rocha and Diane Clehane

The three supermodels act as mentors to their respective teams and took their roles very seriously. Even though the show wrapped months ago, Naomi, Karolina and Coco forged such strong bonds with their ‘girls’ that all of them remain in touch with the wannabe models, offering career advice whenever the need should arise. “I really worry about my girls,” Naomi told me. “It’s funny, when I’m working in New York or Paris, I always feel like I’m going to miss everyone when the week is over, but after a few days you get on with it. When we finished shooting the show, I felt a little sad. I still talk to my girls and I’m texting them all the time. I really grew quite fond of them.”

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Cynthia McFadden, Gayle King and Blythe Danner at the Bar

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School is back in session! The faithful have returned to Michael’s and the place was buzzing with activity as the media mavens, talking heads and social swells sailed into the dining room. Table One (Cynthia McFadden, Lesley Stahl and a host of other power gals) was the center of gravity, while the rest of the dining room was a tasty mix of spinmeisters (Gil Schwartz),  fashionistas (Julie Macklowe) and literary types (Long time no see, David Hirshey).

I was joined today by two of the stars of Bravo’s Gallery Girls, the freshman reality series chronicling the professional lives of seven ambitious New York gals toiling in the “cutthroat environment” (according to the show’s press release) of the New York City art world.  Oh, the pressure! Kerri Lisa and Claudia Martinez are not your average Bravo-lebrities. The two gorgeous — and tall! — young women were downright earnest in describing their experience as twentysomethings in the city and their commitment to their careers. ” I don’t like drama. I’m pretty even keeled,” Kerri told me. “I think I have an inspiring story. I’ve built this little life for myself that shows if you work hard and are passionate about it, you can do it.” As for Claudia, she wants to concentrate more on “philanthropic” works in the coming years. Not exactly a page out of Nene Leaks’ handbook.

Kerri Lisa, Claudia Martinez, Diane Clehane and Julia Nietsch

Kerri Lisa, Claudia Martinez, Diane Clehane and Julia Nietsch

Having filmed the series over the course of four months last year, both Kerri and Claudia agree it’s a bit difficult watching themselves now on the show. “I can’t even listen to myself on my answering machine,” Kerri told me. “It’s interesting, because you rarely get the chance to see yourself the way other people might see you,” said Claudia. Even if the producers went for the most Bravo-esque snippets of otherwise everyday scenarios, she continued, “I said everything and did everything they showed and I’m comfortable with that.”

Kerri, who grew up on Long Island and graduated from Syracuse University in 2009, says the series showed just “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to how hard the cast works in real life. Unlike some of the other women on the show, Kerri didn’t know anyone from the cast and was pretty much on her own when it came to dealing with the rest of the women. “I didn’t trust anyone in the beginning and still don’t,” she told me. Having gone to college fully expecting to follow in the footsteps of her family members that work in investment banking, Kerri told me her eyes were opened to other possibilities during college internships in public relations and at a luxury concierge service.  She changed her major to entrepreneurship and landed in the art world. “I want to work for myself s0meday.” Doesn’t everybody?

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Barbara Walters, Arianna Huffington and a Socialite Celebration

1003_mockup.gifWe were so disappointed to hear we missed Alec Baldwin by a day. A little birdie told me Manhattan’s most famous newlywed was in an extremely good mood yesterday as he dined with a mystery gal with a British accent (Attention Andrea Peyser!). Here’s another tasty tidbit about the 30 Rock star: He is apparently not done with Twitter as he tweeted about the dessert sent to him by Michael’s GM Steve Millington congratulating him on his headline-making nuputials. I just thought you’d like to know.

Now, on to today’s crowd. This being the last few weeks before everyone takes off for their cottages in the Hamptons and family compounds in Maine, Michael’s was chock full of A-listers, including Barbara WaltersArianna Huffington and a squadron of social types. I was joined today by Marianne Howatson and Kendell Cronstrom and we had plenty to talk about. I’ve known Mariane since her days at Conde Nast where she was publisher of Travel & Leisure and Self. She then went on to be group publisher of Gruner+Jahr. These days, she is CEO and publication director of three gorgeous shelter books: Connecticut Cottages & GardensHamptons Cottages & Gardens and the company’s newest edition, New York Cottages & Gardens which launched in March.

Marianne bought the books in 2009 because she says, “I was in love with the magazines.” And, it seems, she’s not alone. “Every house I go into in the Hamptons, the magazine is right there on the table. It’s wonderful to see.” The appeal of the books lies in their “sense of place” and the feeling of “intimacy” that connects the reader to its design-focused content, explained Marianne. The books’ affluent, passionate readers with a median household income of $880,000 and the company’s event-driven marketing efforts have made it the advertising vehicle for luxe lifestyle brands, like Hermes, Scalamandre, ligne roset and roche bobois.  NYC &G, with  Kendell at the helm, has been so well received that Marianne decided to up the print run by 25 percent, increase the frequency from five to six times a year, and sell the book on the newsstand for $5.95. In the era of the $12 print subscription, Marianne’s asking price of $99.95 for all three titles is truly a vote of confidence for the future.

Marianne Howatson, Kendell Cronstrom and Diane Clehane

It’s clear that Marianne has set the bar high on all fronts. This year, the stellar roster of events the company has sponsored is truly impressive. In Connecticut, its Innovation in Design Awards have been recognizing the area’s leading architects and designers for six years. The magazine also sponsored the Red Cross Ball and created Pink Aid, a brilliant initiative to raise money for breast cancer awareness in partnership with Mitchell’s of Westport. The luncheon features a collection of pink chairs artfully adorned by a host of designers which line the front row at a fashion show of a top designer. Guests pay $1,000 to sit in the chairs and afterwards they are available for sale. Last year’s event raised $330,000 for area hospitals. This year’s event is scheduled for October 4 and will feature a Ralph Lauren fashion show. CTC&G Editor D.J. Carey has also redesigned the book’s logo for September which, explains Marianne, will “open up” the cover, giving it an airy, more modern feel.

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