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Party Cash

If you've ever wondered just who these people are at publicity events, the answer may be that they paid off the flack to be let in.

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If it seems like everyone who's frantically socially motivated in New York is here to buy popularity, some people do it more literally than others. For those just aching to slip into their Chloë summer sheaths and Jimmy Choo strappy sandals, drink free drinks, and eat chicken satay at publicist-invented events populated by minor celebrities, but who aren't fabulous (or notorious) enough to be invited, there's another way: Hire your own P.R. firm to "represent" you. The result? You get on the "must have" list by way of paying the party planners.

Unsurprisingly, this cheating of the city's social Darwinism isn't talked about much, but it does happen. The city's P.R. pooh-bahs, including Lizzie Grubman, Lauren London, Lara Shriftman, and Jake Spitz, all admit that they have had offers of monthly payments -- ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 -- from wealthy New Yorkers who want to get into parties. But none will admit to taking the payoff -- at least on the record. "I'll take the money. Who the hell cares?" admits one.

"We don't do personal popularity," insists London, who cited the case of a socially ambitious hedge-fund manager named Greg Panayis as typical. She claims he offered her $5,000 a month to get him into her parties, including the exclusive Bridgehampton Polo, which she promotes every year. But she remained pure and wouldn't take the cash: "Besides, I'm not going to say I can get him into other people's events when I don't know if I can." (Panayis denies this.)

Shriftman claims one man offered her thousands for her ticket to the Vanity Fair Oscars bash at Morton's in Los Angeles. "This banker offered to pay me $10,000 cash for the invite, take out an ad in Vanity Fair, and make a $10,000 contribution to a Vanity Fair charity" in exchange for her ticket, Shriftman exclaims, clearly just shocked. She turned him down. Other unnamed Wall Streeters have tried other tricks to get into parties -- including having American Express Black Card membership services call, or promising the use of a private jet.

It's frustrating to be rich and not invited, though. "We got an e-mail from some sad couple outlining his net worth and her attractiveness," said Spitz. "They followed up once to see if we had added them to our list. We hadn't."

"I think it's a scary social commentary," adds the publicist censoriously. "People are desperate to get to whatever they think the next level is. It's the forbidden-fruit context -- whatever you can't get into, you want to get into more." Of course, if that wasn't true, there wouldn't be any point to a velvet rope in the first place.


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