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When the Party's Over (for the Party Planner)

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Posing with pal Muffie Potter Astor.  

FEBRUARY 10 It’s Fashion Week, and things are looking up. The phones are ringing, and—as it has so many times before—my office seems like the center of the universe. Tonight is Elle Decor’s Dining by Design, one of my favorite events, where more than 50 different designers create one-of-a-kind tables—some of them fabulously inventive—to benefit diffa. This is the first time we’ve done it during Fashion Week, a considerable risk because there’s so much competition, but we’ve managed to round up luminaries like Cynthia Rowley, Vivienne Tam, David Rockwell, Katie Brown, and Colin Cowie.

At 11 p.m., after saying good-bye to five staff members and putting John Waters and Marissa Jaret Winokur, the Hairspray girl, in a car, my irrepressible and always willing assistant Eleanor and I head to Cipriani 42nd Street. There, my stylist cousin Elizabeth is supervising a team of ten preparing for Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Female Awards, being held the next day.

Things are going slowly. As always, the stage looks too big, the custom-made, two-layer tablecloths don’t seem to fit, and despite a lot of early assurances, the room doesn’t hold as many people as we’d thought. I’m glad my clients aren’t here to see this. My team looks deflated when I leave at 2 a.m., barking orders as I go.

FEBRUARY 11 Miraculously, I arrive at 7:15 a.m. to find everything looking remarkably sleek and surprisingly professional. Who did all this? I wonder. The tablecloths still don’t fit right, but you can’t tell. At 11 a.m., Laura Linney is the first, and friendliest, to arrive. Sandra Bullock is the girl of the year, and goes through her paces with complete professionalism.

Last to arrive is Eve. I had warned my client that she arrived so late the year before at the Event to Prevent (Teen Pregnancy) that I had to climb into her Veuve Clicquot–stocked trailer and tell her we were pulling her from the program. Today, when she arrives, oh, 120 seconds before the start of the show, I’m relieved—until she tells me she has to go to the ladies’ room (cue major eye roll). She says, “Sixty seconds, I promise,” and sure enough, she takes her place in line one minute later and then stays longer than any other celebrity, greeting guests and signing autographs. She looks magnificent. We clear the air over our last event, and she says, “Thank you for taking such nice care of me.” I am seriously flattered.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the odd process of recruiting, coddling, and exploiting celebrities became a big part of the daily routine as the company grew. We produced awards shows and benefit concerts with some of the biggest names. We made a retrospective video for David Bowie that required three different editing teams (but in the end, he liked it). Prince performed at two of our events and then hired us to announce his Website. Sharon Stone kissed me on the lips (and became a loyal supporter; say what you want—for real glamour, nothing touches La Stone) after I succeeded in getting the mikes turned back on for an InStyle charity auction when she arrived after the event was over. She had two more items to sell, and sell them she did.

I got to know the former mayor. A Rudy arrival always packed more wattage than any star’s, because of the advance people with microphones, the cops, and then eventually the big black SUV (this before the rap stars all had them).

After the Cosmo event ends, my talks with Playboy continue, getting more and more complex, but with bigger and bigger potential payoffs. The anniversary may be televised. Can you book the entertainer? Will she do a cover? Big stuff. Maybe enough to pull us out.

"I bounce a check to my contractor, who miraculously agrees to keep working. 'If you're going to lose your company, you'll probably be spending a lot more time in your apartment,' he says."

FEBRUARY 12 Oscar nominees were announced yesterday, so The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Elle , and Advertising Age are all calling for quotes about jewelry, fashion, etc., for the Oscars’ attendees.

But the bons mots aren’t flowing, because the New York State tax people are conducting a “field visit” to see if I’m a legitimate business. Sometimes you know they are coming—sometimes you don’t. There is no accountability with the tax people. I’m considering applying for a job with them.

When you miss a tax payment, two things happen. First, they apply penalties, sometimes more than the tax itself. Second, you start to get a lot of fancy-colored mail.

Between blather like “Diamonds will be chunkier” and “It will be hard to surpass Halle,” we successfully set up a payment plan with the state of New York, one that we think we can live with. Time to go see the accountants.

FEBRUARY 14 Another single Valentine’s Day (sigh). And back to Florida, for a meeting with Bob Greenberg, the CEO of Skechers shoes. I’m on my game, my ideas are good, and after a very pleasant and what feels like a lucrative lunch, Bob invites me for an afternoon on his boat with pals. I suspect the worst when we leave his Boca manse and a Sea Tow boat follows diligently with a genial fellow yelling things like “It’s a bit rough out there on the ocean, you know.”

Stupidly, I accept an offer to drive the boat. Bob mistakenly informs me that his boat draws four to five feet of water. When the depth finder reaches seven feet, we run aground. This boat is worth half a million if a penny. Do I offer to fix the bent propElle rs? Repaint the bottom of the hull? If he’s thinking I can write him a generous check, he’s out of luck.

Bob is a complete gentleman and says, “Next time, let’s get a running start and really beach the sucker.”

FEBRUARY 24 Time once again to meet with Maggie and André, my polite and unflappable husband-and-wife accounting team. You know you’re in bad shape when your accountants suggest that your situation exceeds their skills and they recommend you hire both a bankruptcy lawyer and a tax attorney.

FEBRUARY 25 A sobering meeting with my lawyer. He’s a nice, low-key guy who I seem to both worry and amuse at the same time. After I lay out my entire situation, I explain my strategy, which is to keep the wolves at bay until the Oscars, when I’ll have a significant chunk of cash to pay down my bills.

“Guys like you always think they can pull it out,” he says. He tells me I need a tax attorney and says that in the meantime, I should go about my business and keep my mouth shut. Then he launches into a basic explanation of Chapter 11. He also tells me about Chapter 7 and Chapter 13—different ways that companies protect their assets as they try to reorganize.

What book are these chapters in? Are the even-numbered chapters all about making money and distributing profits? How come no one gave me this book when I started my company?

Or at least before we moved from our first office in 1994, which was furnished with hand-me-downs from my mother’s summer house, to a bigger one, then an even bigger one in 1999. Next came a California bungalow (the thinking being, I would save money on hotels by sleeping in the bedroom—guess how much we saved), then an office on Wilshire Boulevard.

Remember the Internet? We made a lot of money from those people, even though I could barely send an e-mail. I opened my San Francisco office just a few months before the bubble burst, and we had our first taste of big losses.

We went from $5 million a year in revenues in 2001 to $3 million in 2002. Both years, we lost money. And, of course, we were one of those companies that had fashion events planned for 9/11—ours was for David Yurman. Enough said.

Still, I thought I could beat it. No layoffs for me: I’ll downsize through attrition. The trouble with that is, if you pay your employees well, they don’t leave.

MARCH 5 If we’re going out of business, how come I’m so busy? Oscar clients are calling with what used to be fun questions. Comme des Garçons needs a strategy for its fall fragrance launch. A photo shoot—in my office, of course, to save money—is set for a fashion client. And there’s the Screen Actors Guild party for People this weekend.

Did I mention that guys arrived at my apartment today to tear down a wall and remove a second kitchen? The timing seems less than ideal.

I get up my nerve to call the IRS to ask for a field visit and a payment plan to deal with my federal taxes. After telling me yes and nicely but firmly refusing to give me a confirmation number (“We don’t do that; your confirmation will be when they come”), they respond—perhaps by coincidence, who knows?—with an “Intent to Levy Funds.” Another colorful piece of mail with green stickers and red stamps. This is called having your assets frozen. (Do they keep? I wonder.)


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