Thu, Nov 09, 2006 - Page 13 News List

'Business climbers' scale new heights

There are so many charity events and parties that virtually anyone can be called a socialite if she has the right connections. The knack is being able to turn that fame into a marketable product

By Tatiana Boncompachi  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Ivana Trump.


It was 9pm on Halloween and already a crowd of A-list revelers and the photographers who love them were inside the West Side lounge Bungalow 8. Stepping through the club's velvet ropes, Fabiola Beracasa, the sexy, voluble socialite who is the Venezuelan-born daughter of Veronica Hearst, was dressed as Medusa in a made-to-order serpentine headdress, glittery body paint, freaky white contact lenses and gold-sequined hot pants.

As the photographers sprung into action, Beracasa, one of the party's six hosts, gamely struck a variety of poses, momentarily jumping atop a leather banquette in her 15cm platform heels.

After descending from her perch, she slinked through the crush of bodies to chat with her friend Tinsley Mortimer, another much-photographed girl-about-town, who was dressed as Raggedy Ann in red-and-white-striped stockings.

A few hours later, the photographs were up on Web sites about Manhattan party life, providing fodder to bloggers and glossy magazines that document the social set's every clothing change. It was another night in the life of the ambitious post-deb set, during a week that included a host of similar photo ops: the Met museum Young Friends Benefit Dance, the Princess Grace Foundation gala, parties at the Jimmy Choo boutique and the Gramercy Park Hotel.

So many parties, so many party pictures. Yet to hear the newest wave of socialites tell it, the businesslike grind of going out nightly is increasingly a platform for creating a business.

Women like Beracasa (creative director of an estate jewelry company), Mortimer (designer of her own handbag line) and many others are exploring a new socialite end game — one in which they become a brand with mainstream recognition (extra points awarded for an actual logo).

Aggressively milking the fame they acquire through their irrepressible urge to dress up and be photographed, they are spinning off businesses that may one day provide nest eggs for the time an inherited fortune runs dry or a Palm Beach marriage goes down in flames, or simply as a means of personal fulfillment.

"The idea is to turn this all into something," said Beracasa, who has a bombastic beauty reminiscent of Rita Hayworth and a platinum pedigree (her late stepfather was Randolph A. Hearst, and her father, Alfredo Beracasa, is a banking scion). "You get to a point where you've created a brand, and you can branch out from there."

The gold standard for the self-branding socialite is Tory Burch, 40, who developed a line of sportswear and accessories inspired by her Main Line-meets-Southampton life into a mini empire, now with five stores, in just over two years. And this despite the collapse of her marriage to Christopher Burch, a venture capitalist who helped finance her label initially.

"The model that everyone points to is Tory Burch," said Marshall Heyman, a senior editor for W magazine. "Tory was on Oprah and that was a huge thing. Now everyone wants to be on Oprah."

Other players in the game include Celerie Kemble, an interior designer who married a money manager in a socialite-studded wedding in Palm Beach last year, and is building a namesake line of furniture; Lucy Sykes, a former fashion editor whose Lucy Sykes New York collection is sold at Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue; and Nicole Young, a former limelight-loving publicist for clients like Jacob the Jeweler whose line of dresses are sold at Intermix and other stores.

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