Swelter 33

Once in a while, even an idiot savant of gossip has to gush a little, and Ingrid Casares -- homegirl image consultant, Madonna pal, and co-owner of Liquid -- absolutely ruled last week with that club's grand opening, the South Beach club equivalent of Truman Capote's Black and White Ball. It was a watershed gathering that blended fame, beauty, talent, and shiny new money, a wallow through the trifles and truffles of neopop history, the guest list that never quits come home to roost. Madonna, fifteen years in the public eye and still working it. Supermodels/championship daters Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Actor Michael Caine and his wife Shakira Caine. Calvin and Kelly Klein. Media moguls David Geffen, Sandy Gallin, and Barry Diller. Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Celebrities are a dime a dozen, but to have billions of dollars on the hoof at a dance-club opening remains an entirely different proposition, something none of us are likely to see again for a long time.

As Capote learned, a successful coming-out party is a matter of knowing how to yank strings, though he never understood that certain public people will not tolerate having their private sides bandied about. In the end it's all about timing, and the orbiting planets of hype were in an ideal celestial formation over the Thanksgiving holidays. As it happened, Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone celebrating his birthday at Liquid on the same night as the club's opening. The moment was ripe to be seized.

Given that all publicity-driven affairs are work, hard day's nights one and all, I formed an alliance with New York City social photographer Patrick McMullan, both of us showing up early to avoid the crush. For an hour, nothing much was shaking in the Liquid VIP room, and then Madonna materialized in the inner, inner sanctum. The other chicklets of chic trailing in after the mother hen, clucking around her brother's clown-shape birthday cake. Calvin Klein, rider on the teen-sexuality-as-commodity storm, doing some youth-revolution research in the post-Studio 54 era: "Is this the hot new club that everybody comes to every night?" The forever pleasant Kelly Klein, solidly in the superwife program, defining the semiotic subtext of her new coffee-table book Underworld -- "It's really more about the human body than lingerie" -- and insisting that her next project was top secret. Spookily enough, she said the exact same thing at the Miami launch for Pools, her previous effort. A woman's charm is 90 percent illusion and mystery.

A great buzz sweeping the room, a triumvirate of Hollywood executives A the true stars of our age A having arrived. Manager Sandy Gallin, the famed handler of Cher, Michael Jackson, and Andrew Clay, among others. Barry Diller, the king of the QVC home shopping empire, who's now putting together a television network. And my fave rave, David Geffen, former Cher companion, partner in the DreamWorks SKG studio, and general master of the universe. All three were casually dressed, the symbol of power in Lotus Land, Geffen and Diller in their trademark neato grunge: jeans and flannel shirts. Rather than employ the hateful-but-redolent "velvet mafia" tag, let's just say they're all regular guys who look after one another.

The luxe lounge filling with the sort of names you see in the columns. Rita and Ian Schrager of the Delano, along with the Blue Door's Brian McNally. Kate Moss -- Johnny Depp companion, Calvin Klein model, and one bright woman -- going over to sit with Madonna, Ingrid, and Peck's-bad-girl Naomi Campbell. The foursome being introduced to Michael Caine, a polite sort unaccustomed to the club fray: typically, the just-us-gals barbershop quartet softly singing the line "What it's all about, Alfie?" and giggling after he'd moved on. Fate meted out my own moment with Lady M, a personable chat about her work in the upcoming film version of Evita: "I'll be shooting through March; it's more consuming than I'd imagined." Even as an emissary of that necessary evil, the press -- someone who lives without fear or respect -- it seemed wise for me not to linger unduly.

Geffen, who operates with a lot more money and power than just about anybody, going determinedly huggy/kissy face with a recalcitrant Madonna, the pair's friendship having gone through a dicey period. Perhaps the tensions involved Geffen hiring away her chauffeur and commenting on the matter in the glossier publications, although the frictions seemed deeper than the eternal help problem of the rich. Whatever the case, it was great stuff, Madonna hanging tough: "I'm a sensitive person, and you were talking all that shit about me. I don't have a dick and I don't play that game." Geffen, who looks like an ambitious choirboy, staying Hollywood light: "And you actually believe what people say?"

After that juicy interlude, the close encounters of all kinds involving fashion designer Victor Alfaro, singer Albita Rodriguez's camera-shy date, plus Ingrid's parents -- a nice touch -- and assorted icons of the gilded age. For a brief moment, it is the romper room that dreams are made of: no other press, friends, or local black holes of attention, a perfect party where all the other guests are more fabulous than you are. Like some kind of omen, the great film director John Schlesinger turning up, his masterpiece, The Day of the Locust, coming to all-too-live fruition, the hordes starting to engulf the room like locusts, feeding on Madonna. Being so glamorous and all, everyone needed a little breathing room. Ingrid leading the core group to the larger and self-contained Situation Room, free from the greedy eyes of second-string important people.

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