Swelter 40

A world spinning out of control, the merry-go-round of moral decay lurching along heedlessly, civilization collapsing in a compost heap beyond the reckoning of Nostradamus. Qubilah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X's lovely daughters, charged with plotting to kill Louis Farrakhan, proving once again that people of taste prefer their revenge cold. Her older sister Attallah coming off as a woman from good family -- who knew? -- during the recent Summit of the Americas concert, rather sweetly helping us crash the Al Gore dinner. In other killer-celeb circles, a television producer calling for help from the west coast of Florida, working with newscaster Diane Sawyer on the O.J. mania beat and sorely misjudging the scope of our breaking-filth influence. Apparently one of Nicole Simpson's ex-boyfriends fleeing the blood-sucking media in Los Angeles for the provinces, hoping to open a Mezzaluna-esque restaurant. Isn't that exactly the kind of place where all the trouble started? Sunday morning, and a call comes in from a pay phone at Denny's, a gentleman pitching an expose on the CIA, the real story capable of blowing the lid off America: "This is even bigger than O.J." It's only a tabloid moon, a baleful orb of dirt and disgust, hurt and hate, all of us basking beneath the pitiless radiance of publicity and horror.

But in every life a little fabulousness must fall, a veritable deluge arriving with the Chanel show at Big Time Studios, the Miami City Ballet/Zoological Society of Florida benefit truly glitzy and insane, our favorite combination of social elements. The public, in a Day of the Locust dither, swarming around the ropes and fueling all the greedy gloating of being on the list. Inside, the glossy white walls and floors creating an aura of terribly chic disembodiment: The fortunate, from district celebutantes to the truly famous, floating like supernovas throughout the rooms, living out an Italian movie. Gloria Estefan making one of her first postbaby appearances, looking great during a flying-wedge-of-fame entrance with the core group: husband Emilio, Jon Secada, Ingrid Casares, and Albita Rodriguez. If only Ingrid would make us over into Albita's image and fix this motley life: only yesterday, just another ambitious Cuban emigre playing Cafe Ma*ana and confronting our offensive is-you-is-or-is-you-ain't questions, couched in pidgin Spanish. Now her appearances at Centro Vasco have become an obligatory pit stop for the trendy universe, and she's beaming straight out of Podunk. The hometown contingent a mere hors d'oeuvres for the paparazzi, the animals truly swarming for Cindy Crawford, sister Danielle, and actor Billy Baldwin, now shooting Fair Game in Miami. Everyone swept along into a vast tent behind the studio, Crawford studiously keeping Danielle between her and Baldwin to ward off the romantic conjectures of yellow journalism. The very pleasant supermodel politely sliding down the front row of A-guest seats to accommodate Ingrid and Albita, sharing a seat for some professional ogling. Gloria going cellular, an adjacent benefactress -- a woman who makes her own clothes, effectively cutting out all the middlemen -- promptly falling asleep in the frenzy. A strident pop overture going up, something about girls just wanting to be sexy, and then it's a bewildering array of vixenwear for the moneyed: slit miniskirts and exposed matching panties, transparent Avengers-style jump suits and G-strings, hot pants, crotches adorned with gold rhinestone-encrusted underwear, no doubt laden with metaphors. This season socialites may well be tempting arrests for soliciting, the American premiere of Karl Lagerfeld's 1995 spring/summer collection taking a serious erotic leap from the every-woman-needs-a-good-Chanel-suit era of the sublime Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

The big-ticket girls -- Beverly Peele, Eva Herzigova, the gargantuan Ingrid -- instantly commanding applause like popular ball players. Some of the lesser lights stumbling on enormous heels, the male models holding aloft the girls for a grand finale, steadily weakening and dropping precious cargo on the runway. Gossip being a people kind of business, our attentions focused on familiar faces: Micky Arison, Frosene Sonderling, and Charles Cobb of the benefit committee; the great George Abbott, still in show biz for his second century of life; Roxanne Pulitzer and Janice Dickinson, survivors of the power dating game. Alina Shriver, sitting down front with husband Anthony, climbing out of her Warsaw days with former husband George Nunez, right in step with the Kennedy-wife program. Backstage after the show, seeking the famous and encountering only a sea of partially clad models -- more or less paralleling an ordinary night in clubs. The heady thrill of making ludicrous fashion pronouncements for Jett Kain of VH1 promptly followed by an unsettling grown man, totally off the list, pleading for invitations as a memento. All the Chanel goodies, fittingly enough, going to a gaggle of dazzled little girls from Canada. The deserving, alas, never make the best parties.

All in all, a splendid experience, the relentless slithering through the seven circles of fashion hell, chewing over the nuances ("I just know that was Jodie Foster in the front row") and channeling the spirit of the absent Lagerfeld: "Why couldn't Cindy walk for me tonight -- she too big now? And where's my Claudia, off with that magician, that card-trickster?" Manifest destiny, incessant nocturnal engagement, looming up at the Raleigh Hotel, the Miami Design Preservation League hosting another "Moon Over Miami" ball for Art Deco Weekend. In tune with this year's Latin theme, the Rhythm Foundation coordinating an interesting array of elements: Celia Cruz and the actress Libertad Lamarque as roving party favors, Cachao for dancing, and kitschy film projections for stylistic tone. Staying on forever, despite the absence of newsworthy psychodramas, random encounters coming up here and there: Carmen Miranda clones, Art Deco activists/scholars Michael Kinerk and Dennis Wilhelm, Raleigh guest Lynn "like the deodorant" Ban visiting from Singapore and fluent in Valley-Girl speak: "The story is always about Lynn Ban." One week in Miami and a star is born. More star stories with Boze Hadleigh of Hollywood Babble On, a collection of quotations from the legends, trading insults like mortals. Hadleigh working that John Waters thing, serving up plenty of appetizing dish: "Well, I cover all the lesbians everybody knows about: Edith Head, Barbara Stanwyck, Agnes Moorehead. But I did use a great quote from Margaret Sullavan, of all people, who once referred to Katharine Hepburn as 'that dykey bitch.' Her friends, including Spencer Tracy, covered for her. George Cukor told me everything."

More parties, more defilement and derangement: too tapped out for he ever-uplifting National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts gala on Saturday night, featuring an appearance by actress Betty Garrett. Naturally, finding time to witness yet again the march of Ocean Drive magazine, celebrating its second anniversary at the Doral Hotel with all due flesh and pageantry. Niki and Krissy Taylor making a big entrance, folksinger Richie Havens -- the moral force of Woodstock -- playing to the Bee Gees and the terminally self-immersed: too surreal for words. Fashion designer Mary McFadden, looking dazed in a curious Nefertiti-meets-Lieutenant Uhura ensemble, warming up for her party at Risk with three dancing boys, McFadden bouncing back from an expensive divorce from a vexatious young lad. Billy Baldwin turning up late, surrounded by ballistic girls and being agreeable: "Fair Game is Cindy's first movie. She plays a district attorney, I'm a cop protecting her. It's an action-adventure movie, kind of like Speed. There's so much hype around her now, especially since the whole thing with Richard Gere has been resolved. It's settled things between the two of us, too. Those photographers at the Chanel show were like an assault. But putting her sister in the middle of the shots didn't cause all the controversy; that all came when I put my arm around her." A moment smacking of old Hollywood, stars playing with the press, dangling the classic nonsense of budding affairs on the set.

Stumbling into the main room, Groove Jet owner Greg Brier filing a report on new regular/old dog Wilt Chamberlain: "He's had something like 20,000 women, according to his book anyway, and yet they can't stay away from him." South Beach, land of women, world without end. On to an Avenue A-style bash at Les Violins, Michael Capponi cranking up the eternal promotion engine after a long rest-and-rehabilitation sojourn in the Midwest. Casey Hardin, our favorite homeboy and spokesman for the twentysomething set, back in town after a stint in new Hollywood, learning lessons of hope and grace in the City of Angels: "It's so easy to get lost here, to stray from all the values you've been taught. The clubs become your parents. In L.A. I've actually fallen in love with an ordinary-looking girl from Ohio with all the right qualities, someone who reminds me of how lost you can get here. It's all about looks and superficiality: To get sex, you have to be fucked-up, and then the cycle keeps repeating itself. No one can be seen in their best light. It's taken me four years to understand the point of all this, and believe me, it leads nowhere.

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Tom Austin