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Ah, those fun-loving pranksters of the fashion biz with their japes and gambols, their mischief and sly pranks! Not since the Dickensian "Mr. Fezziwig" last entertained, has there been such a puckish lot, sporting and capering.

Consider recent events here in Manhattan.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, perhaps the nation's most prestigious, held its annual ball (a thousand bucks a pop) for the Costume Institute, the museum wing long-curated by the late Diana Vreeland of Vogue fame. And a woman in her time always good for a jape or caper.

This year, naturally, they dedicated the evening to designer Gianni Versace and Princess Diana. Problem was, reported the New York Post, "Elton John, Madonna and Sting are engaged in a nasty cat fight over who will sing." The paper said Elton was closest to Diana, Madonna closest to Versace, and Sting resented being a compromise, third choice.

Wow! Except that Madonna then phoned Liz Smith to deny all. The idea of a feud was simply ludicrous, she assured La Liz. In the end, I think they all sang. Meanwhile, the Versace heiress, 11-year-old niece Allegra, was hanging with role-model Madonna and her 13-month-old baby, strolling and shopping.

This naturally gave the Post an opportunity to recall Madonna's memories of Versace's Lake Como home: "Every evening at sunset, we were served fresh Bellinis, which we sipped under the giant magnolia trees at the end of the lake.

"The cook prepared delicious meals, the Sri Lankan servants waited on us with white gloves, and my dog, Chiquita, was taken for long walks by gorgeous Italian bodyguards with walkie-talkies. This," she summed up of Versace, "was a man with a mission. A force to be reckoned with."

Then, speaking of a designer closer to home, The New York Times profiled Isaac Mizrahi, under the headline, "Envying Roisterous Lives," and adorned by a photo (in color, of course. These days they arrest you if you try to slip black & white into the Times!) of the designer looking pensive, and bearing the caption, "Isaac Mizrahi is devoted to the photographer Weegee."

Behind Mr. Mizrahi was a sepia rendering of Weegee himself, complete with Speed Graphic. Weegee ("Mr. Weegee" somehow just doesn't sound right, does it?) is enjoying a renaissance these days thanks to a show at the International Center of Photography Midtown.

In the story by Ruth La Ferla, Mr. Mizrahi regrets he wasn't around during Weegee's salad days, sighing, "Now he had a life!"

Weegee, though long dead, remains a force for Mizrahi, whose new collection is described as a "Weegee-inspired mix of vintage fabrics and mottled furs."

The designer declared, "It's such a shame that New York is no longer this type of place," nodding toward a photo by Weegee of "Sammy's Bowery Follies." Does nostalgia sell? Apparently so. Says designer Mizrahi, "I couldn't believe it. We sold so many roguish suits, so many water-stained suits."

So if you don't find a "water-stained suit" under the tree Christmas morning, you're out of it, Jack.

Noting a photo of a stiff shot to death while his family looks on, grieving, Mr. Mizrahi enthuses, "Weegee is the one person who could take this picture without making you sick."

Then he told Ms. La Ferla of another inspirational moment at "a gay bar named Stella's. 'Do you know what that is? Crazy old men and chic young ones, so scary and so fabulous at the same time. I walked in and I thought, "I'm in heaven. I am in a Weegee picture." ' "

There was lots more of this but you get the idea.

Unlike Mr. Mizrahi, I remember Sammy's Bowery Follies. Not that I ever entered the joint but as teen-agers visiting Times Square we'd stand on the sidewalk outside, hoping for a glimpse of the flesh show. But what you saw when the doors swung open was out-of-town rustics about to be bilked, aging showgirls in rhinestones and tights trying to dance, and tosspots staggering about drunk.

I also actually met Weegee. He was at the height of his fame and used the small midtown photo studio of a friend of mine, Lew, to develop and make prints. Weegee wore shirts and ties bearing witness to his meals over the last month or so and would sometimes arrive with a young woman. "This is my new model, Lew. Take off your clothes, honey. Show Lew what you got."

When Weegee wasn't telling "honey" to take off her clothes, he used Lew's tiny bathroom. Said Lew, "After he's finished, I have to go in there with a mop. What a slob."

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