The Power- Macher Blues … Valentino: Street Fashion?

The Power- Macher Blues

In his free time, Bill Knapp–one of the best-connected men in Washington–is rocking the leaders of the free world with his band, the Consultants. The D.C.-based power trio recently released their debut album, Songs About Business , a riff on the Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food (an elite reference, though Mr. Knapp considers his own sound to be in the school of Britney Spears). You’d think that with his credentials–he’s worked with President Clinton–word would have gotten out beyond the Beltway. But the Consultants remain unheard of. How does Mr. Knapp explain it?

“It’s very simple,” Mr. Knapp said over the phone. “We’ve been too busy trying to run the country.” He wasn’t kidding.

Mr. Knapp is a consultant to Fortune 500 companies and big-time politicians; one bandmate, Tom Freedman, was a senior adviser to President Clinton; another, Marius Penczner, makes commercials and rock videos (ZZ Top’s “TV Dinners”). They pretty much do run the country. “It was like, we could be working on publicizing the album, or we could be working on trying to elect the next President,” Mr. Knapp said.

The Consultants got together on a lark a few years ago. Mr. Knapp–the cunning strategist–saw a hole in the music market. “There are plenty of songs about love,” he said, “but there’s not songs about what you spend 75 or 80 percent of your time doing, which is working. So we came up with a few tunes.” A quick meeting with a country-music producer and a few studio sessions later, Songs About Business was being sold over the Internet at for $9.95.

The melodies are fairly standard. Mr. Knapp describes them as “whimsical adult contemporary–but we rock a little.” The album’s 11 songs drift from genre to genre, visiting Chicago blues before heading south toward Nashville.

The lyrics are the main event. The Consultants try to give voice to their fellow businesspeople’s concerns. There’s a duet called, appropriately enough, “The Consultant,” in which a client laments, “The consultant promised so much more / But what we got was so very dirt poor.” A common plaint, indeed. But Mr. Knapp also gives us the other side of the story; the consultant sings, “We gave them brilliance on the spot / New ideas the client never got.”

Then there’s the album’s big, blues-tinged hit, “Bought High, Sold Low.” The refrain: “Who was to know there was a thing called the Fed / Or that buying on margin would hurt me so bad?” Mr. Knapp pointed out that it was written before the Nasdaq really tanked. “In hindsight,” he said, “it’s our most poignant song.”

Even if the Consultants aren’t scaling the charts (“We mostly sell it to friends and friends of friends,” Mr. Knapp said), Songs About Business has garnered a small following in the corporate world. “We’ve gotten a couple requests to do songs for a particular C.E.O. And we’ve executed a couple of those,” he said. The Web site says they can also custom-write songs for I.P.O.’s, hostile takeovers and mergers.

The only problem is, neither Mr. Knapp nor Mr. Freedman can sing or play any instruments (though Mr. Penczner is an experienced keyboardist and producer). “My sole skill is playing the tambourine and clicking my fingers,” Mr. Knapp admitted. He and Mr. Freedman are pretty much just idea men–consultants to the Consultants, if you will. For the actual music-making, it was outsourced: “We rely on other people,” he said of the session musicians.

Does this mean there won’t be a tour? “It’s eminently possible,” Mr. Knapp replied. “There’d be a show, a schtick. We’d, you know, produce it.”

– Ian Blecher

Valentino: Street Fashion?

On the evening of Saturday, April 7, two women window-shopping on the Upper East Side unknowingly created a minor P.R. nightmare for the Italian fashion house Valentino. As the pair were walking down Madison Avenue toward 65th Street, they spotted a pile of boxes in front of the tony boutique, which had closed for the day. “My friend Valérie is looking for boxes because she’s moving out of her apartment, so we walk over,” said one of the women, a buyer for a luxury retailer. When she poked open one of the boxes with her foot, out spilled black sequins. “At first we think it’s a boring piece of fabric, and then the piece seems heavy and long, so we pull it out and it’s a dress. We open a second box and there’s nothing in it, so we think it’s a mistake. But we open a third and we see pink sequins.”

Soon, an Upper East Side couple in their 60’s stopped. “They look embarrassed and they say, ‘Oh my God, this cannot be.’ But then they start to dig.” Total score: three pieces for the fashion buyer (a long skirt, a cocktail dress and a poncho), three for her friend (a short pink dress, a cocktail dress with a scarf and another poncho), one for the couple and a scarf for a woman who passed by later, they said. “All the clothes were on hangers covered with plastic,” said the fashion buyer. “I thought, ‘Either they’re getting rid of stuff, or they have a traumatized intern who made a mistake.'”

After a moment of surprise (“You’re joking, right?”), the Valentino store manager’s reaction made it clear that the find had been a fluke. “Oh. My. God,” she said, before adding: “I don’t really know what you’re talking about, but that’s not something we usually do. If it’s not stocked, we give it to charity.”

Valentino spokesperson Ellen Niven disputed the women’s account and gave an explanation. “It appears that it was part of a shipment that was being unloaded and that one box had not been taken to the basement,” she said. “We find it very strange that [the women] are reporting there were empty boxes, because they must have come across boxes that were mostly flattened.” Regarding the women’s conduct, she added, “It’s shocking that they would keep the clothes instead of reporting [it] to the store. They got very lucky.”

– Elisabeth Franck

Ask a Simple Question …

Actor Paul Sorvino silently surveyed the independent-film-junkie crowd at midtown’s Iguana Restaurant and Lounge on Monday April 9. He was there to celebrate his friend Roberta Hanley’s feature-film directorial debut, Woundings , which had just had its New York premiere at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. But it seemed the hulking character actor and former Law & Order star didn’t have much to say as he watched the substantially younger, blonder guests–like Imitation of Christ designer Tara Subkoff–while D.J. Paul Sevigny spun Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.”

The Transom pressed Mr. Sorvino to speak up about The Sopranos , the HBO mob drama that stars several of his GoodFellas co-stars, and whose Paulie Walnuts character is most likely a tribute to Mr. Sorvino’s goodfella, Paulie Cicero. Last week, the Chicago-based American Italian Defense Association filed suit against HBO’s parent, Time Warner Entertainment Co., asking a jury to rule that The Sopranos offends the dignity of Italian-Americans. Mr. Sorvino shook his head sadly, and it didn’t look like he was going to get any more loquacious. “Let me be frank with you,” he said with a grimace. “I just don’t see what’s to be gained by all this.” Turning as though to leave, he instead lit a cigarette, returned to The Transom and began to warm up.

” The Sopranos is not representing all Italian-Americans as Mafiosi. They are representing some Mafiosi who just happen to be Italian-American. And intelligent people should know this. The F.B.I. estimates that there are only three or four thousand Mafiosi in the country, while there are 25 million Italian-Americans. Now as to how those 25 million are represented, it all comes down to what people wish to believe, what they choose to see when they look at their TV’s.” Mr. Sorvino took a drag of his cigarette.

“But they are not representing Governor Mario Cuomo here. They are not representing Senator Pat Leahy, who is half-Italian. They are not representing Dr. Sorvino, my brother, the psychiatrist.” Mr. Sorvino took a breath. “They are not representing me. They are not representing Rudy Giuliani. They are not representing Martin Scorsese. They are representing a group of Mafiosi. That’s O.K.” Mr. Sorvino did not actually sound as though any of this was O.K.

“Sure, I wish they’d make a show about Michelangelo or Leonardo.” Mr. Sorvino delicately pronounced each name with the same beautiful accent he used every time he said “Mafiosi.” “You know, the greatest gifts to the world all come from the Italian people. But if people choose to ignore that and pay attention only to stereotypes, then I don’t let them tar-brush my image of people …. America is still a very young country. We still believe a lot of what we see on TV. If people are going to be ignorant, I don’t need them.” Bada-bing!

Later in the evening, The Transom found Johnathon Schaech, the thick-lipped star of Woundings , to be just as forthcoming as Mr. Sorvino, but on a radically different topic. The 31-year-old hunk, who probably thought that the Tom Hanks boy-band flick That Thing You Do! was his ticket to Mark Wahlberg-land, has yet to become as famous as his looks would seemingly dictate. But it’s not because he doesn’t know how to pique a journalist’s interest. “Everyone fucked everyone else on the film, if you want to know,” he generously offered when told about the nature of this column. So, did Mr. Schaech have an affair with one of his female co-stars? “I can’t tell you, but maybe more than one,” he said enthusiastically. With whom? “I would never kiss and tell.” What about Emily Lloyd, the British actress who plays Mr. Schaech’s love interest? “That might work,” Mr. Schaech said.

The Transom wanted to know whether Mr. Schaech’s fiancée, Married … With Children strumpet Cristina Applegate, knew about the on-set fling he was flaunting. Mr. Schaech, who said that he and Ms. Applegate will get hitched in October, emphasized that the two were not together in 1998, when Woundings was shot. “But yeah, she knows all about it.”

A few moments later, Mr. Schaech leaned over and remarked, unbidden, “We did a lot of drugs on the movie, too.” What kinds of drugs? “I can’t tell you that. I’ll get in trouble.” But, he revealed, “It was like the 70’s!” The actor turned away and started a conversation about Mayor Giuliani with another guest before lurching back to The Transom, eager to revise some of his earlier statements. “I can’t claim Emily Lloyd. We didn’t have sex. She was a strange girl: She’d stop the car and get out and lie in front of it. I could never figure out why she did that! But yeah, that was the only movie where I’ve been bad. There was many a drunken robbery–I mean revelry–and not much chivalry!” Leave that to Mark Wahlberg.

– Rebecca Traister

Chefs du Jour

In the culinary world, winning a Best New Chef Award from Food & Wine is a proven way to speed the rise from sous-chef to star chef. Over the last 14 years, Americans have been introduced to the likes of Rocco DiSpirito of Union Pacific, Tom Colicchio of Gramercy Tavern and Craft and Todd English of Olives before they go on to cookbook-and-Food Network status. On April 3, editor in chief Dana Cowin hosted a sedate cocktail party at her elegantly spare home on the Upper West Side in honor of the soon-to-be award-winning chefs, who were clearly grappling with their looming change in status.

Sandro Gamba, chef of Chicago’s NoMI, was standing–somewhat awkwardly and drinkless–in the dining room. His blazer was drifting hazardously near the votives when the conversation turned to the subject of superchef 1999, Mr. DiSpirito. “The funny guy!” Mr. Gamba said in a thick French accent, and then went on to describe a recent lunch in Carmel, Calif., which he’d prepared alongside Mr. DiSpirito. After lunch, Mr. Gamba entered the dining room and was met with polite applause. When Mr. DiSpirito entered, however, a veritable tornado of clapping erupted as diners jumped from their seats: ” Hoo-orr-aayy !” Mr. Gamba re-enacted the cheer, spreading his arms wide and laughing a little uneasily at the memory.

Toward the end of the evening, another about-to-be-anointed chef, 71 Clinton Fresh Food’s Wylie Dufresne, grabbed his glass of white wine and stole away with The Transom through the kitchen to a passageway that housed shelves and shelves of Ms. Cowin’s cookbooks. There, Mr. Dufresne–wearing earth tones and granny glasses, his long blond hair pulled back into a ponytail–acknowledged the advantages of being a brand-name hash-slinger. “If I had not had the success that I’ve had–and continue to have–at 71 Clinton, there’d be no reason that you’d want to talk to me right now,” he told The Transom. “There’re a lot better ways to become famous,” he pointed out. “Being a rock star’s probably actually easier,” he mused. “People think being a rock star is hard, but being a chef is not the easiest road to take. I know being a rock star is not easy ….”

Mr. Dufresne took a sip from his glass. “I’m here right now,” he pronounced to the world, gesturing with his free hand, “drinking wine! Talking to you! And there’s three guys in the restaurant right now in a 110-degree room. Tempers may be flaring. There’s third-degree-burn-temperature oil, there’s knives– 20 knives! If they get mad at each other, one of them could stab the other!” he bellowed. “I mean, that’s creating drama that there really isn’t, but I’m just saying, it’s an easily glamorized life.

“We don’t quite have groupies and all of that ridiculousness. I hope it doesn’t get to that. If you like to eat good food and you’re not afraid to work hard and you’re a little screwy, then become a chef, because that’s what we are.”

– Beth Broome The Power- Macher Blues … Valentino: Street Fashion?