Obama Mocks GOP, Secret Service, Trump

Not much was off-limits for President Barack Obama’s scattershot humor at Saturday’s celebrity studded White House Correspondents Dinner.

This year’s primaries, the 2008 primaries, the General Services Administration scandal, even the Secret Service and Donald Trump were among the targets for presidential barbs. “I had a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew.”

Even the entrance to his speech was part of his schtick. The president walked off stage just before he took the podium with an alleged “hot mic,” making fun of getting caught last month on an open microphone with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“What am I doing here,” he asks off stage. “I’m opening for Jimmy Kimmel and telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian.”

But Obama touched on serious themes as well, remembering The New York Times’ Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London who died while covering the uprising in Syria.

The annual dinner dates back to 1920 and raises money for journalism scholarships. (AP, CBS)

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Designer Betsey Johnson Files for Chapter 11

(This just kills me. I have about five dresses from her – with her label inside. Always made me feel so ‘special’ when I wore her clothes. They’re so much fun and uncoventional, but maybe those concepts don’t fly anymore in a recession. People want standard, staple clothes they can wear at several functions – more bang for their buck kind of idea.)

Fashion designer Betsey Johnson’s company filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday night in New York, following poor performance in its chain of retail stores.

The Chapter 11 filing by Betsey Johnson LLC will see most of the chain’s 63 stores close, a person familiar with the matter said. Steven Madden Ltd., which owns the Betsey Johnson license, likely will keep four or five flagships in New York City and a few other cities, the person said.

The company employs about 400 people. Its largest creditors include Haskell Jewels, American Express and FedEx Corp., according to the filing.

In the filing, the company said it started exploring strategic alternatives including a sale in January. The following month, it enlisted the help of Morpheus Capital and Advisors LLC to help it find new equity investors or sell the company, the filing said.

Morpheus reached out to 22 potential buyers and investors. The company was in the final stages of a deal to sell its assets earlier this month when the would-be buyer “abruptly” backed out of the deal, according to papers the company filed with the court. Negotiations with other potential purchasers failed to result in a deal, and the company decided to file Chapter 11 to sell itself to either a buyer that would keep it operating or liquidate its assets.

Ms. Johnson was known for her over-the-top personality, designing clothes with bright neon colors and ending her runway shows by turning cartwheels.

She founded her label in 1978 with former model Chantal Bacon. The brand has since become known for flamboyant fashion shows featuring punk-rock looks, mini dresses, and at times even doubloon-tossing pirates and Playboy Playmates.

The company had outlined plans to have 100 stores in 22 states by 2012.

In 2010, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bacon sold a stake in the business to Boston-based private equity firm Castanea Partners. Steven Madden came into the picture that same year after the company breached loan covenants and was forced to restructure its debt. Steven Madden holds a 10% stake in the company and owns its intellectual property, and Castanea holds the remaining 90% stake.

The 2010 restructuring wasn’t enough to make the company profitable again. In court papers, Betsey Johnson Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Friedman, blaming the U.S. recession’s effect on “higher-end fashion apparel brands,” said sales at the company’s retail stores have fallen by more than 20% since 2007 and profitability has declined by more than 50%.

The brand operates in the luxury space, with dresses and jewelry easily pricing in the $400 range. While luxury retail has bounced back sharply from the recession, outpacing the rest of the apparel industry, Betsey’s retail stores’ audience skews younger, which put the chain in competition with lower-priced retailers.

The brand’s wholesale division has performed well, with revenue up 50% over last year, a person familiar with the matter said.

Steven Madden licenses the brand to a number of companies across categories such as shoes, swimwear and intimate apparel. Ms. Johnson is expected to go work with Steven Madden, a person familiar with the matter said.

Despite planned store closings, shoppers will still be able to find Ms. Johnson’s designs at department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, the person said.

(Wall Street Journal, herroom.com)

Tiffany & Co. Turns 175!

Tiffany’s is 175 years old this year and as CBS News’ Rita Braver shows us, it’s not just Audrey Hepburn, in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” who walking through the 5th Avenue doors dreaming of luxury and extravagance.

Generations of Americans have ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Tiffany rings and bracelets and necklaces, even if they can’t afford to buy. Which is just fine with the folks who run the place.

“To aspire to be a Tiffany and Co. customer, to dream about Tiffany, is certainly a powerful part of what happens here,” said Tiffany’s Chairman and CEO Michael Kowalksi. “We welcome it and encourage it.”

Kowalksi says it’s been that way since the company began 175 years ago: “We were a young country, growing very rapidly. Luxury here was defined not as something aristocratic, not as something that excluded people, but rather we had an inclusive, welcoming vision of luxury.”

Long before this flagship 5th Avenue store was built in 1940, Charles Louis Tiffany and John Young opened a “stationery and fancy goods store” on Broadway in lower Manhattan. The year was 1837.

“Their two dads gave them each the grand sum of $500, and they opened Tiffany and Company with a capital of $1,000,” said John Loring, the company’s ad hoc historian and former design chief. “Its first day of sales were a magnificent $4.95!”

Loring says Young soon bowed out. But Charles Tiffany proved to be a marketing genius.

He hired some of the best American silversmiths whose sumptuous pieces started winning international prizes. They can now be found in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as in the company’s private collection – pieces like an American Indian0inspired loving cup.

By the mid-1800s, Tiffany jewelry was all the rage. Even Abraham Lincoln knew just where to buy seed pearls for his wife to wear at his 1861 inauguration:

Loring said Lincoln himself came into the store and chose them with the owner. “And the rumor goes that he wondered if the president of the United States got a discount at Tiffany and Company, and Charles Lewis Tiffany said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but no one gets a discount at Tiffany.”

And that famous Tiffany blue used in all the packaging? It was chosen because it was the favorite color of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.

“She was also considered the most stylish woman in the world,” said Loring. “She was the supermodel fashion plate – fashion arbiter of the universe.”

After she was deposed in 1870, Charles Tiffany (who was known as “The King of Diamonds”) bought up some of her jewels.

But Tiffany is actually known more for very simple diamond engagement ring settings introduced in 1886.

Today diamonds are about a quarter of Tiffany’s $3.6 billion in annual sales. Most of the jewelry is handcrafted in New York.

And while you can pick up a blue diamond bauble for a mere $10 million, a yellow diamond, discovered in South Africa in 1877, is considered PRICELESS.

Being reset in honor the company’s big anniversary, it is the OFFICIAL Tiffany diamond, weighing in at over 128 karats.

“Charles Lewis Tiffany bought it for the grand sum of $18,000 – that was a very good investment!” said Loring.

If Louis Tiffany was known for marketing, his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was known for artistry. And it wasn’t just those famous stained glass lamps: He also designed beautiful jeweled pieces, often using American gems, such as sapphires, which all come from the Yogo Gulch in Montana.

You might not realize some of the things Tiffany makes: trophies for the Super Bowl, NASCAR, and horse racing. Lady Bird Johnson ordered Tiffany china for the White House.

And back in 1885, the company created the version of the Great Seal of the United States that still graces the back of every U.S. dollar bill.

“Tiffany design is American design,” said Loring, permeating every aspect of America. “Whether the people recognize it as such or not, it’s with them every day.”

The big ticket Jewelry has been worn by everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Kate Winslet. But just about anyone can own a piece of Tiffany’s silver line, starting at about $100.

That’s caused complaints that the brand has been diluted. But Chairman Michael Kowalski is not bothered by that, or by sniping about “Rubedo,” the company’s latest product – a mix of gold, silver and copper that some call a gimmick.

“It’s beautiful,” said Kowalski.

“So you don’t care if some people are critical of it?” asked Braver.

“You know, Tiffany has always had an extraordinary history of product innovation, going back many, many years,” Kowalski said. “So I think part of the challenge of being an innovator is surprising people, and perhaps (being) upsetting to some.”

And let’s face it: Over the course of 175 years, we’ve all learned what’s meant by the “Tiffany standard.”

“You can go anywhere in the United States and the word ‘Tiffany’ will be used synonymous with quality,” said Loring. “You’ll find the Tiffany Laundromat, the Tiffany lumber yard, everything Tiffany! And probably there’s a nice little baby girl born every minute in the United States named Tiffany.”

CBS News

Cubism? Rubik Helps With Toy’s Anniversary Exhibit

Hungarian puzzle master Erno Rubik is in the United States to help develop a traveling exhibit that will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube.

The exhibit will open in April 2014 at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J., just across the Hudson River from New York City.

The 67-year-old Rubik was an architect teaching a class in his native Budapest in 1974 when he built a cube to teach students about three-dimensional space. Since then more than 500 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold.

Puzzle-users can learn from experts or books. But Rubik says it’s best for everyone to “find your own solution.”

Rubik is to be honored Friday at a gala at the Science Center. (AP)

Burning Man Appeals Probation Over Crowd Size

Organizers of the Burning Man festival are challenging the federal government’s decision to place them on probation for exceeding the crowd cap last year.

The Bureau of Land Management took the action after the offbeat art and music festival drew daily crowds of more than 53,000 both last Sept. 2 and 3 on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Organizers were issued a notice of noncompliance decision for exceeding the daily population cap of 50,000 allowed under their special recreation permit.

It’s the first time Burning Man has been placed on probation.

BLM officials warn that if organizers are placed on probation two straight years, their permit may be suspended or canceled.

Organizers are appealing the decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell declined to comment. (AP)

3D Release Steers ‘Titanic’ Past $2 Billion Mark

James Cameron has shored up his position as king of the worldwide box office.

Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” sailed beyond the $2 billion mark in lifetime ticket sales, thanks to a 3D re-release of the film that was timed to the centennial of the ship’s sinking.

Only one other movie has topped $2 billion, and it’s also Cameron’s. His 2009 sci-fi smash “Avatar” earned $2.8 billion worldwide.

The “Titanic” reissue took in about $100 million this weekend — $11.6 million domestically and a whopping $88.2 million in 69 overseas markets. That included a $58 million debut in China and put the re-release total worldwide at $190.8 million.

Added to the film’s $1.84 billion haul in its original release, “Titanic” now stands at $2.03 billion worldwide. (AP)

Axl Rose Declines Induction Into Rock Hall

There’ll be no Guns N’ Roses reunion at this weekend’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. Axl Rose says he won’t attend and is declining his induction into the hall.

The seminal band is to be inducted in Cleveland on Saturday. There was some hope that the original unit would reunite. It disbanded in acrimony in the 1990s.

But in a letter to the hall released Wednesday, Rose said he won’t be at the ceremony. “I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.”

Referring to the band’s falling out in 1996, Rose, 50, says having the group inducted would be “somewhat of a complicated or awkward situation.”
He adds, “I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia … this decision is personal. I certainly don’t intend to disappoint anyone, especially the fans, with this decision.”

Calling out former band mate Steven Adler for spreading “reunion lies,” Rose says the only two original members he’d ever consider sharing a stage with again are Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan.

Of the original rockers, famous for hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City,” Rose says simply, “Time to move on. People get divorced. Life doesn’t owe you your own personal happy ending, especially at another’s – or in this case, several others’ – expense.”

The hall didn’t immediately return requests for comment. (AP)

Rose’s open letter is printed in its entirety below.

To: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Guns N’ Roses Fans and Whom It May Concern,

When the nominations for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame were first announced I had mixed emotions but, in an effort to be positive, wanting to make the most of things for the fans and with their enthusiasm, I was honored, excited and hoped that somehow this would be a good thing. Of course I realized as things stood, if Guns N’ Roses were to be inducted it’d be somewhat of a complicated or awkward situation.

Since then we’ve listened to fans, talked with members of the board of the Hall Of Fame, communicated with and read various public comments and jabs from former members of Guns N’ Roses, had discussions with the president of the Hall Of Fame, read various press (some legit, some contrived) and read other artists’ comments weighing in publicly on Guns and the Hall with their thoughts.

Under the circumstances I feel we’ve been polite, courteous, and open to an amicable solution in our efforts to work something out. Taking into consideration the history of Guns N’ Roses, those who plan to attend along with those the Hall for reasons of their own, have chosen to include in “our” induction (that for the record are decisions I don’t agree with, support or feel the Hall has any right to make), and how (albeit no easy task) those involved with the Hall have handled things… no offense meant to anyone but the Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony doesn’t appear to be somewhere I’m actually wanted or respected.

For the record, I would not begrudge anyone from Guns their accomplishments or recognition for such. Neither I or anyone in my camp has made any requests or demands of the Hall Of Fame. It’s their show not mine.

That said, I won’t be attending The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction 2012 Ceremony and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorized nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf. Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame should imply whether directly, indirectly or by omission that I am included in any purported induction of “Guns N’ Roses”.

This decision is personal. This letter is to help clarify things from my and my camp’s perspective. Neither is meant to offend, attack or condemn. Though unfortunately I’m sure there will be those who take offense (God knows how long I’ll have to contend with the fallout), I certainly don’t intend to disappoint anyone, especially the fans, with this decision. Since the announcement of the nomination we’ve actively sought out a solution to what, with all things considered, appears to be a no win, at least for me, “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” scenario all the way around.

In regard to a reunion of any kind of either the Appetite or Illusion lineups, I’ve publicly made myself more than clear. Nothing’s changed.

The only reason, at this point, under the circumstances, in my opinion whether under the guise of “for the fans” or whatever justification of the moment, for anyone to continue to ask, suggest or demand a reunion are misguided attempts to distract from our efforts with our current lineup of myself, Dizzy Reed, Tommy Stinson, Frank Ferrer, Richard Fortus, Chris Pitman, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and DJ Ashba.

Izzy came out with us a few times back in ’06 and I invited him to join us at our LA Forum show last year. Steven was at our show at the Hard Rock, later in ’06 in Las Vegas, where I invited him to our after-party and was rewarded with his subsequent interviews filled with reunion lies. Lesson learned. Duff joined us in 2010 and again in ’11 along with his band, Loaded, opening in Seattle and Vancouver. For me, with the exception of Izzy or Duff joining us on stage if they were so inclined somewhere in the future for a song or two, that’s enough.

There’s a seemingly endless amount of revisionism and fantasies out there for the sake of self-promotion and business opportunities masking the actual realities. Until every single one of those generating from or originating with the earlier lineups has been brought out in the light, there isn’t room to consider a conversation let alone a reunion.

Maybe if it were you it’d be different. Maybe you’d do it for this reason or that. Peace, whatever. I love our band now. We’re there for each other when the going get’s rough. We love our fans and work to give them every ounce of energy and heart we can.

So let sleeping dogs lie or lying dogs sleep or whatever. Time to move on. People get divorced. Life doesn’t owe you your own personal happy ending especially at another’s, or in this case several others’, expense.

But hey if ya gotta then maybe we can get the “no show, grandstanding, publicity stunt, disrespectful, he doesn’t care about the fans” crap out of the way as quickly as we can and let’s move on. No one’s taking the ball and going home. Don’t get it twisted. For more than a decade and a half we’ve endured the double standards, the greed of this industry and the ever present seemingly limitless supply of wannabes and unscrupulous, irresponsible media types. Not to imply anything in this particular circumstance, but from my perspective in regard to both the Hall and a reunion, the ball’s never been in our court.

In closing, regardless of this decision and as hard to believe or as ironic as it may seem, I’d like to sincerely thank the board for their nomination and their votes for Guns’ induction. More importantly I’d like to thank the fans for being there over the years, making any success we’ve had possible and for enjoying and supporting Guns N’ Roses music.

I wish the Hall a great show, congratulations to all the other artists being inducted and to our fans we look forward to seeing you on tour!!

Sincerely,

Axl Rose

P.S. RIP Armand, Long Live ABC III