Ex-Post gossipist refashions himself


By Mary Reinholz

He was labeled a bad boy in the less-than-virtuous tabloid press. Even some of the supposedly impartial broadsheets got their licks in. But scandal-scarred former New York Post gossipist Jared Paul Stern, a freelancer often shown in photographs wearing a rakish fedora, gets a little respect and even brand-name recognition in the world of fashion.

Indeed, some of the retailers who buy his punk/preppy duds have never even heard of the sensational charges from last April — recently dropped — that Stern was videotaped allegedly trying to shake down California billionaire Ron Burkle for $220,000 in exchange for improved coverage in Page Six.

To these merchants, Stern, 35, is the designer of a line of sportswear called Skull & Bones. A tiny sign of the Jolly Roger is the logo on his brightly colored ties, tote bags, tennis sweaters, “university scarves” and polo shirts, the latter selling for about $95 to $115 a pop at a smattering of Downtown stores since the brand’s 2005 launch.

“We are sold out. [The line] did very well,” said Erin McKinley, buyer for Zabari Silver, a trendy sportswear store for men and women on lower Broadway between Prince and Spring Sts. She noted Stern’s polo shirts in colors like hot pink and lime were the most popular and “sold mainly to men. They were not as strong for women. We will possibly reorder.”

McKinley said she knew Stern worked for The Post but hadn’t read anything about the scandal that enveloped him for the better part of a year, costing him his 11-year freelance perch on Page Six. Last week, Stern’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina said Manhattan federal prosecutors told him that they had completed their investigation of his client and Stern would not be charged with a crime. Even so, Tacopina said Stern’s career and reputation have been “shattered” and he predicted a slew of lawsuits against Burkle and “others” beyond “libel, slander and defamation.” Stern, he said, “will be seeking remuneration.”

During a telephone conversation from his cottage near the Catskills, Stern said he was “pretty much on the poverty line” even with the survival of his Skull & Bones line (in which he had hoped Burkle would invest), a book contract on the gossip business and some freelance editing he said he does for Black Book, a Downtown magazine, “for several hundred dollars a month.” After the story of his purported efforts to extort money from Burkle surfaced and went nationwide, he said, “I lost my job immediately — just cut off instantly because I’m freelance. It’s been pretty crippling. It would be nice to think that one day I could recover sufficiently and not have a pall cast so I couldn’t get work. But I don’t know when that might be. Look at all the thousands of stories written about the accusations and the small amount of stories written about the fact that they came to nothing. Innocence doesn’t get as much ink as guilt.”

Stern said his clothing business also took a hit after the scandal broke online in the Post and then with major coverage in the rival New York Daily News.

“It’s been a little dormant,” he said. “But we just sent [an order] to a new store called AS that’s opening on Stanton St.”

The store’s owner, Ryan Jacklone, who previously managed Blue & Cream, an East Hampton boutique that also carried Stern’s stuff, said his new Lower East Side store will open later this month and offer the “complete Skull & Bones line — from ribbon silk belts to sterling silver cuff links.” But Jacklone drew a blank when asked about the accusations again Stern.

Kitty Klemm, who directs the Michael Angelo’s Wonderland beauty parlor and clothing boutique on W. 13th St. in the Meatpacking District, was aware of the scandal but knew few details and described Stern as a friend, quickly adding: “He didn’t write about us in the Post and there was no groveling in any way. He’s a fan of us and we’re a fan of his.” She said the boutique doesn’t have “a whole lot left in stock” of Stern’s line and will probably not reorder “because we tend to change our merchandise a lot. But we had Skull & Bones longer than a year, longer than anything we carry, and his designs are really hot,” she said.

At least one media assassin attacked Stern’s clothing as well as his character. Here’s a snippet from Advertising Age’s “Media Guy” Simon Dumenco and his scathing putdown of Skull & Bones last April.

“…[T]he merch is nothing but little skull-and-bones logos embroidered on run-of-the-mill polo shirts, ties, ‘tennis sweaters’ and so on. It’s like learning-disabled Abercrombie, or Polo by Ralph Lauren as re-imagined by a junior-high student. I mean, ooooh, a skull-and-bones logo! How edgy! The brand, of course, is supposed to call to mind dark Wasp Power — it’s suggestive of the secretive Skull & Bones society that George Bush and generations of rich and powerful white men belonged to at Yale. As it happens, mummy and daddy actually sent Jared Paul to Bennington — the more-expensive-than-Yale college for coddled misfits who weren’t smart enough or connected enough (or socialized enough) to get into Yale. There are lots of reasons to feel sorry for Stern, but chief among them is the fact that he thinks his Skull & Bones is a nifty brand.”

Stern said that he walked into the middle of an “institutional” tabloid war —The Daily News versus the Post — in his dealings with Burkle, a divorced supermarket mogul who, he claims, had invested in other clothing firms. He believes that Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman “struck a deal” with Burkle. As for The New York Post, Stern claims they expressed “victory” when the charges against him were dropped.

“That seemed hypocritical, because they just threw me to the wolves,” Stern said of the Post. “They were just trying to cover their asses.” He said he was relieved by the outcome of his ordeal, but adds: “It’s been a pretty horrible 10 months and it’s not over yet.”