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ONBOARD FOR AIDS RESEARCH

The new head of all things philanthropic for American Foundation for AIDS Research, the great AIDS-fighting organization, will be Kenneth Cole. He is working with Mathilde Krim and will become the new chairman of the board effective Thursday, which happens to be World AIDS Day.

Krim, who helped found AMFAR in 1983, is not stepping away from her chores but feels in this time of the increasing world AIDS crisis, the organization needs two people at the helm.

Cole, a handsome, curly-haired, fashion success story, has been associated with AMFAR for about 17 years but now, he will take a more active role. He'll carry on with his successful shoe, clothing and handbags business, of course, and maintain his family life (he is the son-in-law of former Gov. Mario Cuomo and has three daughters) but he welcomes the opportunity for an energetic, new approach to innovative research against AIDS.

I had lunch with Krim and Cole the other day and got an earful on the AIDS problems facing us internationally. Some people like to sweep the AIDS crisis under the rug and behave as if the problems have been solved. But even though there are now life-saving drugs, the problems of giving and attending these medicines are enormous. The peril to women worldwide is increasing.

Cole may be better known to you by the clever billboards and advertisements that bear his social philosophies. Some of these have shock value -- under a photograph of a condom, he states, "Shoes aren't the only thing we want you to wear." Ken came to our meet in the understated "uniform" of the times -- jeans, a striped, open-necked shirt, and blazer. AMFAR couldn't have made a more impressive appointment for my money.

Kiefer Sutherland and his wife, Kelly Winn, are supposed to be on the brink of divorce. But there they were last week at Amici on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, with a bunch of pals. The "estranged" couple sat side by side, laughed a lot and were physically affectionate. This doesn't mean they are reconciled, but it's nice that people can be civilized, even if passion ends.

In London, there was Johnny Depp dining at the trendy Scalini, and chain-smoking. An American woman at the next table leaned over and complained to the star. Depp smiled softly and politely replied, "I'm sorry, but we're not in L.A. anymore." He continued to smoke.

You have just three weeks to catch the one and only Mary-Louise Parker in Craig Lucas' nutty-as-a-fruitcake and just as delicious play, "Reckless," at the Biltmore Theater until Dec. 19. This lady is a work of art onstage, and she has all the help she needs from a wondrous cast who play multiple roles throughout ... HEY! Do you want to be in the same room with some of Gotham's bold-faced names? Then join the Arts and Leisure weekend to sit in the same room and participate in talk-back discussions with the likes of Josh Groban, Bill Murray, Kiefer Sutherland, Whoopi Goldberg, Patricia Clarkson, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Mark Ruffalo, Hilary Swank, Barry Humphries and our own Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It happens Jan. 7-9.

There'll be new blood on the red carpets this coming awards season. The hottest name in jewels is Coomi Bhasin, with her earthy diamond, bead and rosecut collection of bracelets, earrings and necklaces. The vivacious Coomi was recently in talks -- at a private dinner, but what's private, darling? -- with New York's dazzling designer Kathy Jones. The melding of their lively styles should be a refreshing change from the couture and gem staples we always see.

The blond and beautiful Jones is married to the equally attractive runway photographer Don Ashby. They met cute, but it took time. She says, "We stood shoulder to shoulder for 15 years at fashion shows and never noticed each other, and then one day -- bam!"

To this, her husband says, "Oh, not 15 years, honey. I'm not blind."

Tribune Media Services

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