Oprah's Big Enough Give

When the Oprah store debuted in Chicago last month, shoppers snapped up affordable cosmetic cases, dog leashes and other items emblazoned with the mogul's signature "O." But the best bargains were in "Oprah's Closet," a small, unadvertised section of the store that sells her previously worn designer clothes at cut-rate prices to raise money for her charity, the Angel Network. Oprah's red Manolo Blahnik heels, for instance, are just $300, about half the retail price for similar shoes at Neiman Marcus and a fraction of what other Oprah-touched items have fetched at open auctions. Nice—but the gambit does raise a tiny ethical quandary: if she's doing it for charity, is she obliged to maximize the return? Or is it OK for her to engage in charity-lite if it helps less-affluent fans get a piece of the action? Don Halcombe, a spokesman for Winfrey's Harpo Inc., says it was "important to Oprah" that her castoffs be accessibly priced. And according to Noah Pickus, director of Duke's Kenan Institute for Ethics, Oprah's in the clear. "She's seeking a balance between two things she sees as valuable: charity and a form of democratic experience," he says. "There isn't a contradiction here." Good to know. Still, it's too bad. At a 2004 charity auction, Oprah's Fendi sunglasses alone netted $2,000.