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Getting the hair color right is murder, for a start. It all began with my best friend, Julie Bergdorf. She's the ultimate New York girl, since glamorous, thin, blonde department-store heiresses are the chicest thing to be here. Someone heard she'd been going to Ariette at Bergdorf for her color since high school, because apparently she told her personal shopper at Calvin Klein who told all her clients. Anyway, it was rumored in certain circles that Julie got her blonde touched up every thirteen days exactly and suddenly everyone else wanted to be Thirteen-Day Blondes. The hair can't be yellow, it has to be very white, like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's was. She's the icon, the hair to worship. It's beyond expensive. Ariette is like $450 a highlight, if you can get in with her, which obviously you can't.
Inevitably, Bergdorf Blondes are talked and gossiped about endlessly. Every time you open a magazine or newspaper there's another item about a BB's latest romantic drama or new obsession (right now it's fringed Missoni dresses). But sometimes gossip is by far the most reliable source of information about yourself and all your friends, especially in Manhattan. I always say why trust myself when gossip can tell moi the real truth about moi?
Anyway, according to gossip I'm this champagne bubble of a girl about town - New York being the only town that cares about having girls about it - living the perfect party-girl life, if that's what you think a perfect life is. I never tell a soul this, but sometimes before the parties I look in the mirror and see someone who looks like they are straight out of a movie like Fargo. I've heard that almost all Manhattan girls suffer from this debilitating condition. They never admit it either. Julie gets the Fargos so badly that she's never able to leave her apartment in The Pierre in time for anything she has to be in time for.
Everyone thinks the party-girl life is the best life you can lead here. The truth is that combined with work it's completely draining, but no one dares say that in case they look ungrateful. All anyone in New York ever says is "everything's fabulous!" even if they're on Zoloft for depression. Still, there are plenty of upsides. Like, you never have to pay for anything important like manis or pedis or highlights or blow-outs. The downside is that sometimes the freebies wreak havoc with your social life - believe me, if your dermatologist's kid can't get into Episcopal he'll be on the phone to you day and night.
To be specific, last Tuesday I went to my friend Mimi's townhouse on Sixty-third and Madison for her "super-duper-casual baby shower. Just the girls getting together," she'd said. There were three staff per guest, handmade pink cookies from Payard Patisserie on Lexington, and chocolate booties from Fauchon. It was about as casual as the inauguration. No one ate a thing, which is standard protocol at Upper East Side baby showers. I'd just walked through the door when my cell rang.
"Hello?" I said.
"You need highlights!" yelled a desperate voice. It was George, my hairdresser. I use George when I can't get in with Ariette which is almost all the time because she's permanently booked with Julie.
"Are you in Arizona?" I asked. ("Arizona" is what everyone says instead of "rehab." A lot of hairdressers in New York visit Arizona almost every month.)
"Just back," he replied. "If you don't go blonde you are going to be a very lonely girl," continued George tearfully.
Even though you'd think George, being a hairdresser, would know this already, I explained that a brunette like me can't go blonde.
"Can in New York," he said, choking up.
I ended up spending the present-opening ceremony in Mimi's library discussing addictive personality types with George and hearing all the one-liners he'd picked up in rehab, like "Say what you mean and mean what you say and don't be mean when you say it." Every time George goes into rehab he starts talking more and more like the Dalai Lama. Personally I think if hairdressers are going to offer deep insights they should be exclusively on the subject of hair. Anyway, no one thought George's behavior was odd because everyone in New York takes calls from their beauty experts at social occasions. It was lucky I was out of the room when Mimi opened my gift, which was a library of Beatrix Potter books. She totally freaked because it was more books than she'd ever read. Now I know why most girls give fashion from Bonpoint rather than controversial literature at baby showers.
Sometimes the hairdressers and their addictions and the parties and the blow-outs take up so much time it starts to feel like work and you can't focus on your real career. (And I do have a real career to think about-more of which later.) But that's what happens in Manhattan. Everything just kind of creeps up on you, and before you know it you're out every night, working like crazy and secretly waxing the hair on the inside of your nose like everyone else. It's not long before you start thinking that if you don't do the nose-hair-wax thing your whole world's going to fall apart.
Before I give you the rest of the goss from Mimi's shower, here are a few character traits you might want to know about me:
1. Fluent in French, intermittently. I'm really good at words like moi and très, which seem to take care of just about everything a girl needs. A few unkind people have pointed out that this does not make me exactly fluent, but I say, well, that's lucky because if I spoke perfect fluent French no one would like me, and no one likes a perfect girl, do they?
2. Always concerned for others' well-being. I mean, if a friendly billionaire offers you a ride from New York to Paris on his PJ (that's a quick NY way of saying private jet), one is morally bound to say yes, because that means the person you would have been sitting next to on the commercial flight now has two seats to themself, which is a real luxury for them. And when you get tired you can go sleep in the bedroom, whereas however hard I look I have never found a bedroom on an American Airlines 767. If someone else's comfort is at stake, I say, always take the private jet.
3. Tolerant. If a girl is wearing last season's Manolo Blahnik stilettos, I won't immediately rule her out as a friend. I mean, you never know if a super-duper-nice person is lurking in a past-it pair of shoes. (Some girls in New York are so ruthless they won't speak to a girl unless she's in next season's shoes, which is really asking a lot.)
4. Common sense. I really am fluent in it. You've got to recognize it when a day is a total waste of makeup.
5. English lit major. Everyone thinks it's unbelievable that a girl who is as obsessed with Chloé jeans as I am could have studied at Princeton but when I told one of the girls at the baby shower about school she said, "Oh my god! Ivy League! You're like the female Stephen Hawking." Listen, someone that brainy would never do something as crazy as spend $525 on a pair of Chloé jeans, but I just can't help it, like most New York girls. The reason I can just about afford the $325 jeans is because the aforementioned career consists of writing articles for a fashion magazine, which say that spending $325 on a pair of jeans will make you deliriously happy. (I've tried all the other jeans - Rogan, Seven, Earl, Juicy, Blue Cult-but I always come back to the classic, Chloé They just do something to your butt the others can't.) The other thing that helps fund my habit is if I don't pay my rent on my Perry Street apartment. I often don't, because my landlord seems to like being paid in other ways, like if I let him come up for a triple espresso he reduces my rent by over 100 percent. I always say, waste not, want not, which is a terrible cliché the British invented during the war to get kids to eat their whole-wheat bread, but when I say it I mean, waste not money on boring old rent when it can be un-wasted on Chloé jeans.
6. Punctual. I am up every morning at 10:30 AM and not a minute earlier.
7. Thrifty. You can be frugal even if you have expensive tastes. Please don't tell a soul, because, you know, some girls get so jealous, but I hardly pay for a thing I wear. You see, fashion designers in New York love giving clothes away. Sometimes I wonder if fashion designers, who I consider to be geniuses, are actually thickos, like lots of mean people are always saying they are. Isn't giving something away for nothing when you could sell it for something a bit stupid? But there is something really, really clever about this particular form of stupidity because fashion designer-type people all seem to own at least four expensively decorated homes (St. Barths, Aspen, Biarritz, Paris), whereas all the clever people with regular jobs selling things for money only seem to own about one barely decorated house each. So I maintain that fashion designers are geniuses because it takes a genius to make money by giving things away.
Overall, I can safely say that my value system is intact, despite the temptations of New York, which, I regret to say, have made some girls into very spoiled little princesses.
Talking of princesses, Mimi's shower was packed with the Park Avenue version. Everyone was there except - oddly - Julie, the biggest princess of them all. The most glamorous girls were all working the $325-Chloé-jeans look. They looked deliriously happy. Then there was another group who were working the Harry Winston engagement ring look and they seemed what I can only describe as beyond radiant. Jolene Morgan, Carl Phillips (who had the biggest ring, but then she'd gotten a deal because her mom was a Winston), and K.K. Adams were in this group. Soon they abandoned the main party for an engagement-ring summit in Mimi's bedroom, which is so big an entire dorm could sleep in it. Everything in there's upholstered in dove gray chintz, even the insides of her closets. When I finally got poor George sorted out and off my cell, I joined them. Jolene - who's curvacious and blonde and pale and worships Sophie Dahl because she heard she's never sunbathed in her life - has been engaged twice before. I wondered how she could be sure this latest fiancé was the right one.
"Oh, easy! I've got a new, watertight method of selection. If you use the same criteria to choose a man that you would when choosing a handbag, I guarantee you will find one that suits you perfectly," she explained.
Jolene's theory is that a man has many wonderful things in common with a handbag, like the fact that there's a wait list for the best ones. Some are two weeks (college boys and L.L. Bean totes), some are three years (funny men and alligator Hermès Birkin bags). Even if you are on the list for the whole three years, another woman with a superior claim can jump the line. Jolene says you have to hide a really sexy one or your best friend will borrow it without telling you. Her main concern is that without one, a girl looks underdressed.
"... which makes it completely understandable that a girl may need to try out several styles of fiancé before she finds one that really suits her," concluded Jolene.
Maybe I had misjudged Jolene Morgan: I secretly used to think she was one of the shallowest girls in New York, but Jolene has hidden depths when it comes to relationships. Sometimes you go to a baby shower expecting nothing more than a conversation about the advantages of a scheduled C-section (you can pick your kid's birth sign), and come away having learned a lot about life. The minute I got home I e-mailed Julie.
To: JulieBergdorf@attglobal.net From: Moi@moi.com Re: Happiness
Just got back from Mimi's baby shower. Darling, where were you? Jolene, K. K., and Cari all engaged. Have detected glaring difference between Chloé jeans happiness and engagement ring happiness this afternoon. I mean, have you any idea how awesome your skin looks if you are engaged?
Julie Bergdorf has been my best friend since the minute I met her at her mother's corner apartment in The Pierre Hotel on Fifth and Sixty-first. She was an eleven-year-old department-store heiress. Her great-grandfather started Bergdorf Goodman and a whole chain of stores around America, which is why Julie says she always has at least $100 million in the bank "and not a dime more," as she puts it. Julie spent most of her teens shoplifting from Bergdorf's after getting out of Spence each day. She still finds it hard not to see Bergdorf's as her walk-in closet even though most of it was sold to Neiman Marcus years ago. The best thing she ever stole was a Fabergé egg encrusted with rubies that was once owned by Catherine the Great. Her excuse for her childhood hobby is that she "liked nice stuff. It must have been so icky being a Woolworth kid, I mean they used to have to shoplift, like, toilet cleaner, but I got to take really glam stuff, like handmade kid leather gloves."
Julie's favorite words are icky and glam. Julie once said she wished there was no ickiness in the world, and I said to her, if there was no ickiness there wouldn't be any glamour. You've got to have the ickiness just for contrast. She said, oh, like if there were no poor people then no one would be rich, and I said, well, what I actually mean is, if you were happy all the time, how would you know you were happy? She said, because you'd always be happy. I said, no, you have to have unhappiness to know what happiness is. Julie frowned and said, "Have you been reading The New Yorker again?" Julie thinks The New Yorker and PBS are completely evil and boring and that everyone should read US Weekly and watch the E! channel instead.
Our mothers were both mainline Philadelphia WASPs who had been best friends in the seventies. I grew up in England because my dad's English and everything about England is "better" according to Mom, but you don't get department-store heiresses in England and Mom was very concerned that I should have one as a friend. Meanwhile, Julie's mom thought I would be a civilizing influence on her daughter.
Excerpted from Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. Copyright © 2004 by Plum Sykes. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.