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I hope I’ll never know what it’s like to have a New York nervous breakdown, but if the price of emotional stability means never sitting in the front row at a New York fashion show, I might have to take my Prozac with my Prada.
Such is the pathos of the Manhattan Front Row Girls (FRGs) depicted in British fashionista turned novelist Plum Syke’s new novel Bergdorf Blondes, to be released in April by Miramax Books. The light-hearted, designer label-laden novel is latest of the “chick-lit” fiction craze that has spawned a plethora of unlikely pop heroines from Bridget Jones to Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones.
Sykes and her sister Lucy have been the focus of much media hype. The pair has been referred to as the British predecessors of Nicky and Paris Hilton with their ‘famous for being famous’ personae and the way they Jimmy Chooed their way through Manhattan’s cliquish fashion doors. Sykes is a contributing editor at Vogue, and an excerpt from Bergdorf Blondes, which is rumored to be loosely autobiographical, appears as a cover story in the March issue.
“Please don’t tell a soul that I said this, but I honestly think the only reason I got the grades Princeton required was because throughout the algebra and the Latin and the Romantic poets, the thing that kept me going was the thought of the oxygen facials you could get in New York,” Sykes’ protagonist admits.
But even New York in all its Botox-injected glory doesn’t prove to be the panacea for the ambitiously materialistic young woman. The reality of the oxygen facial is that other women are getting them too. In other words, women become Bergdorf blondes to compete with others of the same species instead of proving themselves as unique individuals.
Sykes heralds Caroline Bessette Kennedy as the prototypical Bergdorf blonde. The late Bessette Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy Jr., had her white-blonde touch ups at Bergdorf’s Parvene salon every thirteen days at $450 per highlight. To Sykes this ritual was extraordinary, but neither compulsive nor neurotic. “It’s part of being, like, the ultimate New York girl,” Sykes wrote in her proposal for the novel.
The author’s stories have some highlights of their own. The superficiality of the Bergdorf blondes is most aptly depicted in a scene at a book club meeting when one Bergdorf blonde musters up the courage to ask “You know that book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius? Do you know if Dave Eggers, the author, is, like, single still?”
The comically ditzy pondering of writing’s applicability to the Bergdorf world continues for a couple of paragraphs. Sykes even set up their conversation to include some Harvard name-dropping with an allusion to Zadie Smith: “Do you think you can lose weight by writing? Because it’s like all those girl writers like Joan Didion and Zadie Smith and Donna Tartt are, like, skinnier than cigarettes.”
Amazingly, I did actually learn some things from the Bergdorf blondes. Honey-colored alligator stilettos, for example, “disappear to the naked eye and elongate legs.” And seaweed is the new color for toenails.
Despite some insightful musings and witty descriptions of the Bergdorf social world, however, I was generally disappointed by Sykes’ liberal use of formulaic chick lit philosophies in an attempt to bring together life, love and fashion.
My eyes glazed over the “that’s when I started to suspect that I don’t have quite as good taste in men as I do in shoes” section, mainly because I couldn’t help but picture Carrie Bradshaw sitting pensively in boy shorts and camisole, face illuminated by the dim light of her iMac as she bit her lip and typed the very same phrase. I’d choose Carrie over a Bergdorf blonde any day.
What I did like about Sykes’ novel was the schadenfreude I derived from the inevitable imperfections and downfalls of her characters. I didn’t mind hearing about diamonds “the size of ice rinks” and size 0 Carolina Herrera couture because I know such possessions served as a cover for bouts of addiction and rehab, painful cosmetic surgery, clinical depression and a smattering of associated insecurities that can’t be tucked neatly into a Christian Dior clutch. The book fulfils a strange compulsion to be at once fascinated with and freaked out by everything I’m not. I guess I’ll pass on the Prozac, and the Prada too.
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