Bergdorf Blondes NPR coverage of Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
NPR logo Bergdorf Blondes

Bergdorf Blondes

by Plum Sykes

Paperback, 374 pages, Miramax, List Price: $7.99 |


Buy Featured Book

Bergdorf Blondes
Plum Sykes

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Other editions available for purchase:

Hardcover, 313 pages, Miramax, $23.95, published April 1 2004 | purchase

Buy Featured Book

Bergdorf Blondes
Plum Sykes

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Book Summary

A wealthy and spoiled young woman living in New York searches for the meaning of life while coping with her broken engagement and telephone calls from her mother in England pressuring her to marry the Earl next door.

Read an excerpt of this book


Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Bergdorf Blondes

Chapter One Bergdorf Blondes are a thing, you know, a NewYork craze. Absolutely everyone wants to be one, but it'sactually trs difficult. You wouldn't believe the dedicationit takes to be a gorgeous, flaxen-haired, dermatologicallyperfect New York girl with a life that's fabulous beyondbelief. Honestly, it all requires a level of commitment comparableto, say, learning Hebrew or quitting cigarettes.

Getting the hair color right is murder, for a start. It allbegan with my best friend, Julie Bergdorf. She's the ultimateNew York girl, since glamorous, thin, blonde department-storeheiresses are the chicest thing to be here.Someone heard she'd been going to Ariette at Bergdorf forher color since high school, because apparently she told herpersonal shopper at Calvin Klein who told all her clients.Anyway, it was rumored in certain circles that Julie got herblonde touched up every thirteen days exactly and suddenlyeveryone else wanted to be Thirteen-Day Blondes.The hair can't be yellow, it has to be very white, like CarolynBessette Kennedy's was. She's the icon, the hair toworship. 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 gossipedabout endlessly. Every time you open a magazine or newspaperthere's another item about a BB's latest romanticdrama or new obsession (right now it's fringed Missonidresses). But sometimes gossip is by far the most reliablesource of information about yourself and all your friends,especially in Manhattan. I always say why trust myselfwhen gossip can tell moi the real truth about moi?

Anyway, according to gossip I'm this champagne bubbleof a girl about town - New York being the only townthat cares about having girls about it - living the perfectparty-girl life, if that's what you think a perfect life is. Inever tell a soul this, but sometimes before the parties Ilook in the mirror and see someone who looks like they arestraight out of a movie like Fargo. I've heard that almost allManhattan girls suffer from this debilitating condition.They never admit it either. Julie gets the Fargos so badlythat she's never able to leave her apartment in The Pierrein time for anything she has to be in time for.

Everyone thinks the party-girl life is the best life you canlead here. The truth is that combined with work it's completelydraining, but no one dares say that in case they lookungrateful. All anyone in New York ever says is "everything'sfabulous!" even if they're on Zoloft for depression.Still, there are plenty of upsides. Like, you never have to payfor anything important like manis or pedis or highlights orblow-outs. The downside is that sometimes the freebieswreak havoc with your social life - believe me, if your dermatologist'skid can't get into Episcopal he'll be on thephone to you day and night.

To be specific, last Tuesday I went to my friend Mimi'stownhouse on Sixty-third and Madison for her "super-duper-casualbaby shower. Just the girls getting together,"she'd said. There were three staff per guest, handmadepink cookies from Payard Patisserie on Lexington, andchocolate booties from Fauchon. It was about as casual asthe inauguration. No one ate a thing, which is standardprotocol at Upper East Side baby showers. I'd just walkedthrough the door when my cell rang.

"Hello?" I said.

"You need highlights!" yelled a desperate voice. It wasGeorge, my hairdresser. I use George when I can't get inwith Ariette which is almost all the time because she's permanentlybooked with Julie.

"Are you in Arizona?" I asked. ("Arizona" is what everyonesays instead of "rehab." A lot of hairdressers in NewYork visit Arizona almost every month.)

"Just back," he replied. "If you don't go blonde you aregoing 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 likeme can't go blonde.

"Can in New York," he said, choking up.

I ended up spending the present-opening ceremony inMimi's library discussing addictive personality types withGeorge and hearing all the one-liners he'd picked up in rehab,like "Say what you mean and mean what you say anddon't be mean when you say it." Every time George goesinto rehab he starts talking more and more like the DalaiLama. Personally I think if hairdressers are going to offerdeep insights they should be exclusively on the subject ofhair. Anyway, no one thought George's behavior was oddbecause everyone in New York takes calls from their beautyexperts at social occasions. It was lucky I was out of theroom when Mimi opened my gift, which was a library ofBeatrix Potter books. She totally freaked because it wasmore books than she'd ever read. Now I know why mostgirls give fashion from Bonpoint rather than controversialliterature at baby showers.

Sometimes the hairdressers and their addictions andthe parties and the blow-outs take up so much time it startsto feel like work and you can't focus on your real career.(And I do have a real career to think about-more ofwhich later.) But that's what happens in Manhattan.Everything just kind of creeps up on you, and before youknow it you're out every night, working like crazy and secretlywaxing the hair on the inside of your nose like everyoneelse. It's not long before you start thinking that if youdon't do the nose-hair-wax thing your whole world's goingto fall apart.

Before I give you the rest of the goss from Mimi'sshower, here are a few character traits you might want toknow about me:

1. Fluent in French, intermittently. I'm really good at words like moi and trs, 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 Chlo 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 Chlo 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, Chlo 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 clich 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 Chlo 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 thePark Avenue version. Everyone was there except - oddly - Julie,the biggest princess of them all. The mostglamorous girls were all working the $325-Chlo-jeanslook. They looked deliriously happy. Then there was anothergroup who were working the Harry Winston engagementring look and they seemed what I can only describe asbeyond radiant. Jolene Morgan, Carl Phillips (who had thebiggest ring, but then she'd gotten a deal because her momwas a Winston), and K.K. Adams were in this group. Soonthey abandoned the main party for an engagement-ringsummit in Mimi's bedroom, which is so big an entire dormcould sleep in it. Everything in there's upholstered in dovegray chintz, even the insides of her closets. When I finallygot poor George sorted out and off my cell, I joined them.Jolene - who's curvacious and blonde and pale and worshipsSophie Dahl because she heard she's never sunbathedin her life - has been engaged twice before. I wondered howshe could be sure this latest fianc 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 youwould when choosing a handbag, I guarantee you will findone that suits you perfectly," she explained.

Jolene's theory is that a man has many wonderfulthings in common with a handbag, like the fact that there'sa wait list for the best ones. Some are two weeks (collegeboys and L.L. Bean totes), some are three years (funnymen and alligator Herms Birkin bags). Even if you are onthe list for the whole three years, another woman with asuperior claim can jump the line. Jolene says you have tohide a really sexy one or your best friend will borrow itwithout telling you. Her main concern is that without one,a girl looks underdressed.

"... which makes it completely understandable that agirl may need to try out several styles of fianc before shefinds one that really suits her," concluded Jolene.

Maybe I had misjudged Jolene Morgan: I secretly usedto 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 nothingmore than a conversation about the advantages of ascheduled C-section (you can pick your kid's birth sign),and come away having learned a lot about life. The minuteI got home I e-mailed Julie.

To: From: 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 Chlo 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 Imet her at her mother's corner apartment in The PierreHotel on Fifth and Sixty-first. She was an eleven-year-olddepartment-store heiress. Her great-grandfather startedBergdorf Goodman and a whole chain of stores aroundAmerica, which is why Julie says she always has at least$100 million in the bank "and not a dime more," as she putsit. Julie spent most of her teens shoplifting from Bergdorf'safter getting out of Spence each day. She still finds it hardnot to see Bergdorf's as her walk-in closet even thoughmost of it was sold to Neiman Marcus years ago. The bestthing she ever stole was a Faberg egg encrusted with rubiesthat was once owned by Catherine the Great. Her excusefor her childhood hobby is that she "liked nice stuff. It musthave been so icky being a Woolworth kid, I mean they usedto have to shoplift, like, toilet cleaner, but I got to take reallyglam stuff, like handmade kid leather gloves."

Julie's favorite words are icky and glam. Julie once saidshe wished there was no ickiness in the world, and I said toher, 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 berich, and I said, well, what I actually mean is, if you werehappy all the time, how would you know you were happy?She said, because you'd always be happy. I said, no, youhave to have unhappiness to know what happiness is. Juliefrowned and said, "Have you been reading The New Yorkeragain?" Julie thinks The New Yorker and PBS are completelyevil and boring and that everyone should read USWeekly and watch the E! channel instead.

Our mothers were both mainline Philadelphia WASPswho had been best friends in the seventies. I grew up inEngland because my dad's English and everything aboutEngland is "better" according to Mom, but you don't getdepartment-store heiresses in England and Mom was veryconcerned that I should have one as a friend. Meanwhile,Julie's mom thought I would be a civilizing influence on herdaughter.