Thursday, June 17, 2004
New York Plum Sykes strides hurriedly into Soho House, one of Manhattan's most exclusive spots, her Manolo (Blahnik, of course) loafers clacking on the floor, a white rabbit scarf by Tommy (Hilfiger, of course) draping her neck.
"I am having such a manic day," she said. "It's absolutely bonkers!"
These days, life is even crazier than usual for Sykes, a 34-year-old British fashion writer who has been a presence in the hippest New York fashion and society circles since she arrived seven years ago and was promptly dubbed a Manhattan "It" girl.
And now, she's a best-selling author. Her debut novel, "Bergdorf Blondes," now in its ninth printing and about to hit No. 7 on the next New York Times list of best sellers, was inspired by the super rich, pencil-thin, husband-seeking Manhattan single girls she's met on her rounds of New York parties -- girls she calls "Park Avenue Princesses."
It is a world few of us would recognize, even those who live in Manhattan. So first, a lesson in some of the Park Avenue Princess lingo, according to Sykes:
"PH": Prospective Husband, as in the ultimate prize, the overarching goal of any girl. Without a fiance, a girl is just a "Balenciaga bag that's lost its buckle."
"ATM": No, silly, not a cash machine. Even better. A rich boyfriend.
"MIT": Mogul in Training. Richer than an ATM, and thus even more desirable.
"Ana": As in anorexic, but in a GOOD way -- thin enough to catch one of the above-mentioned men.
Sykes, who's kept her day job as contributing editor at Vogue magazine, swears that all the lingo in her book is real. But the characters themselves, she says, are not. Such a claim evokes a skeptical wink from some observers, who say that the book's narrator, called only "Moi" (French for "me"), is a thinly veiled version of the author.
"No, my life isn't Moi's life, but sometimes I wish it was," Sykes said. "I mean, imagine if all your problems could be solved with a Bellini (the preferred cocktail of a Park Avenue Princess) at Cipriani's (the preferred watering hole)."
Sykes' -- er, Moi's -- best friend in the book is Julie Bergdorf, an heiress to the Bergdorf Goodman department store fortune, who takes to announcing at dinner parties that she has "$100 million in the bank, and not a penny more." Julie is thin -- sorry, "ana" -- and gorgeous, and ridiculously chic. And, of course, she's blonde -- but only because she highlights her hair every 13 days at the Bergdorf's salon.
The book has been reviewed by some as tacky and a little trashy, and by others as witty and highly entertaining. And indeed, it can be all those things.
"Bergdorf Blondes" can go from language that sounds just too fake to be enjoyable -- "Totally icky! I thought I was going to vom!" -- to genuinely hilarious moments, such as Moi's description of a sample sale at Chanel, where women will kill each other for the chance to designer-shop at Gap prices. "The hottest sample sales in New York are so fraught with danger they make the Gaza Strip look peaceful," Moi says.
Sykes, who was raised in Kent, England, and educated at Oxford, says she's discovered something funny about "the daughters of American wealth," something she calls "an amazing combination of cleverness and ditziness."
"These girls are all college-educated, smart, well-read," she says. "And yet at the same time, you've never seen a more educated girl get so overexcited about something like a new purse."