Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes

The pursuit of love in Manhattan
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The Independent Culture


I once had my hair blow-dried at Bergdorf Goodman; it was not a success. When I asked for my tangled frizz to be straightened, the stylist's eyes homed in on my crooked British teeth and the spot on my chin, and he said in a voice of pained incomprehension, "You mean you want supermodel hair?!"

Perhaps this experience means that I am not best placed to give Bergdorf Blondes the appreciation it deserves, but then who is? Unless you can boast a string of boyfriends with private jets, a personal dermatologist, and a perfect Brazilian bikini wax you will feel somewhat shut out from the glittering American world Plum Sykes chronicles with - dare I say it? - insufficient British irony. I mean, her heroines are so tough they can cope with visiting the hair salon for highlight-retouching every thirteen days. That's more often than they get to have sex.

The real irony about this self-styled apotheosis of chick lit de luxe is that the girls have no more or less success with men than fat, frumpy Bridget Jones. How can all those exhausting grooming rituals be worth it, if you still end up being serially dumped? The answer must be in the preposterous name - "Moi" - of the heroine, an English rose who, like her creator, works for a New York fashion magazine. Narcissism, not romance, is the main subject - not an unenjoyable fantasy in itself, but one which needs to be approached, perhaps, with a little more self-mockery.

In between the heroine telling us quite how pretty she is, there is a lot about designer labels. The eponymous department store is not the only beneficiary of Sykes's indiscriminate advertising. In the world of the Park Avenue Princess, ancestral diamonds simply won't do. They must be this season's Harry Winston. It's hard, at this stage, not to be afflicted by a surge of old-fashioned snobbery - these heiresses, you have to remember, are so common that they have names like Jolene. This is not to say that the book is bad. It's a clever, professionally executed piece of whimsy, fun if you've got an hour to spare. All the hype will no doubt represent a phenomenal achievement in terms of Sykes's own brand name recognition.

It is, however, a mistake for her to drop the names of quite so many literary classics, as it raises the stakes unrealistically too high. An allusion to Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, which explored the spiritual degradation of New York high society a century ago, makes Sykes look morally stunted rather than giving her the intellectual cachet she could easily command. This displays the same - rather endearing - naivité shown in her handling of the British press, which she has so far failed to charm. She has gone so completely native in New York that she has forgotten that self-deprecation (however false) is essential for being liked over here.

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