The New York Times Book Review
Lipstick Jungleby Candace Bushnell
It's a jungle out there. Dress accordingly. In her fourth book, Candace Bushnell brings readers close to three powerful New York City women, each at the top of her field, each navigating her way through work, relationships, success, and scandal. Nico O'Neilly is the ultimate executiveglamorous and always in controluntil her marriage loses steam, and she… See more details below
It's a jungle out there. Dress accordingly. In her fourth book, Candace Bushnell brings readers close to three powerful New York City women, each at the top of her field, each navigating her way through work, relationships, success, and scandal. Nico O'Neilly is the ultimate executiveglamorous and always in controluntil her marriage loses steam, and she is tempted to find refuge in the arms of a younger man. Wendy Healy, president of Parador Pictures and mother of three children, may not be able to save her most important productionher family. And Victory Ford, a wildly successful fashion designer and girlfriend of a billionaire, begins to question love and moneywhy shouldn't a woman be as rich as a man?
The New York Times Book Review
Bushnell proves she's still the philosopher-queen of a social scene."New York Times Book Review"
A seductive, humorous tale about strong, powerful women."OK! Magazine
- World Publications, Inc. MA
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By CANDACE BUSHNELL
HYPERIONCopyright © 2005 Candace Bushnell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSEPTEMBER IS GLORIOUS IN MANHATTAN, AND THIS year was no exception. The temperature was a perfect seventy-five degrees, the humidity low, and the sky a cloudless blue. Coming back to the city from a restless summer, the weather is always a reminder that spectacular things can happen and that greatness is just around the corner. The air buzzes with excitement, and in one day, the city goes from sleepy to frenzied. There's the familiar crawl of traffic on Sixth and Park Avenues, the air hums with cell phone conversations, and the restaurants are full. For the rest of the country, Labor Day marks the end of the summer and the beginning of the school year. But in New York, the real year begins a few days later, with that venerable tradition known as Fashion Week.
On Sixth Avenue behind the Public Library, Bryant Park was transformed into a wonderland of white tents where dozens of fashion shows would take place. Black carpeted steps led up to French doors, and all week, these steps were lined with students and fans hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite designers or stars, with Japanese photographers (whom everyone agreed were more polite), with paparazzi, with security men with headsets and walkie-talkies, with the young P.R. girls (always in black, sporting concerned expressions), and with all manner of well-heeled attendees shouting into cell phones for their cars. The curb was lined with black town cars three vehicles deep, as if some terribly important state funeral were about to take place. But inside the tents, life was at its most glamorous and exciting.
There were always five or six big shows at which attendance was required to secure one's place in the social pecking order (or to simply remind everyone that you still exist), and the very first of these events was the Victory Ford show, held at seven p.m. on the first Thursday evening of Fashion Week. By six forty-five, the scene inside the tents was one of controlled pandemonium-there were six camera crews, a hundred or so photographers, and a throng of fashionistas, socialites, buyers, and lesser stars, eagerly awaiting the show with the anticipation of an opening night crowd. A young socialite who was cradling a small dachshund in her arms was hit in the back of the head by a video cam- era; someone else's Jimmy Choo slingback was trod on by one of the P.R. girls who nearly ran her over in order to get to someone more important. Those hoping to get a glimpse of a famous movie star were thwarted, however, because movie stars (and important political people, like the mayor) never went in the front entrance. They were escorted by security to a secret side entrance that led to the backstage area. And in this world, where life is a series of increasingly smaller circles of exclusivity (or Dante's circles of hell, depending on how you look at it), hanging out backstage before the show began was the only place to be.
In the back corner of this area, hidden behind a rack of clothing, stood Victory Ford herself, surreptitiously smoking a cigarette. Victory had quit smoking years ago, but the cigarette was an excuse to have a moment to herself. For three minutes, everyone would leave her alone, giving her a few seconds to focus and prepare for the next sixty minutes, in which she had to attend to the last-minute details of the show, schmooze with her celebrity clients, and give several interviews to the print and television press. She frowned, taking a drag on the cigarette, wanting to savor this one moment of peace. She'd been working eighteen-hour days in the four weeks before the show, and yet, this next crucial hour would pass in what felt like a second. She dropped the cigarette butt into a half-empty glass of champagne.
She looked at her watch-an elegant stainless-steel Baume & Mercier with a row of tiny diamonds along the face-and took a deep breath. It was six-fifty. By eight p.m., when the last model had completed her turn on the runway and Victory went out to take her bow, she would know her fate for the coming year. She would be either on top of the game; in the middle and surviving; or on the bottom, trying to regain her position. She knew she was taking a risk with this show, and she also knew she hadn't had to. Any other designer would have continued along the same lines that had made them so successful for the past three years, but Victory couldn't do that. It was too easy. Tonight she hoped to show the industry a new side to her talents, a new way to look at how women might dress. She was, she thought wryly, either a hero or a fool.
She stepped out from behind the rack of clothing, and was immediately accosted by three of her acolytes, bright young women in their twenties who worked almost as tirelessly as she did. They were wearing clothing from the new collection, held clipboards and headsets, and had panic-stricken expressions.
Victory smiled calmly. "Lila," she said, addressing one of the girls, "are the drummers in place?"
"Yes, and Bonnie Beecheck, the gossip columnist, is freaking out-she says she has ear trouble and we have to move her seat."
Victory nodded. Bonnie Beecheck was about a million years old and was like one of the evil witches in a Grimm's fairy tale-no one liked her, but not to invite her would guarantee bad press for the rest of the year. "Switch her seat with Mauve Binchely. Mauve's so desperate to be seen she won't mind where she sits. But do it quickly, before anyone notices."
Lila nodded and ran off, while the two remaining young women vied for her attention. "'Extra' wants to do an interview ..."
"Keith Richards is coming and we don't have a seat ..."
"And four pairs of shoes are missing ..."
Victory took care of these problems with dispatch. "'Extra' gets two minutes, escort Keith backstage and keep him here until the last minute. The shoes are in a box under the makeup table." Composing her face, she approached the "Extra" camera crew, who were standing in the middle of a swirl of well-wishers, all of whom wanted to say hello. She moved through the crowd with graceful expertise, feeling as if she were floating above her body, stopping to kiss a cheek here, engaging in a few seconds of brief repartee there, and shaking the hand of someone's solemn and awestruck ten-year-old daughter, whose mother claimed she was already a huge fan.
I hope she's still a fan after the show, Victory thought sardonically, allowing herself a brief moment of insecurity.
In the next second, however, the "Extra" crew was on top of her, and a young woman with frizzy red hair was shoving a microphone in her face. Victory looked at the girl's expression and braced herself. Six years of doing inter- views had taught her to read an interviewer instantly as friend or foe, and while most of the entertainment press were as charming and gracious as the most seasoned celebrity, every now and then you got a bad apple. Victory could tell by the girl's forced, disdainful smile that she had an ax to grind. Sometimes the reason was simply a case of having just been dumped by a boyfriend, but often it ran deeper: A general feeling of being pissed off at the world because it wasn't as easy to get ahead in New York as one had been led to believe.
"Victory," the young woman said assertively, adding, "you don't mind if I call you Victory, do you?" The deliberately cultured accent told Victory the girl probably considered herself above fashion. "You're forty-two years old ..."
"Forty-three," Victory said, correcting her. "I still have birthdays." She was right-beginning an interview with the age question was an act of open hostility.
"And you're not married and you don't have children. Is it really worth giving up marriage and children for your career?"
Victory laughed. Why was it that no matter what a woman accomplished in the world, if she hadn't married and had children, she was still considered a failure? The girl's question was completely inappropriate, given the circumstances, and profoundly disrespectful, for what could this girl know about the vagaries of life and how she'd struggled and made all kinds of sacrifices to get to this point-an internationally recognized fashion designer with her own company-an accomplishment that was probably far greater than what this unpleasant young woman would ever achieve. But Victory knew better than to lose her temper. If she did, it would end up on TV and probably in a few of the gossip columns.
"Every morning when I wake up," Victory began, telling a story she'd told to interviewers many times before (but still, none of them seemed to be able to get it), "I look around and I listen. I'm alone, and I hear ... silence." The girl gave her a sympathetic look. "But wait," Victory said holding up one finger. "I hear ... silence. And slowly but surely a happiness spreads through my body. A joy. And I thank God that somehow, I've managed to remain free. Free to enjoy my life and my career."
The girl laughed nervously. She tugged on her hair.
"So much of being a woman is telling lies, isn't it?" Victory asked. "It's telling yourself that you want the things that society tells you you should want. Women think that survival depends on conformity. But for some women, conformity is death. It's a death to the soul. The soul," she said, "is a precious thing. When you live a lie, you damage the soul."
The girl looked at Victory in surprise, and then, frowning in agreement, began nodding vigorously as they were suddenly interrupted by one of Victory's assistants, who was talking excitedly into her headset. "Jenny Cadine is here. Her ETA is three minutes ..."
* * *
WENDY HEALY PUSHED HER glasses up her nose and stepped out of the Cadillac Escalade, looking around at the throng of paparazzi, who were now surrounding the SUV. No matter how many times she'd been in this situation, it never ceased to amaze her how they always managed to find the movie star. They could smell stardom like bloodhounds. Despite all her years in the movie business, she still couldn't understand how the stars handled the attention, and knew she'd never be able to (or more importantly, want to) deal with it herself. Of course, in her position, she didn't have to. She was the president of Parador Pictures, one of the most powerful women in the movie business, but to the photographers, she might as well have been someone's assistant.
Wendy turned back to the SUV, unconsciously tugging on her black Armani jacket. She lived in black Armani separates, and, she suddenly realized, hadn't actually gone shopping in two years. This was probably inexcusable, given that one of her best friends was the fashion designer Victory Ford. She should have dressed up for this event, but she'd come from her office, and with her job and three children and a husband who was sometimes a child himself, something had to give, and that was fashion. And the gym. And healthy eating. But what the hell. A woman couldn't do everything. The most important thing was that she was there, and that, as she promised Victory months ago, she'd brought Jenny Cadine.
The crowd of photographers pushed closer to the SUV, as several security men stepped forward, trying to hold back the eager horde, which seemed to be growing larger by the second. Jenny's personal publicist, a surly-looking young woman who was known by one name only-Domino-emerged from the SUV. Domino was only twenty-six, but had the kind of don't-mess-with-me attitude one generally associates with male muscle-heads, accompanied by the kind of gravelly voice that suggested she ate nails for breakfast. "They said, 'Get back!'" she barked, staring down the crowd.
And then Jenny Cadine appeared. She was, Wendy thought, even more jaw-droppingly beautiful in person than she was in photographs, if such a thing were possible. Photographs always picked up her slightly asymmetrical features, and the fact that her nose was a bit bulbous on the tip. But in person, these flaws were erased by an intangible quality that made it impossible to stop looking at her. It was as if she possessed her own energy source that caused her to be lit from within, and it didn't hurt that she was five feet nine inches tall, with hair the pale, slightly golden reddish color of not-quite-ripe strawberries.
She smiled at the photographers, while Wendy stood to the side for a moment, watching her. People outside of the business always wondered what it was like to know such a creature, and assumed that envy would make it impossible to be friends. But Wendy had known Jenny for nearly fifteen years, when they'd both been starting out in the business, and despite her money and fame, would never have considered trading places with her. There was something inhuman about Jenny-she was never excessive or arrogant, nor was she rude or egotistical. But there was a remove about her, as if she might not possess a soul. Jenny was one of her stars, and Wendy knew that they were probably as close as Jenny was to anyone. But they weren't really friends, like the way she was friends with Victory or Nico O'Neilly.
The security guards managed to create a little space in front of them so they could walk the short distance to the opening in the side of the tent. Jenny was wearing a brown pantsuit with slightly flared trouser legs under a neon jacket that was, Wendy decided, one of the coolest outfits she'd ever seen. It was from Victory's new collection, and Wendy knew that Victory had made it especially for Jenny, and that Jenny had gone to Victory's studio several times for fittings. But Victory had been so busy in the last three weeks that Wendy hadn't been able to talk to her about it, or what she thought about Jenny. Still, she could imagine what Vic would say. Screwing up her face like a child, she'd say, "You know, Wen, Jenny's a great girl. But you can't really call her 'nice.' She's probably more calculating than we are-maybe even more calculating than Nico." And then they'd laugh, because they always agreed that Nico was possibly the most calculating woman in town. She was a master, and the brilliant thing about Nico was that you never saw her machinations. All you knew was that suddenly you were dead.
It had been Nico's idea to get Jenny Cadine to Victory's fashion show, which was so obvious Wendy had been slightly embarrassed that she hadn't thought of it herself. "It's perfect," Nico said, in that smooth, cool way she had of speaking that made everything that came out of her mouth sound absolutely right. "Jenny Cadine is the most important movie star, and Victory is the most important designer. Besides," she said, "Jenny mostly wears male designers. I have the feeling she's a feminist underneath all that gloss, especially after her breakup with Kyle Unger," she added, naming the action-adventure star who had publicly dumped Jenny on a late-night talk show. "I'd appeal to her feminist side, although I doubt you'll have to. She doesn't have great taste in men, but she has excellent taste in clothing."
Naturally, Nico had been right, and Jenny had jumped at the chance to be dressed by Victory and to attend the fashion show, where her presence would guarantee Victory even more publicity. And now, watching as Jenny smoothly made her way through the gauntlet of photographers (she had a way of acknowledging their presence while appearing completely natural, as if she wasn't being photographed at all), Wendy hoped that Jenny's appearance was a sign that Victory's show would be a success. Although she never would have admitted it to anyone, Wendy was quite superstitious, and for Victory's sake, was even wearing her good-luck underpants-an embarrassingly tattered pair of large white Fruit-of-the-Looms, which she'd happened to be wearing when one of her movies was nominated for an Oscar for the first time five years ago.
Jenny entered the tent with Wendy following close behind. Dropping her hand to the side, Wendy quickly crossed her fingers. She hoped Victory's show was huge. No one deserved it more.
* * *
SEVERAL MINUTES LATER. AT exactly seven-fifteen, a brand-new black Town Car with tinted windows pulled up in front of the entrance to the tents on Sixth Avenue. A driver in a pin-striped suit with slicked-back dark hair walked around the back of the car and opened the passenger door.
Nico O'Neilly stepped out. Wearing silver pants with a ruffled shirt, topped with a golden-reddish mink jacket that was nearly the same color as her hair, there was no mistaking the fact that Nico O'Neilly was someone significant. From an early age, Nico had been one of those people who exude an air of importance that causes other people to wonder who they are, and at first glance, with her stunning hair and glamorous clothes, one might take her for a movie star. On closer inspection, one saw that Nico wasn't technically beautiful. But she had done the most with what she had, and as confidence and success create their own kind of beauty in a woman, the general consensus was that Nico O'Neilly was damn good-looking.
Excerpted from Lipstick Jungle by CANDACE BUSHNELL Copyright © 2005 by Candace Bushnell.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Candace Bushnell is the author of Sex and the City, Four Blondes, and Trading Up. She has been a columnist for The New York Observer and a contributing editor to Vogue.
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