Early one gray afternoon recently, Cindy Adams, the New York Post columnist, wore a red hat in the shape of Saturn and all its rings to a meeting at the Carlyle Hotel. “I’m wearing a hat, honey, because my hair looks like a hayloft,” she explained, her voice a melodiously studied rat-a-tat. Mrs. Adams, for whom Coty U.S. Inc. has just launched a new fragrance, Gossip, ordered iced tea but declined the sweets and crustless sandwiches.
“Believe me, I’m a major eater. I don’t really diet. With me, it’s always the same five pounds. I put them on. I take them off. And I don’t exercise. I’d rather die than exercise,” she said, hoisting a black ostrich Judith Leiber bag-size expensive-onto the table. “I’m no powder puff. I’m no lady who lunches,” she continued, rifling through the bag. “I’m not some little delicate thing. I’m Taurus the bull, the same sign as Barbra Streisand and Hitler.”
That became crystal-clear one winter’s day in 1993 when the employees of the New York Post rallied for then-editor Pete Hamill against then-owner Abe Hirschfeld. Mrs. Adams climbed onto the roof of a Post delivery truck in something of a Joan Collins-stars-as-Katharine Graham made-for-television moment. For the photo opportunity, she wore a tight black wool skirt, sheer stockings and four-inch heels. She was someone who had accumulated 57 beauty titles in her youth-but not Miss New York State. “No,” she answered. “Miss New Jersey State Fair. Miss Bazooka Bubble Gum. In those days, who went for anything legitimate?”-and she rose to the top of the truck like a pageant queen. Although Mr. Hirschfeld met the payroll for staff employees of the Post , he was stiffing the columnists who worked under contract; Mrs. Adams took a stand.
In Mrs. Adams’ handbag was a $9 clock she has carried for 20 years-she doesn’t wear a wristwatch. There was her cellular Star TAC phone, her notes for the day scribbled on red paper, a pair of gold Cartier eyeglasses, a clear plastic sack filled with makeup, Altoids breath mints, a red Christian Dior wallet given to her by Barbara Walters and a silver compact from the Queen of Thailand. Only in New York, kids. Last but not least was the clear, crystal-like glass snuff bottle she’d been looking for. Mrs. Adams pulled the translucent ruby-red cap from its golden collar and sprayed her bare wrists underneath the sleeves of her cherry-red Moschino suit jacket. “Gossip by Cindy Adams,” she laughed. No allergic responses here, no headache, no suffocation, imagined or otherwise. The scent was O.K.
“It’s spicy,” Mrs. Adams smiled. “Gossip should be spicy.”
The half-ounce bottle sells for about $14. “We are not sold in prestige stores. We are mass, like I write,” Mrs. Adams explained, “for the people.” Genovese, Duane Reade and Sears are a few of the stores expected to sell the scent. Places where you won’t find Mrs. Adams’ old scent, Calyx by Prescriptives.
“How it happened,” Mrs. Adams said of Gossip, “is after Donald Trump’s wedding to Marla Maples about four years ago. I went that night to interview Hillary Clinton in Washington. Before the interview, Hillary said, ‘Let’s gossip. How was the wedding? Do you think they will be happy?’ So we gossiped. I came home. I have a friend who is the Queen of Thailand whom I’ve known for a thousand years. Her aide-de-camp called about something, and then he said: ‘Do you have a piece of gossip for the Queen? You know how Her Majesty loves to gossip.’ Fade in. Fade out. I was having dinner with Arlene Dahl and Marc Rosen, the award-winning packager of perfumes, and I told him the story.” Mr. Rosen saw connection between the “whiffs” and “juice” of gossip and fragrance. “We talked about starting a fragrance, talked it to death and worried the bone, then Marc called Coty.”
According to Mary Manning, senior vice president of marketing development for Coty, research indicated that customers would respond to Gossip because, presented with so many brands and choices, they are looking for fun when they shop. “We found that people like to hear about romance. It is O.K. to talk about people in love.” Coty came up with the tag line “Give them something worth talking about” for Gossip. And lest anyone question the timing of Gossip in light of criticism of the tabloid media and the hand it may have had in the death of the Princess of Wales, never mind. Mrs. Adams said her brand of gossip, the written and the spritzed, is meant to “amuse, not abuse.”
Anticipating sales of about $17 million, Coty has put close to $6 million into promoting Gossip this season. The partnership of Mrs. Adams and Mr. Rosen, according to fragrance industry sources, will receive royalties of anywhere from 3 to 5 percent per sale. Coty has hired Jerry & Ketchum Advertising to create a print and TV campaign. Mrs. Adams will do a limited amount of traveling to promote the scent, including an appearance on an episode of The Nanny .
“I’m going to spray Fran,” Mrs. Adams said. “Here, you wanna meet a guy? Try Gossip.”
Over 40 years ago, Mrs. Adams met a guy. The guy. She was trying to switch from modelling to comedy; when they married, she wore a dress she bought at Loehmann’s. But Joey Adams bought her better dresses at Balmain and Balenciaga, which she still has, and her favorite dress, a solid gold suit he bought her for about $10,000 a decade ago at Hanae Mori. She said she sleeps in a floor-length, men’s-style white shirt of Egyptian cotton. She has about 200, all custom-made.
“I wasn’t anything,” Mrs. Adams said, recalling when it looked like she would never even graduate from Andrew Jackson High School in Hollis, Queens-she couldn’t pass the sewing requirement. “I wasn’t anything, but my mother,” who lives year-round in Bridgehampton, “was a powerful force who was determined I should be a good-looking lady who spoke well. And with Joey, whom I met when I was 16, I had everything. Joey gave me Fifth Avenue when we married. A mink coat. If I get a cold, Joey sneezes. He’s done every single thing in the world for me,” she said.
“The only thing he ever did to me is grow old.”
Since the success of celebrity scents isn’t guaranteed, Mrs. Adams admitted some concern. Not to mention that she’s a New York celebrity who’s not necessarily nationally known. “I’ve been scared for most of my life, doing things other people think came so naturally, but I do whatever I have to do to do the job. I conquer the fear.” Mrs. Adams just hopes Gossip lasts longer than the marriage of Donald and Marla Trump.