“I can’t imagine having a full-time job, children and being able to get it all done,” the auburn heiress declared as we were in line at a buffet dinner hosted by one of New York’s most beneficent financial geniuses. Not everyone in finance knows how to entertain these days, but at Chez Hedge Fund, the wine is always flowing, top drawer and Pétrus, and it’s never the usual suspects or entrees.
“Well, you look marvelous,” I said, surveying her Chanel-clad physique, suddenly realizing I may have overdone the pronunciation and sounded like a bad imitation of Ricardo Montalbán. “How much time and money does it take to look this good?” I asked, realizing her looks appeared frozen in time since I first met her, having nothing to do with the 19-degree weather outside.
“I would say 20 to 30 hours a week,” she said, playing with the stack of pave Love bracelets. “As for the cost? Whatever it costs. Anyone who tells you anything different is lying.”
“Do you even have time to see your friends?”
“Oh, I see them at all the appointments.”
“Well, let’s see,” she said spooning the avocado, ruby grapefruit and fennel salad onto her plate. “After spin class, I get my coffee, and then I go to Valery [Joseph] for my blow-out. Then I might have a dermatologist appointment for Botox, a filler, laser or a peel. I think derms are the new plastic surgeons, although I’m not against a snip snip when duty calls. Ça va! Then it’s time for lunch, you know, somewhere casual like Fred’s or Sant Ambroeus. Then I’ll make a few important calls.”
“Well, you know, the mani-pedi, waxing, acupuncture, lasering, not to mention the ultimate appointment.”
“Yes, the eyebrow lady. Booking an appointment with her is like getting an audience with the Pope. One has to maintain or suffer the consequences,” she whispered in an ominous tone.
“We all know what they are, Richard. Why dwell on the negative?” she said, her clipped tone expressing slight froideur before drifting off, leaving a trail of Jo Malone’s orange blossom in her wake.
“It’s either A KISS or a curse,” one of New York’s most successful women offered over a recent lunch at the Lambs Club. “Maintenance is like an addiction. The more you do, the better you look, the better you feel. If you don’t do it, well,” she paused with a dramatic flair that suggested a butter-cookie-and-pound-cake-fueled descent into slothdom.
“You can say that because you’re as skinny as a 16-year-old and look 25,” I said, admiring her Studio 54-worthy vintage D.V.F. wrap dress.
“Thanks, darling. Although I have found there is a real cost; the skinner you are, the better you look, the meaner some of the girls are to you,” she said over perfectly grilled Brussels sprouts. “They want nothing to do with if you’re a size 2 or less. But I always say, ‘Be high maintenance but maintain yourself.’”
“That’s because you’re so smart about everything you do,” I said, referencing her imprint on New York’s fashion landscape.
“Let’s get one thing straight about ‘smart,’” she said, smiling innocently. “No man looks at a woman and says, ‘I want to go to bed with her because she looks smart.’”
“Hair is the biggest expense: six days a week,” the social powerhouse declared at an eight-course dinner she was co-hosting at Le Bernardin.
“Six days a week is quite a commitment. Must cost a bundle,” I said, tasting exquisite Dover sole while being hip-checked by a cool blonde in sable and diamonds who was table lingering, having an in depth conversation about lip threading.
“Actually, getting my hair blown daily saves time and money,” the powerhouse declared to a few carefully groomed nodding heads.
“How so?” I inquired.
“Well, they do a better job than me, and the more you do, the bigger the discount. I also get to make dinner reservations and catch up on texting.”
As I looked around at the immaculately turned-out group, no one was without a professional-level blow-out.
They clearly shared the self-maintenance ethos of our social powerhouse, reputedly one of the bigger spenders and high flyers in N.Y.C. “My husband’s grandmother always said, ‘Women should be like well-manicured lawns: Don’t wait until the weeds pop up,’” she said.
“Grandma was a very sage woman,” I agreed. “She wasn’t European, was she?”
“No. A well manicured New York lawn. European women are meadows and wildflowers.”
Having spoken to a series of uptown girls, I knew it was serendipity when my assistant, Carol, told me I was having lunch later that week with a soigné British socialite at EN Japanese Brasserie on Hudson Street.
“It’s totally not a myth,” she said over tasty black cod and hijiki salad. “I mean, just look at this hair. Do you think I ever have it blown?” She gave her bedhead style hair a finger comb. “It’s sexy not to have blow-outs.”
She turned to see the famous and iconic Japanese wife of one of the greatest bands in history enter the restaurant dressed entirely in black in a severe suit, sunglasses and a jaunty chapeau. My black cod tasted all the more authentic because of her presence.
“I don’t ever want to look like a generic American,” she said, sipping her Sancerre. “Less maintenance is more.”
“I think you’re incredibly chic and original, but you don’t do hair, makeup, maintenance?”
“I’m not that woman. I don’t want to look perfect. I just use French oils and go to the gym for a run or get a manicure. It’s all too sanitized here. In Europe, natural confidence is sexy.”
“And your friends—do they do nothing and feel the same way?”
“My girls, the ladies so and so just wash their hair, put on their Wellies and off they go in their Range Rovers.”
“So they’re not blow-drying for their lordships?”
She leaned in. “Do you know what the European secret is?”
“No. Do tell,” I said leaning over my bento box.
“I only spend on beautiful, sexy and elegant underwear!”
“Don’t they have that here?”
“No. It’s all colored, cheap, vulgar and tacky. American girls wear the worst underwear. I see it at the gym. I’m talking about showing up at a man’s apartment in trench coat, heels …”
“And?” I gulped.
“And underneath is a divine corset, garters, stockings. Ding dong, he’ll never get over it,” she said, looking over at the former Rolling Stone cover story.
To complete my very own maintenance program, early that Friday morning, I made the pilgrimage (a few doors down) to see my dermatologist for my quarterly skin check, which I advise all to do.
After I stripped down to my skivvies, the doctor, an eternally youthful and ageless practitioner to socialites and stars, had this to say.
“One can look good at any age,” she said. “You just have to know when to stop. I really think my patients look good and young. They take their maintenance seriously. We can do so much today.”
“Is there ever a time when you advise cutting the skin?”
“Of course,” she said. “There comes a time when it’s time for that, and then we recommend plastic surgeons. But there is a cost to doing too much.”
“What do you think is over the line?”
“When people come in with magnifying mirrors. They’ll point out a line or look at themselves in direct sunlight with a magnifier. That’s a bit much. No one looks at someone else they meet through a magnifying lens.”
It was yet another Alaskan evening as we once again made our way through the frozen tundra, with Dana wrapped in a J. Mendel white powder puff.
At a dear friend’s birthday celebration, at which half-naked models were posed as Greek sculptures, all the toasts to the birthday girl included references to her looking exactly like her daughter.
On the dance floor, I once again ran into the social powerhouse, this time turned out in a form-hugging Herve Leger (that revealed not an ounce of body fat nor a hint of panty line) and studded Louboutins.
“How is your article coming?” she asked. “On my favorite subject, maintenance?”
“Fabulous. Look around,” I said. “It’s perfect. One can’t tell the parents from the children.”
“That’s why my friends and I love your pieces—they’re all so true!”
“Well, let me ask you,” I said, as we danced to “I Will Survive.”
“Did you learn all your beauty and maintenance secrets from your mother or if you have a sister?”
“Not at all.”
“How do they look?”
“Terrible. They’re both overweight and dumpy with wrinkles.”
“Do they like clothes?”
“No,” she laughed. “They wear black leggings and nurses shoes. They do nothing.”
“What do the men in their lives think?”
“There aren’t any.”
“Do you think there’s a correlation?”
“Anyone who I ever met who said they don’t do anything and that ‘a man should love me for me’ was single,” she said dryly. “I just wish they maintained or I could help them. They really should be dating.”
“Can I get you a drink at the bar?” I offered.
“I’ll have a margarita, no salt,” she said.
“Frozen or regular?”
“Frozen,” she said, dancing off with a group of private school girls who looked so similar I couldn’t tell who was whom.
Richard Kirshenbaum is CEO of his new venture, NSG/SWAT, and co-founder of Blackwell Fine Jamaican Rum.