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Authors: Kathleen Baird-Murray

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BOOK: Face Value
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Of course it was, she’d answered sarcastically; but, not having much else to do, bar watching one of any number of channels with a surfeit of ad breaks and crime shows, she figured she had nothing to lose and at least it was an event she could wear her trainers to. How wrong she was. Not only were stilettos and platform wedges the shoes in this city that moved seamlessly from night to day, but the band was indeed the next big thing. Or at least, it had a very cute drummer with brown, curly, shoulder-length hair (Beauty de Bellenet’s Bronzed Babe shampoo with added extracts of birch, and Lolly Bergerstein’s antifrizzing serum would be her recommended products) and a Roman nose (for which he needed nothing except perhaps a sweep of Guerlain’s Terracotta bronzing powder on either side of the bridge to contour and emphasize the bump, and of course general nasal hair maintenance—Tweezerman tweezers were the best, or so she’d been told at the eyebrow bar she’d visited last week). Fueled by a sudden need to quash what would most likely remain desires of the unrequited variety, Kate decided to drink her way through the gig. Jean-Paul, captivated by her charming grace and finesse as she pogoed up and down for ninety minutes without a break, wholeheartedly encouraged this form of refreshment. When the band finished, believing that some of her alcohol-fueled enthusiasm might rub off onto him, he had steered her toward the late-night diner, traditionally an old artists’ hangout but now favored by up-and-coming six-foot-tall superthin east European models (why couldn’t they send over the Hungarian shot-putters instead, Kate figured, make everyone feel a little better?).
“But seriously Kate, you ’ave cellulite?”
“Well, seriously Jean-Paul, does it make much difference? I mean, you don’t honestly think you are going to see my cellulite, do you?”
“Ah . . . you mean, we keep the lights off.” He looked disturbingly optimistic. “I like that . . . mystery, secrets, the dis’onest seduction of the shadows. . . .”
“No, I mean, nothing is going to happen between us,” said Kate, coolly.
“Eh, I know that. . . . We are just friends!”
“Not even,” she said under her breath, the alcohol wearing off now.
In a strange way, though, he was her only friend. There was something oddly familiar about him, comforting even. He had been to England before, could make jokes about the weather there, had even watched
EastEnders
a few times and understood that it was infinitely better than
Coronation Street.
Not always having to explain herself, to qualify everything, meant that he was by far the easiest of her new “friends” to be around. She put this down to their common European roots, but there were drawbacks that came with that, too. She doubted an American would make such personal remarks about cellulite so soon into a friendship. Or would he? She didn’t know any American men. But at least, one thing she could say in Jean-Paul’s favor was that his calls afforded her some respite from the severe workload she had—to paraphrase Alexis’s love of Shakespeare—partially had thrust upon her, partially been born with. Here she was in the city of the insomniac’s choice, and her social life was nonexistent. Tonight was the first evening where she hadn’t felt compelled to read up on something beauty related, or sit logged on to the Internet on her office-loaned laptop at home, swotting up on whatever product launch or skin care lecture she would have to attend the following day.
She had quickly realized she could create her own agenda so long as she kept on top of the subject matter, did her research, and put the hours in. It was a policy that was paying off, starting with her relationship with her assistant and her deputy. Everything Clarissa and Cynthia had written for the forthcoming issue was fine, but just a little boring and predictable. Kate knew she was no beauty expert, but as a woman (albeit one who still couldn’t walk properly in a pair of heels and who had only recently discovered waxing) and, more importantly, as a reader, she didn’t feel their words on lipstick and autumn trends and moisturizers and facial hair strip wax moved or inspired her. Now, that could be because this wasn’t her subject matter of choice, just as Clarissa and Cynthia might not like to read this month’s essay in
Green Issues
magazine by one of the original antinuclear power protestors at Greenham Common (she’d loved that bit when the women all joined up their bras to form a big rope to tie themselves to the wire fencing—brilliant!). But why was a lipstick good just because Catherine Zeta-Jones wore it once? To her, that was a bad lipstick, because if it was any good, she would have worn it again, surely. This seemed to baffle them. She had exhorted them to rethink, and with Cynthia, she had definitely seen improvements. They’d been out for lunch a couple of times, to a small Japanese restaurant where you had to check over your shoulder before having any work-related conversation because the place swarmed with Nouvelle Maison Editions employees. Cynthia had been so thrilled to be taken out to lunch by the beauty director, she would have done anything for her after that. And Kate had enjoyed it, not just because it was the first time she’d been able to slap down a company credit card and get lunch for two as a legitimate business expense, but because she was genuinely interested in Cynthia’s life. Hers was an alien world, but with striking similarities, coming as she did from a small town in Ohio, with parents who had wanted her to join the local law firm. Kate recognized in Cynthia the same hunger to carve out a career that she had—to escape. The only difference was that Cynthia was rather more knowledgeable about beauty products than Kate was. That didn’t seem to make her any less intelligent; if anything she was overqualified to write “Madonna on Mole-Checking” or “Gray Eyeshadow Is the New Black Kohl.”
Clarissa . . . well, Clarissa was another story, still floundering in a sea of frigid mistrust and implacable anger.
As for her own work, she had confronted Alexis head-on with her confusion as to what she was and was not allowed to do regarding the dreaded plastic surgery supplement.
“You can do whatever you want, go wherever you want, we have the budgets, we have the advertisers,” Alexis had briefed her, while flicking frenziedly through a pile of uncorrected proofs. “But you have to deliver the goods. We have so many imitators, so many rivals on the surgery front, that whatever you produce has to be the best. I want luxury, I want celebrity, I want entertainment!”
“And facts, Alexis?”
Alexis looked nonplussed. "That goes without saying! That’s a given! I want original stories—you have thirty pages to fill, remember. But not freaky, mind you, we are not the
National Enquirer.
Kate, it’s of paramount, and I really mean paramount, importance that you get this right.” She rested her cigarette in an ashtray. You weren’t supposed to smoke in the offices of Nouvelle Maison Editions, indeed you weren’t supposed to smoke anywhere in New York unless you were some low-ranking secretary and had time to take the elevator down fifty-two floors for a crafty puff outside with all the other low-ranking secretaries.
Kate was dying for a cigarette, dying to be a low-ranking secretary instead of an uptown, top-ranking, health-loving beauty director.
“By the way, did you know we can’t use that bastard Gustav anymore? He’s switched allegiances, after all I’ve done for him, he’s just signed with
Vogue
. . . . What’s wrong?” Alexis looked up, her glossy pages of color proofs for the next issue held in midflow like a dealer’s cards frozen in slow motion.
“Nothing. I just gave up smoking, that’s all.”
“Oh, c’mon then . . .” She held out her cigarette and let Kate take a slow, satisfying draw. “Don’t tell anyone.”
Maybe it was the cigarette, maybe it was knowing that Nouvelle Maison Editions had a lot riding on this supplement, maybe it was the fat paycheck that had just arrived, or her new address in the city that never sleeps, but Kate wanted to do her best for Alexis. Along with Cynthia’s package of the last ten years’ worth of plastic surgery supplements, she had also been given a huge pile of publicity cuttings, as well as DVDs of TV interviews featuring plastic surgeons and their patients being interviewed by Diana, the previous beauty editor. Diana was an impossibly glamorous blonde, with what looked like flawless skin, lips enhanced with MAC Spice lip color, and a classic root-lift blow-dry to boot. And as far as the supplement went, she seemed to have done it all already. Just when Kate was starting to agree with Cynthia and Clarissa that there really was no room for air in the tires, every before-and-after “Look at me, I’ve had my tits done” story having been done countless times before in varying permutations, inspiration struck her at what she was quickly coming to understand was the spiritual home of every beauty director: the hairdresser’s.
“You doing the surgery supplement again this year?” asked Lolly Bergerstein, while chopping haphazardly into Kate’s shoulder-length tresses for the second time in a month. “Guess you’ll be going to L.A. then.”
Lolly had created the hairstyles of every female Oscar winner in the last five years so convincingly that an urban myth had sprung up propagating the idea that if you didn’t have your hair done by her, you wouldn’t win. She was brash and short, with long, wavy brown hair that belied the masculinity of her strident, booming voice.
“Chiara! Where’s my fucking tail-comb?” She tugged so hard at Kate’s scalp that the pile of publicity clippings tumbled from Kate’s lap onto the floor.
“Can I?” Kate tried to bend down to pick up the papers, a difficult maneuver as her hair was being pulled by Lolly as if she was a Barbie with extendable tresses.
“Not yet,” barked Lolly, holding the comb Chiara had rushed to get her between her teeth, while gazing in a trance at the two-inch strand of hair she was holding between her fingers. “Just finishing off this section here.”
The salon was surprisingly low-key, though incredibly high-key in comparison with Yolanda’s model night in Maidstone. Everywhere you looked there were trim, youthful apprentices dressed in black, bustling around in an ordered fashion like ants in a disturbed nest. Each booth was separated from the others by mirrored side panels, all the better to see what was going on at the back and sides of your hair. It also afforded some privacy for the more famous of Lolly’s clientele, not that it had escaped Kate’s notice that she had Sharon Stone sitting on one side and Meg Ryan on the other. (She wasn’t interested, but Lise would go nuts.)
“You know, I always wondered,” said Lolly, still staring fixedly at the uneven edges of hair she had just slashed. “I mean, it’s so dull, all this fucking celebrity bullshit. I mean, people always ask me, what hair did you do for the fucking Oscars, and I always say, oh you know, yadda, yadda, yadda, boring, clean, straight, whatever, blah, blah, blah, natural
crap
!” She looked at herself in the mirror.
“Do they quote you on that?” Kate ventured timidly.
Lolly ignored her and continued. “And I long for a return to the age when Hollywood was fucking glamorous, y’know? Big hairstyles, pointy tits, uppity butts, slinky satin dresses. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, women were fucking gorgeous then! Why don’t you do something on that?”
“Well, it’s a surgery supplement, it’s not really about the Oscars or the hair, or the dresses, but I take your point, it was a very glamorous period.”
Lolly talked straight over her. “Because they all had surgery then, y’know. Kinda in a backstreet way, no one knew, and some of the doctors weren’t so fucking great, but they had to get it done. The studios demanded it.”
This was getting interesting.
"Go to L.A. Go to Hollywood. You’ll find something cool there. Something different. I mean, it would be nice to get something fucking different, don’tcha think?” Lolly stopped, stared at herself in the mirror, her stare changing to an angry glare, then hollered, “Chiara! . . . Where is that fucking girl?! Chiara!”
Chiara reappeared, a pale creature so skinny her flesh bore an ethereal translucence.
“Honey, don’t let me look like this! Check out my hair!”
It looked fine to Kate, who was more worried about the clumps of hair that had been plundered from her own head with all the brutality of a pair of gardening shears snipping off Rapunzel’s plait. Chiara dutifully flapped around Lolly with a tube of smoothing cream until the alleged ruffle was placated. Lolly rocked from hip to hip in front of the mirror, sucking her cheeks in, then shook her hair again.
“Chiara! Still not fucking right.”
“Well, you shook it. . . .” Chiara ventured. Lolly picked up the hair dryer and brandished it at her as if it was a gun.
“Don’t argue, sweetness, just fix it. Or be fixed.”
Chiara frantically glooped on more of the cream. Lolly looked at herself again in the mirror, then said, as if surprised to see Kate still there, “You’re done, honey. I hope we’ll see you soon. Bye!” Chiara swooped in with her blow-dryer to finish off Kate’s hair, and the star of the show moved on to her next celebrity.
Mad as the woman clearly was, Kate knew it was a great idea. The history of surgery in Hollywood. She would get back to the office and start researching straightaway. Marilyn Monroe must have had some. And if she had, they all would have. It had everything Alexis wanted: luxury, celebrity, entertainment. And it had everything Kate wanted. She had been growing increasingly nervous about the assignment. She knew it was the biggest deal-breaker in her new career, a chance to prove what she could do, boost sales, and get a reputation for herself. She didn’t want to let Alexis down.
Yet there was something about plastic surgery that sat uncomfortably with her personal politics. The truth was, Kate hated plastic surgery, hated everything about it. It wasn’t that she was such a big fan of the world of beauty either, but at least that was another strand of journalism to her, one that she could be objective about and find something of interest in. Her initial skepticism and mistrust had been wavering, thanks to the arrival of truckloads of expensive cosmetic products in her office, all promising to make her and every other woman look like somebody else; somebody better; somebody smoother, softer, cleaner, and wrinkle-free. This week alone she had been sent several thousand dollars’ worth of cleansers, moisturizers, antiaging creams (different from your ordinary moisturizer, she was learning), perfumes, foundations (cream to powder, powder to cream, mineral, liquid—and pancake, which apparently was enjoying something of a revival thanks to new lipo-peptide-poly -hyaluronic-calafrajalistic technology she couldn’t even begin to understand), lipsticks, blushers, and eyeshadows. She had a cupboard in her office the size of a small child’s bedroom, full of international brands, national brands, dermatologist-led brands, chemist-led brands, little tiny niche brands, discovered-in-a-foreign-supermarket brands. When “the girls,” as she’d taken to calling Cynthia and Clarissa, were out at lunch or on one of their unending appointments, she would secretly open each pot, listening out for the near-silent glide of the lid in the groove, then gently peel back the foil flap, or allow her fingers to wander over the little white plastic inner lid, find the dent, lift it up. She would smell it, dip her finger into it, try it on the back of her hand, and if she liked it, on her jaw or where tiny crevices had started to collect around the corners of her eyes. For the first time, she understood how her mother would spend half her weekly salary on a face cream, for the sheer naughtiness, self-indulgence, frivolity of it all. She was aware she was buying into a dream, but what was the harm in dreaming? She didn’t know for sure whether the creams worked, and she didn’t think they were still testing products on animals, but although these were things that troubled her, that she spent hours pondering over Internet sites trying to figure out, she was prepared to filter out the genuine articles over the marketing gimmicks or less scrupulous items, and believe. That was her promise to herself, to only write about the things she could investigate. In the greater scheme of things they were harmless, and in the smaller scheme of things they were hers to keep, never to be sent back, to be photographed for the magazine, or even donated to the battered women’s hostel three blocks down, her idea for salvaging what was left of an increasingly fragile political sense of beauty rights and wrongs.
BOOK: Face Value
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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