”You are not superficial, you just seem like you are sometimes because of your Chloe jeans obsession,” one ditz reassures another in Plum Sykes’ Bergdorf Blondes. ”Now, do you think it’s chicer to be a single-process blonde or a double-process blonde?” The ditz giving the pep talk while tipping her head back into a beauty salon sink is department-store heiress Julie Bergdorf, whose favorite words are icky and glam. The co-ditz in need of a boost is her best friend, a nameless Brit ”champagne bubble of a girl about town” who is also the narrator of the socialite/magazine writer’s glossy single-process of a first novel. The setting is a Manhattan apparently still mourning the loss of ”Sex and the City” and glam-blonde author Candace Bushnell as a marquee singleton. The time is somewhere between a rich girl’s imaginary now and an average reader’s bemused never.
So let’s call our heroine Bubble. And before we teeter one pointy, Manolo-ed step forward in the cogent analysis of this literary la-di-da, let’s be clear: Sykes – herself a London-born girl-about-town on the staff of Vogue – believes she is writing a social comedy that skewers the pathetic frivolity of a pampered life devoted to Chanel sample sales, Portofino ”fake bake” tans, and Nars nail varnish. Familiar with the privileged life she fictionalizes, from the salon sessions to the mogul-hunting for a Prospective Husband (P.H.) to the pursuit of the ”ana” (as in anorexic) ideal of thinness, Sykes knows the brands and restaurant names to drop, the trendy spa indulgences to promote. She’s been to the Cannes film festival, too, and can report that the famously posh Hotel du Cap is a cash-only racket.
Only this is not a comedy – not Jane Austen, not ”Clueless,” and not dumb-like-a-fox Jessica Simpson. (It’s not ”The Devil Wears Prada,” either; Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has given Sykes her blurbed blessing.) Rather, ”Bergdorf Blondes” reads like an S.O.S. message posted from a stifling hothouse biosphere, fancying itself a lark.
Bubble needs air! But what she thinks she needs is a husband, and such drama as occurs between sessions with the hair colorist involves the exploits of Bubble and Julie to snag theirs. ”I can safely say that I am almost definitely completely sure that I have no idea at all how I ended up with a Prospective Husband and Julie didn’t,” Sykes writes in her heroine’s flibberty voice, introducing Zach, whose chief asset is his resemblance to Jude Law, and Charlie, the Mr. Darcy of the show. Zach proposes to Bubble and then treats her like last year’s Vuitton bag, ewwww. Bubble has a breakdown – not just any weepy night gorging on ice cream, but a dramatic crise. Julie commiserates. (”Luckily it’s tres chic to be neurotic in New York, which means that Julie and I fit in perfectly.”) Charlie waits in the wings. Plum Sykes’ foray into fiction is a dumb-blonde joke that tries but fails to put quotation marks around the designation ”dumb-blonde.” Julie would say it’s more icky than glam.