Writers do not normally find limos at their doorsteps, but Plum Sykes is not a normal writer: Her first novel, Bergdorf Blondes, is destined to be a huge hit. Weeks before its April 14 publication date, it cracked the Amazon.com best-seller list almost strictly by word of mouth. Its heroines are too rich and too thin, bubbleheaded New York socialites who suffer romantic traumas on the Cote d’Azur and sartorial triumphs in $325 pairs of jeans. In the tradition of such blockbusters as The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, the intimate view of big-city gentry is the selling point. Best of all, this author – Vogue writer by day, It Girl by evening – is at home with the overclass she chronicles. Plum Sykes needs two assistants. She gets five book parties. And the limousine will not do.
It is February, the middle of Fashion Week. Sykes is taking me out for a Bergdorf Blondes-worthy night, and her publisher has sent a car to carry us uptown to the annual gala of the Young Fellows of the Frick Collection. The car is incorrect. Plum could not possibly go to the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a massive stretch limo. It is not done. She sends it away and waits for an SUV. ”A Puff Daddy-mobile,” she calls it. ”Very chic.”
The mob at the Frick – anorexic heiresses, evening-suited arrivistes, husband hunters luring big game with deep decolletage – circles a marble fountain gurgling majestically beneath a ceiling of glass. A princess extends a hand in introduction: ”Alexandra of Greece.” Sykes – slim as the stem of a champagne flute, 6 foot 2 in her obligatory pointy-toed pumps – gets kisses from tout le monde. All the world adores Plum.
”You can tell a lot about someone by how they behave at a Chanel sample sale,” the wife of a nylon-bag magnate tells me. ”Plum is always very focused.”
Plum was christened Victoria in 1969. ”I was brought up in London,” she says. ”My mum’s a fashion designer, and my father I’m not gonna go into because my parents have been separated for a long time, but he’s from – how can I put it? – he’s from, like, a posh English family. American people would definitely think, ‘Oh, Plum comes from like a Gosford Park scenario.’ Unfortunately, my parents were posh but broke.
”Anyway, we lived in London until we were 10 years old, me and my twin sister, Lucy. There’s four other siblings. And then we lived in Kent, which is a bit like living in Connecticut. It’s not particularly thrilling. And then I went to Oxford when I was 18, and then I went to British Vogue.”
She came to Gotham in 1997, a party star who interviewed society girls for American Vogue. Those spoiled sylphs inspired a book proposal that enticed Miramax Books to pay more than $600,000 for a gilded piece of chick lit. Its carnival of status details begins with the declaration that the salon at Bergdorf Goodman is the proper place to get one’s hair dyed: ”The hair can’t be yellow; it has to be very white, like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s was.” Sykes says that the late Mrs. Kennedy is ”the icon of Bergdorf Blondes…. She was so chic and understated, but at the same time, she was so wow – do you know what I mean?