Penguin edition, 2005
Bergdorf Blondes was the début novel of Plum Sykes, an English-born fashion writer and New York “it girl”. It was first published in the USA by Miramax Books, and in Britain by Viking, in 2004. Penguin published a paperback edition in 2005.
Bergdorf Blondes was a quirky and highly successful example of “chick lit”, selling more than a quarter of a million copies worldwide. It was set among the smart Park Avenue “in-crowd” of Upper Manhattan, New York, with which Plum Sykes herself was associated as a contributing editor of American Vogue. Among the 44 personal acknowledgements in Sykes’ preface, the first was of Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue who recruited Sykes from its British counterpart in the mid 1990s, and the last, the entrepreneur Toby Rowland, whom Sykes married in 2005.
The book and its context
Bergdorf Blondes is a satirical miscellany of high fashion and style a few years into the 21st century – three years after the September 11 attacks on New York, an event which is mentioned once, but impinges not at all. Its style of narration is similar to that of Carrie Bradshaw in Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City (HBO 1998-2004), to which some reviewers saw Bergdorf Blondes as a successor.
As a story about an English woman moving in fashionable circles in New York, the narrator (“moi”), whose “personal bible” is Anita Loos’ novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), appears to owe something to Sykes herself. The other main character is her best friend, Julie Bergdorf (“the biggest princess of them all”), who is heir to the real-life Bergdorf Goodman store, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This was founded in 1899 by Herman Bergdorf, an Alsatian immigrant from whom Edwin Goodman purchased it in 1906. The journalist Ariel Leve wrote that Bergdorf Goodman "is like a five-star hotel ... You feel like you're spending money by simply breathing". Sykes has said that Julie Bergdorf was “slightly inspired” by the retail heiress Elizabeth Woolworth.
Julie is rumoured to have her hair coloured at Bergdorf every thirteen days; hence, the eponymous term, “Bergdorf blondes” (or "BBs"), for those who are able to emulate its precise colour, which is likened to that of the late Carolyn Bessette Kennedy (1966–99). When Julie feels unable to bide her time for a particular fashion accessory, such as a Hermès Birkin bag, for which there is a three-year wait, she shoplifts from the family store – “kind of stealing from yourself”.
Rather like the “Slayer slang” of the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN 1998-2003), Bergdorf Blondes employs a rich vocabulary of “in” words and abbreviations – “Arizona” for “rehab”; “FOB/G” (Friend of President Bill Clinton/George W Bush); “Ana” (anorexic). On first arriving in New York, the narrator discovers that "Brazilians" are not only men from Latin America, but total bikini waxes. To assist the reader, there is a glossary of “Manhattan shorthand”.
Sykes' second novel, The Debutante Divorcée, followed in 2006.
- Sunday Times magazine, 16 July 2006
- Tatler, May 2006