When I first moved to New York on a book tour in 2002 and subsisted on a diet of champagne (courtesy of events I’d attend as a young reporter for NBC) and cans of tuna (courtesy of being a 21-year-old author with zero money), I came across Plum Sykes. A fellow New York transplant, this Oxford educated Brit was the epitome of my version of the New York dream. Eternally McQueen and Manolo clad and in possession of cheekbones you could rest a cup of tea on, she had an enviable position as a scribe at American Vogue where she wrote about high fashion and the New York elite with the familiarity of a true insider and the icy wit that comes with being from somewhere else.
When Plum’s first book “Bergdorf Blondes” was published I devoured it like a French macaroon, in two bites. So it’s fitting that over a decade later (but who’s counting) I am interviewing the author about her latest literary effort, “Party Girls Die In Pearls” over a pot of English Breakfast tea and vanilla macaroons at Laduree in Los Angeles. Between pink porcelain sips we discussed the new ‘it’ girls, Kate Middleton on the dance floor, what it’s really like working for Anna Wintour, motherhood, and fellow NY society-girl-turned-First-Daughter, Ivanka Trump.
K: I feel like you really were the epitome of a term “it girl”. Tell me a little bit about what it was like during those days at Vogue. I feel like you were almost this Holly Golightly character?
P: Well it was very Holly Golightly because it was the tiny apartment, and the fabulous parties and all the borrowed clothes from Vogue. It was very Cinderella. Actually, me and my friends had a name for girls like us. We called us flatmates and Manolos girls. So we’d buy Manolos, but in order to afford that we had to rent a room to a flatmate. So it was flatmates and Manolos, which always made me laugh like these incredibly chic girls with absolutely no money whatsoever. You know I was working for American Vogue; it was the key to the city. I got invited to absolutely everything and I reported on absolutely everything socially and it was great, great fun, but I always preferred going to the parties and having a story to write then just going to the party with nothing to do.
K: One hundred percent, I used to feel the exact same way.
P: The thing about being an “it girl” always made me and my sister [Magazine editor Lucy Sykes] laugh, cause we always thought of all the “it girls” don’t have a job and we’ve got jobs so how could we be “it girls”. But I realize we were there reporting on the “it girls” and because we were there we got reported on as an “it girl” by other press. It was an accidental “it girl.”
K: Is it true that Anna Wintour literally came and plucked you out of British Vogue and put you in the middle of New York Society?
P: Yes, I was working at British Vogue, I had done a few years there of being a young fashion writer and then I went to Paris to interview Alexander McQueen in 1996 when he’d just done his first collection for Givenchy and I met Anna there and she offered me a job. Then and there. So it was a done deal.
K: What do you think it was about you that she obviously felt a kinship with?
P: Well, you probably have to ask her that, but I definitely think she’d read my articles in British Vogue that were witty and she likes the witty, humorous take on fashion. I think that’s what she really likes.
K: I’ve interviewed her before and she’s incredible. She’s really changed the face of fashion and American fashion. She has a reputation of being quite a steely personality. Obviously you are close with her, what’s she like with you?
P: Well I would say she is pretty steely. She’s a very intimidating person to work for and be around because she’s just accomplished so much. But I would also say she’s a very, very fair boss. She’s very direct. She’s very clear about what she wants. She’s a brilliant manager of people and of creative people. And you get a yes or no very quickly, and you know where you stand, and that is brilliant in your job. As long as you know where you stand you’re fine.
K: I agree. Especially with female bosses, sometimes they don’t want to hurt you’re feelings and you live in this kind of space of ambiguity, which is more stressful-
P: Yeah there’s no ambiguity with Anna Wintour.
K: I love that. That should be a t-shirt.
Now your first book, Bergdorf Blondes explored with hilarious excesses and the chicness of these New York society girls. How do you think the “it girl” or “the society” girl has changed?
P: I think now an “it girl” IS a person with a huge social media following. And it has changed completely. I think the idea of a socialite sounds very old-fashioned. People don’t really use that term now, which I think is probably a good thing. I think the “it girl” of now is doing something, she’s got a business, it’s probably something in fashion or social media. She’s chic and fabulous but she’s doing something.
K: What do you think of the Gigi Hadid’s and Kendall Jenner’s?
P: Yeah, I mean Gigi and Kendall, but they’re so commercial, I don’t know if they’re a very strict “it girl.” Yeah, they crossover into megastar. Cara Delavigne I think. Poppy Delavigne is the ultimate “it girl” I think for me. Social and a social media following
K: So tell me a little bit about when you moved back to London in 2006, it must have been a huge re-adjustment, what prompted you to leave your enviable position?
P: Well, I wasn’t planning on leaving New York. I just sort of evolved that I ended up back in London. I went back there to write that first book, to get some space from New York. And I met my husband, my future husband and so I gradually realized that I was going to end up staying in England and I actually kept an apartment in New York until about 2012. And I kept coming back and forth with my kids and stuff. But in the end I gradually moved back there full time. But I think the thing I found most difficult at the beginning was just the difference between London, New York, not being able to have everything, every single second when I wanted it and the convenience. But then you get used to that. You know, at first I was like, why can’t I have my dry cleaning done at 2 am? This is absurd. And then I start thinking; well maybe it’s a bit absurd that I could get my dry cleaning done at 2 am. What sort of life is like that where you’re on the go 24/7? You know, so there are pros and cons of both places. I love living in London now it’s great.
K: What do you love about your new life?
P: I love having my children. I love having my children.
K: You spend your time a lot in the countryside.
P: We have a weekend place in the country and we live in London during the week. I love being able to divide my time between London, the country. It’s brilliant for the children to have their ponies on the weekends and stuff like that. I’ve got a horse that I can ride at the weekend. It’s just a bit of that English country life is just so beautiful. It’s so nice. It’s lovely but we don’t get the sunshine that you got here.
K: That’s the thing, there’s always a compromise. I miss the beaches of Australia, but then I’d miss the excitement of LA too.
What about motherhood? You have two daughters, you have Ursula, 10, and Tess who’s 6. What has been the most surprising thing for you about motherhood?
P: How much work it is, but also how much joy there is. How fun just the tiny little boring things actually are when you’ve got a child and actually doing things again when you’re an adult with a child that you become tired of ids actually really nice, taking your kids for an ice cream, or going and playing in the park and seeing how much fun they get out fog just the smallest things. Actually I adore taking them riding. I’ve got to the point now where I can go out riding with them. Me on my horse, and them on their two ponies, and we have just one person walking with us, and we can do that and I really, really like chatting to them while we’re on horseback. It’s really nice. We ride to the little sweet shop in the village.
K: Now lets talk about this book, which is why you’re here. Party Girls Die In Pearls. It’s set in the 80’s in Oxford, where you actually were educated. Why did you decide to go back to the 80’s?
P: Two reasons. Firstly, because I was there at that time. Well I was there at the tail end of the 80’s, but I set the book for earlier then my time. And I just thought it was such an extravagant time. People really went for it in terms of how much they party. It was quite decadent, quite excessive. A little bit like the world of Bergdorf Blondes actually, to be honest. Which was another little microcosm of high society people to write about. And, it’s such an inspiring, beautiful city. There is so much to inspire you there. But I thought, why not do a book set here? And in the 80s because I wanted to go back to a time before mobile phones, before DNA Testing. I wanted to go back to a time where life wasn’t so technical, or technological.
K: And especially when it’s a murder mystery?
P: Cause if you do a murder mystery now, its full of emails, texts, forensics, and that’s very procedural and I love those. But I didn’t feel I wanted to write that for myself.
K: Is it true that Ivana Trump influenced the aesthetic in your book?
P: That’s so funny. In the book there’s a moment when they all go to a funeral. And the American girl is dressed in a great, big black sort of swing coat with great, big gold buttons and shoulder pads and she’s got her hair in a French roll, and her friend says “Wow you look just like Ivana Trump.” And she says, “thank you so much. She’s my idol.” The American character is inspired by that time, and I looked at a lot of pictures of Ivana Trump and actually Cornelia Guest, who was a famous “it girl” in New York in the 80s, with her great big mound of hair, and she inspired the American character.
K: Talking about the Trumps, what do you think of Ivanka Trump?
P: Well here the thing is, I absolutely love Ivanka Trump, I’ve met her many times. I think she’s really, really great. But, I at the same time I find it extremely odd that she’s be appointed as a special advisor by her father because I thought America was a meritocracy, and that’s nepotism and I just don’t really like it. I don’t really like it. I don’t think she’s a bad person, I don’t think she’s a stupid person. I think she’s very smart and she’s a good person. But I am pretty confused, like the rest of the world, by what is going on, and the son in law as well. I think it’s too “family”. It feels like the mafia.
K: Talking about “it girls” who have become so much more, what do you think of Pippa Middleton’s wedding dress?
P: Divine. I thought she looked incredible. And I thought Kate in the pink dress looked divine. I thought it looked just perfect. They’re really chic.
K: I think they’ve done a lot for the monarchy…
P: They’ve brought back the British. They’ve brought glamour back to the Royals. Much needed.
K: Have you ever met Kate?
P: I have met Kate Middleton very briefly, when she was still you know, Kate Middleton and she was dating, and is unbelievably beautiful in real life. I mean she is exquisite.
K: I once saw her when I was visiting London and I was at a nightclub that my friend owned. They [Prince William] had just broken up, they had that little break, and she was dancing up a storm. I remember thinking she was one clever girl, there where photos of her having a great time everywhere and he probably thought, “I’m gonna get that back!”
K: Plum get ready for some rapid-fire questions…
Heels or flats? Flats
Tea or coffee? Tea
Typical breakfast? Avocado and goats curd on toast.
Typical favorite meal? Well I love tea really, and I absolutely love cake. Tea and cake at sort of five o’clock in the afternoon, its very English.
Exercise of choice? Pilates and riding.
Biggest beauty secret? Actually its funny, I interviewed Bobby Brown for Vogue a few months ago and she said, “my tinted moisturizer will change your life,” and I didn’t believe her and she gave me it and it did change my life. I wear it every single day. Cause it’s like a very, very light foundation. It just evens out your skin tone. It doesn’t look like your wearing any make-up.
You look like you don’t, which is very wonderful. When I think of British beauty I don’t think of it being overly made-up…
I also gave up coffee and alcohol four months ago and that has made the biggest difference to my skin.
Have you ever been to Australia? No, I’d love to go though.
Where would you like to go? Don’t know, wherever my publishers will take me. I’d love to go to Sydney.
Favorite thing to do in Los Angeles? Lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The secret thing people don’t know about you?
P: That I’m quite a good baker. I’m quite good at baking biscuits and cakes. That’s the cooking that I enjoy. The other cooking I find really boring.
K: Me too, I so prefer cooking sweets to dinner. And it takes so long and they eat it in one second. A girl after my own heart, but then again, I already knew that.
Purchase Party Girls Die In Pearls at all good booksellers.