My second career was in public relations. (My first career was working as a writer on a woman’s magazine. I am on my fourth career as an author.)
I landed a job at a blue-chip public relations firm on New York’s Madison Avenue. The company (99 % women) had a reputation for cut-throat competition. Certainly, we competitively dressed. We were all over-worked, under-paid, but we looked gorgeous, darling.
The details are hazy but a colleague had been “disappointed” (i.e. fired) and I was now in charge of the public relations campaign for Q-Tips, one of Chesebrough-Pond’s most famous products.
Now you might be thinking, “does a piece of cotton wrapped around a stick that is NEVER to be inserted into the ear (although we all do that) need a public relations campaign?” You would be thinking wrong. How do you think Q-Tips became so famous in the first place?
But this is not about Q-Tips. This is about writing silly skin care tips that involve Q-Tips. And because of these silly skin care tips, skin care has become my raison d’etre.
Tip #1. Exfoliate your skin once a day with a baby washcloth (very soft) and Cetaphil soap (very mild). Use a dollop of soap and then massage your face with a dampened washcloth. Let skin air-dry and then apply your products.
Tip #2. Limit the number of products you apply to your skin. Toner, moisturizer, eye cream and sunscreen (mixed with a very lightweight foundation) are perfect for day; skip the sunscreen and foundation (d’uh) in the evening.
Tip #3: Eye cream must be applied both day and night. Eye cream with SPF daytime only.
Tip #4. Toss all magnifying mirrors. It’s better not to know about your enlarged pores (untreatable) or black heads (get a facial every three months).
Tip #5. Decline your dermatologist’s offer to give you some of Madonna’s leftover (and high-powered) Botox but do ask for samples of the professional grade Q-Tips because of the extra cotton around the stick.
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As I listened to Rose, my enchanting and new friend talk about her attitude towards life, I realized I was not particularly spontaneous. (Aside to myself: You’re not “particularly” or “spontaneous?” Woman, get real.)
Rose and her equally charming friend Donna love spur of the moment. When a gala in New York had to be cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy, Rose and Donna got into their cars (one lives in Illinois, the other lives in Pennsylvania) and met halfway. A dumpy motel in a sleepy town just added to their fun.
Here’s what Rose said to her friend who was also planning to attend the gala:
“The gala was cancelled but we are leaving in 15 minutes. We’re meeting Donna. Just throw some clothes into a suitcase.”
When the friend demurred because it was so “last minute,” Rose said “No. This is your life. Not tomorrow or the next day but right now.”
From a small story, a big awakening grew in my head. I have fallen into the trap of ritual and routine. Bedtime is 9:00 p.m. (Yup.) Dinner is 6:30 p.m. (Yup.) On Sunday I iron my pillow cases. I’m about to slip into REM sleep just thinking about it.
Well, it’s over. I’m going to give spontaneity a shot. I’m going for the unexpected. I’m going to say “yes” to dumpy motels in sleepy towns.
But the “just throw some clothes into a suitcase” part? This I gotta see.
(Photograph taken from Google Images under “dumpy motel.”)
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Kiosk, 95 Spring Street, NYC (Soho)
I live 32 minutes from New York City but I consider myself a New Yorker.
Because I live so close to New York, I spend a lot of time walking its streets. I am tireless when it comes to walking. I can spend an entire day walking from one part of New York to other, from Little Korea to the “bubble” of the Upper East Side. My cell phone is off because I don’t want to be distracted. I’m looking into shop windows for something to catch my eye. If the store is terrific, I’ll try to meet the owner or the buyer. A confident style is something I appreciate.
A few weeks ago I took a friend to New York. Our first stop was Kiosk. It looks like a drug den. The lights are dim and the walls are tagged with graffiti. When you get to the second floor, there’s no door to the shop. Just those plastic PVC strip curtains they use in meat lockers.
But once you enter Kiosk you’re in for a surprise. The owners travel the world looking for the coolest products — paper clips, horsehair brushes, string bags in fabulous color — knickknacks with verve. Whenever I take someone to a shop that’s a hidden treasure, the standard question is “how did you find that place?”
There’s only one way to find hip shops in any city of the world: You need to be street smart. When you read something of interest, clip out the article and put it in a file called “Cool Shops.” And if you spot someone with knock-out panache, take a photo of him/her so you can study it later. Store the photo in a folder marked “Cool Style.” The streets, the shops, and the people are a laboratory of ideas.
You don’t need to travel very far to find inspiration. It’s all around you. But only if you’re indefatigable and perhaps obsessed with rose gold paper clips from Palsboda, Sweden.
Last week Woody Allen’s film “Hannah and Her Sisters” was on television. I’ve seen it before but it is one of those films you can watch again because of its complexity and insight into relationships (and valentine to New York City.) It’s also fabulous because of the interiors. Most of the film was shot in Mia Farrow’s own apartment. A huge, rambling, Upper West Side, gorgeous moldings, and fantastic old kitchen kind of apartment. Allen also shot some scenes in his own apartment. Pre-war duplex with huge terrace overlooking Central Park. (Aside: I hope I don’t sound like a realtor.)
And the costumes! The costumes (the schlumpy sweaters, the vintage sailor shirt under a jeans jacket) are just as important as the characters. In fact, the costumes are a character in their own right.
On a day when you’re feeling terrific, underscore it by wearing the costume of someone who is enchanting and irresistible. Or if you’re feeling out of sorts, wear the costume of someone who is happy and fun to be with. See if the costumes give you star appeal or help you shake off the blues. They will. You gotta trust me.
(Full disclosure: I knew Jeffrey Kurland, the costume designer of “Hannah and Her Sisters,” while at college. An incredibly charismatic and talented guy even then. He offered me some terrific advice about shirts that I cannot remember for the life of me.)
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It is very hot here. I wither in the heat.
Last week I checked airline prices to Iceland. Maybe Iceland isn’t as cold as its name. I don’t know anyone who has been to Iceland but it doesn’t matter because the airline prices are ridiculously expensive.
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Alan Gilbert is the music director of the New York Philharmonic. As a youth, he learned the violin, viola, and piano. He is a major talent.
And he also loves clothes.
In a recent article in The New York Times the reporter wrote, “Gilbert is known in classical circles as a clotheshorse with impeccable taste in formal wear…” Readers, after reading the article’s first paragraph I felt vindicated. People who love clothes and treat shopping as an enjoyable way to spend time are typically typecast as shallow and self-absorbed. Taking pleasure in the pursuit of the perfect bow tie or white shirt? That’s for people who have nothing better to do.
And yet…Looking fabulous is fun. It’s powerful. It can make you feel good and act in a confident manner.
Gilbert’s reputation for being a peacock and leading a first-rate orchestra should put this ridiculous assumption to bed: If you enjoy looking swank, you can still be accomplished. If your pants are pressed, you can still be a virtuoso.
What a shame personal style has such a bum rap.
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It’s no joke.
There’s an organization called The International Listening Organization. Members are either enthusiasts of listening or want to be expert in listening. They’ve nailed the talking.
Perhaps I’ll apply. I could use a tune-up in the listening department.
Look: I love a robust conversation. Even when I disagree with my interlocutor (the person who takes part in the conversation), I get a kick out of listening to a contrary point-of-view. It sharpens my ability to defend and persuade. Or change my mind.
The International Listening Organization heralds effective listening. That means restraining from jumping across the table to grab the virtual microphone the minute someone takes a breath.
One of the crazy things about listening? It can make you look like the smartest person in the room. The “smartest person in the room?” With my SAT scores? Oh baby, I definitely listened to that.
“When it comes to hotel rooms, Ellen Lubin-Sherman is really picky.” (The Wall Street Journal, Friday, October 4th, 1996).
When the newspaper’s reporter interviewed me for a story on the hunt for a better hotel room (he had been tipped off that I was, shall we say, demanding), I said “most hotels try to dump you in the shabbiest room.”
So here’s how I finagle moving into a cheerier room: When I check-in at the hotel, I leave my luggage at the front desk. Then I accompany the bell hop to see the room.
Unencumbered by luggage, I put the desk on high alert that I am not going to settle. And without the luggage, I won’t be resigned to accepting any room.
So check out the room. Do you like it? Claim it. But if it’s dark, gloomy, and noisy, return to the desk and politely ask to see a better room. Fair warning: You may have to see at least two crummy rooms before (miraculously) another room becomes available.
The operative word is “miraculously.”
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…but only if you’re wearing a sharp wingtip or a stiletto with thin soles. No flip flops or sandals, s’il vous plait.
You see, I’m hoping to get a free upgrade to first class.
According to the Wall Street Journal, check-in personnel also act as style police officers. If they spot someone looking particularly spiff or carrying a “glossy tote,” they might offer them a seat with leg room, recently released films, and ice cream for dessert.
So why take a chance and end up in steerage when according to this reputable paper, security guards (a k a personal stylists) are always pleased to see someone who made an effort to look good. That means no exercise clothes, team jerseys, or like I said, flip flops. The guards prefer fitted dresses, full skirts with crinolines, and lots of jewelry. Never mind that mother told you never to take jewelry on a trip, the Wall Street Journal says jewelry is a must if you want champagne and caviar on toast points before the plane lifts off.
Here are my personal favorites of the three essentials of fabulous travel gear. I must confess: I have never been upgraded and I’m starting to think about glossing my cotton tote):
- A large soft scarf
The workhorse in your suitcase. It’s your blanket on the plane, it’s a wrap to ward off the chill, it looks great tucked inside your jacket. I’m reading that a certain fabulous fashion designer always travels with the Feed Kenya Kikoy Scarf and wears it as a beach cover-up. Do you prefer a silky scarf? Lilogi has made its name for creating statement scarves.
- A blazer
How else can you get a steward to stand ready to bring you a cocktail if you show up at the airport wearing jeans without the mandatory blazer? And who says it has to be navy? I love this stripe from Ann Taylor for summer and would wear it with both blue and white jeans and a pair of Superga sneakers in a vibrant color.
- The hat
Style police might not recognize your name at check-in but they’re certainly going to know you’re somebody. Somebody with enormous panache and style who can throw on a hat and not feel self-conscious. Thank goodness Anthropologie knows a great hat. Wear sunglasses and a cheshire grin because you could be on the short list for tuna tartare.
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Just wondering. Have you had any urges lately to knock people over with a chic presentation?
I have at least 20 white shirts. They’re in a closet in my son’s bedroom. I was sad when my son went to college but I immediately took over his closets. When he comes home for a visit, I take a clothes rack that one would use for a party and put the white shirts there. Then he leaves and the shirts go back into the closet.
A white shirt is guaranteed to make you look polished and elegant. They are versatile. And they never go out of style.
A few years ago the company that manufactured my absolutely perfect one-pocket white shirt in the finest of cotton — the shirt that I bought in duplicate, then triplicate every year — went out of business.
I bored everyone to tears when I talked about my perfect white shirts that were no longer available. “Buy a different white shirt,” they said, trying to move the conversation to something more important, like whether they should do Botox.
So I’ve moved on. I’m philosophical. Good things come to an end.
Actually, that’s not true: I found a shirt maker who’s good at knock-offs.
My favorite places to buy white shirts:
J. Crew for their perfect Boy Shirt in classic white. No ironing necessary. Looks like you just rolled out of someone’s bed. Buy it one size larger so it’s easy to wear. tinyurl.com/d8bvyxv
Banana Republic knows white shirts. (Check out the Annie Short-Sleeve Polo for the summer. Preppy chic. tinyurl.com/mgf66zd
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