Today I Read…Overnight Socialite

Today I read The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark.

Lucy Jo Ellis moved to New York with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Unfortunately, while she has talent, in New York it’s all about who you know and who knows you, and Lucy Jo’s address book is completely empty. Wyatt Hayes IV, on the other hand, knows everybody, and is bored by them. A wealthy Harvard-educated anthropologist, people expected big things from Wyatt but he just hasn’t been motivated to produce anything lately. He meets Lucy Jo in the pouring rain and is inspired to make her his new project–can he turn this awkward girl from Smalltown, USA into an immaculately turned out girl-about-town? And can Lucy Jo become the diva of Wyatt’s dreams without losing herself in the process?

This is a fairly standard My Fair Lady story, with plenty of name-dropping of fashion labels and the New York society. Lucy Jo’s transformation, along with all the mistakes she makes due to her irrepressible Lucy Jo-ness, can be charming, and the B-stories about Eloise and Fernanda searches for love are interesting. Cornelia makes an excellent villain for the story, conniving, backstabbing, nasty, and generally an all-around bitch of the highest order, and her inevitable comeuppance is quite satisfying. Wyatt, however, stays fairly unlikable even while he falls for Lucy Jo. He is selfish, self-absorbed, and carelessly cruel, though not quite as clueless as his best friend Trip who never learns to listen to what Eloise wants. This is an entertaining story if not a remarkable one.

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How did it happen, Ms. Ellis? Lucy Jo could imagine some deferential fashion reporter asking her years from now. How did you go from being an anonymous worker bee to one of the most influential designers in the history of the industry?

And Lucy Jo would sit back in her chair, tickled by the memory of her humble start. She would recall her early days spent huddled over a crowded work table, barely looking up until she sensed that her fellow workers had gone home. Only then could she pull out her design portfolio, diving into the sketches that would one day thrust her to the center runway of American fashion. She would tell the reporter how some nights she could feel the folds of lustrous silk run through her fingers, so real was the illustration she’d painstakingly created.
Then, of course, she would fondly recount the night she was about to experience, the turning point in her career. “I always knew,” she’d tell the admiring reporter, “that it was just a matter of time before my life caught up with my dreams.”
And she had, truly, always known. Growing up in a small town two hours outside Minneapolis, Lucy Jo Ellis had harbored a secret belief that life would deliver on its big promises. Fashion had been her passion ever since she could remember; at age four, she’d pointed her little index finger at a gown in one of her mother’s celebrity magazines and declared, “Too much ruffle.” She’d started making her own clothes when she was only twelve, mimicking the trends she could never afford to buy. As a teenager, she’d memorized tattered copies of Vogue, absorbing how iconic ’90s designers such as Gianni Versace and Azzedine Alaia glorified the female form, delighting in the gritty glamour of Herb Ritts’s photography. On the walls around her bed, she pinned fashion ads from the old W, and they hovered like sophisticated, angular angels over her sleep.
After high school, with no cash for college, she’d tried working for Annie Druitt, the local seamstress. Annie was a sweet woman and enjoyed having company in her shop–but hemming pants and taking in hand-me-down prom dresses barely paid one salary, let alone two, and Lucy Jo’s big things remained at large.
So on the day she turned twenty-six, with a hard-earned two thou in savings, she packed a bag, ignored her mother’s watery discouragement, said a few goodbyes, traveled across the country on a Greyhound, found via Craigslist a Murray Hill studio with a floor so sloping she constantly tripped over her feet, and lucked into an entry-level job at Nola Sinclair. The job was only marginally more inspiring than working for Annie Druitt–but at least she was in New York, epicenter of all things fashion, and working for an industry darling no less.
A year later, however, she hadn’t made any progress. A year wasn’t long, in the grand scheme of things, but it was too long for Lucy Jo. Her learning curve had grown flatter than Kate Moss, and Nola refused to consider anyone for a design position who wasn’t vetted by the hallowed halls of FIT or Parsons.
It didn’t matter. Nola was the gateway, and tonight was Lucy Jo’s opportunity to meet her real mentor–someone who would recognize that her talent and drive went far beyond assembly line work.
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“Socialites in Manhattan have wealth, privilege, beauty, and youth working for them. Designers curry their favor and send them free clothes; magazines run fluff pieces about their so-called ‘businesses’; every PR flack in town begs them to make an appearance at parties. Like it or not, they’re alphas–the top of the pecking order.”
“Okay,” Trip said. “So what’s your idea?”
“I’d conduct a social experiment answering the question: Could anyone become an alpha socialite if she wanted to? Or is there something inherent in these girls’ backgrounds, personalities, or genetics that predetermines their social status? My theory is that there isn’t.”
“Uncharacteristically democratic of you,” Trip remarked.
“And to test this theory,” Wyatt continued, “I’d take a random girl off the street and turn her into the most sought-after socialite in New York City. Convince everyone that she was the real deal–the number one It girl, the cover of Townhouse–in just a few months. I’d turn her into the next Cornelia Rockman, so to speak, only better. Show how hollow the system has become, and what a joke today’s ‘socials’ are. Show that any girl–no matter who her people are, no matter where she comes from, no matter how little she has in her trust fund–can be passed off as the reigning socialite.”
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