Sunday, August 19, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown: So Long, Sweetie!

Helen and David Brown
It seems that all of a sudden so many truly warm, brilliant, unique people are saying their farewells. People who have been such a profound part of our life's fabric, we almost expect them to be here forever. Helen Gurley Brown is certainly one of the most colorful ones. I remember as a kid watching her on talk shows like Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson. She was always, to my inexperienced and uninformed mind, a siren of sorts. Provocative, sexy, unapologetic, clever, witty, incredibly smart and above all else, kind. She was the embodiment of 'larger-than-life-ness'. Cosmopolitan was a magazine with more punch, edge and brains than the glossies that crowded around it on the news stand. The covers were smoking hot thanks to Scavullo's unerring eye. In short, Ms. Brown and her magazine were legend in my mind from my early days in Groton, Massachusetts.

When I found my way to NYC and started my own collection, Ms. Brown and her magazine were instrumental in giving me a much needed leg up. In those days, small companies like mine depended on prestigious and strategic placement in important stores in order to get noticed. PR companies and advertising budgets were not even an option. Mr. Scavullo's assistant and partner, Sean Byrnes, spotted a gown of mine at Bergdorf Goodman and made an appointment to come to the showroom. He appeared at the appointed hour and asked if I'd do the same gown as a very short dress, in size 4 in canary yellow. It was for a cover try for the magazine and I had 2 days to do it. I did it, they chose it and it was my first cover for a major magazine. That dress sold like crazy to all my stores and I got new accounts just because of that cover. It was a game changer for me and my team.

Fast forward to about 5 years ago: I was invited to a Cosmo Girl lunch hosted by Bonnie Fuller in honor of Karenna Gore. There were lots of interesting people there, almost all women and me. By chance Helen Gurley Brown was also there in itsy-bitsy Chanel with the shortest skirt in the room. It couldn't have been longer than 10". I was introduced to her and discovered we'd be seated next to one another. I was scared and had no idea what to say to her but gamely rolled with the challenge. She immediately started calling me 'Pussy Cat' (the irony was not lost on me)and peppered me with a ton of questions. She wanted to know everything. Between answers she'd offer advice like: "Don't listen to anyone, only your gut matters". "Stay as nice as you are, but don't take any one's shit". She was completely candid and unbelievably kind. I told her that my first cover was for Cosmopolitan and she actually remembered it, the model (Magaly) and the dress. She ate her lunch with her fingers and nibbled some of mine, too. At one point she suggested I not neglect the person to my left but I told her she was much more fun than anyone else there. She said she was the luckiest girl to have the most handsome guy as her lunch partner. I had to laugh because other than the waiters, I was probably the only guy at the table.

She awed me as a kid, helped me immeasurably as a new designer on the scene and astounded me  in her final years. That spirit she showed in the late 60's, 70's and to the present never flagged for a moment. The world was her oyster and we all were her Pussy Cats. She was a great Lady and a hell of a Gal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And what a contrast between HGB and the trolls in your last post!

Fluff, your social observations and commentary are priceless. Thank you for sharing this memory.