City Pulse

By Gillian Weeks

Christmas shopping can make even the most steadfast consumer seek professional help. In this case, a New Yorker’s best option isn’t a shrink and a box of Kleenex (for once), but rather the sound advice of Jose Parron, an “expert in the art of gift selection.” Last night, I joined a crowd of well-coifed shoppers in Barney’s Penthouse for a gift giving tutorial and personal shopping spree. I came away with some great tips, a mild buzz, and a couple shoplifting accusations – all in all, my average night.

Jose presented a smorgasbord of gifts that promised to take any relationship to the next level, whether that’s a wedding ring or raise (hopefully not both). I distilled his suggestions into several key points to keep in mind before you break out the plastic.

1) One-of-a-kinds. Get that precious cache with limited edition, personalized, or specially-restored pieces. Jose recommended vintage Rolexes, available at Barneys. If it’s hard to get, you gotta have it.

2) Wearable luxury. I like shiny objects as much as the next slack-jawed shopper, but sometimes it’s good to be practical. Get the best of both worlds with low-key fine jewelry (think smaller gems and simple settings). After all, if you’re gonna spend that much you’d better be wearing it every day. Diamonds always look great on the treadmill.

3) Flash dance. Just when you thought it was time to retire your off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, it turns out the eighties are back and ready to extract some spandex-coated vengeance. It’s all about the leg warmers, says Jose. Practical, stylish, and suitable for impromptu dance-offs, this gift will thrill any urbanite – permed or unpermed.

4) Don’t forget the met-sex. Jose reminded us not to forget the men in our lives this Christmas, declaring that “men like gifts even more than women.” A bold claim, indeed. Whether you buy it or not, make sure you remember to pamper your main men. This includes good leather, classy shaving products, and cashmere in all the right places. Even your average dudes like to be gentlemen sometimes.

One final word to the wise: next time you’re browsing at Barney’s, make sure you remember to take off all the accessories you happened to try on. After modeling some necklaces, I was strong-armed by some salty event coordinators who feared I’d make off with the goods. I guess making it into the Penthouse doesn’t mean making it into high society.

The Barney’s Penthouse event was presented by Indigo LLC, which provides custom-designed experiences for people interested getting to know the city in extraordinary ways. See their website for more details: www.indigoexperiences.com.

Bag Hunger
By Lauren Baccus

Whether or not you’ve ever stood behind (near, around, or at even arms length of) a Bushie endorsed initiative, this holiday season you too can feel free to promote the latest W campaign without getting your electoral frilly things in a twist. In perhaps one of the more congenial relations between one of those Texas titans and the UN, Honorary Spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program, Lauren Bush, has leant her strong support and clout to their Feed Bag project.

By purchasing just one bag, one child is fed and educated for a year. By investing in one little $50 accessory (that, face it, you would have bought anyway), you actually give a child hope in a world where 300 million go without proper nutrition. To understand how important this project is, consider this: hunger and malnutrition kill more people than AIDS, malaria and TB. Combined.

Besides being just a funky bag, designed by Polo Ralph Lauren to boot, the WFP Feed Bag is a bag with a purpose. Out of all the gifts you can give this holiday season, get the one that reminds you how powerful a little kindness can be. And throughout the year, as you carry the bag, remind others to do the same. It may be the one thing we all agree on.

For more information, order forms and pictures, log on to www.worldfeedbag.org and to find out more about World Food Program ventures, go to www.wfp.org.

A Beautiful Mistake: Greed can be an ugly thing in the business of beauty
By Allison O’Rourke

Last week, Molly Freidman, an assistant beauty editor at ALLURE magazine, was fired for allegedly calling up various companies in the industry and requesting products that had not yet been released to stores (this is a common practice, and is, in fact, how product launches are promoted) and then selling them on eBay. The news was splashed everywhere, even on The New York Post’s infamous Page Six, complete with the editor’s name in bold face type. Beauty departments all over the city were buzzing with chatter about the incident. Given the reaction, you would have thought she’d been spiking face creams with paint thinner.

As journalists, our ultimate goal is getting the “scoop” on new products and services, and building relationships with beauty companies is a crucial part of this. When that trust is compromised in any way, not only does it damage the credibility of all editors, it makes it more difficult for us to do our jobs without our intentions being questioned.

This latest drama just adds to a dilemma that has for some time been facing editors in the beauty industry. When free products are constantly being thrown at editors in exchange for editorial coverage, how do we ensure that all of this “beauty booty” doesn’t taint journalistic integrity?

Even in my young career in magazine publishing, I have been privy to a number of instances where editors have been let go for basically becoming “product whores”. No, that doesn’t mean turning tricks for the hottest new eyeliner pen. It’s actually a well-known tale in the industry: people getting the axe for hording samples and free beauty products for themselves. Even a low-rung editor can build up quite an arsenal. However, in this case Freidman sought to make a profit for herself by actually hawking the goods on eBay. It’s one thing to build up your personal beauty closet; it’s quite another to turn it into a cottage industry.

Still, the most fascinating part of this saga is not the alleged incident itself, but the industry’s response to it. The beauty business and its editorial arm have been shaken to the core.

A former beauty editor and current beauty industry executive explained that, while she isn’t shocked by the incident, it does create problems for writers down the road. “The editor, if she did do what she was accused of, broke the trust that exists between the media and the beauty brands,” my source observed. “We are happy to share things months in advance, but it’s a ‘for your eyes only’ situation. Giving a product to your mom or sister before it hits stores is one thing; selling it on eBay or giving it to a competitor is something totally different.”

A source in the fragrance industry was glad to see the troubling mystery solved. “We have been puzzled for months as to how our new releases would end-up on eBay, long before they were ever sold in our doors. After finding-out about Molly Freidman’s dismissal for just this issue, we got our answer.” Reflecting on the implications of the incident, our source commented, “It is sad that this editor’s career was ruined, but we hope that it will be a wake-up call to the industry as a whole and open-up a discussion re: how to responsibly handle extra products that don’t make it onto a publication’s pages.”

Though the quantities of products an editorial department receives can be overwhelming, as journalists and editors, we are given the responsibility of seeking out the best, most worthwhile products for our readers. It’s something short of a holy quest, but it still demands as much integrity as the business beat.

Originally published December 2006
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