Shopaholic to the Stars
Rosewood Center t 3rd St. t os Angeles, CA 90048
Dear Mrs. Brandon,
Thank you for your letter. I’m glad you enjoyed your recent visit to our store.
Unfortunately, I cannot comment on whether the woman shopping at the MAC counter on Tuesday was “Uma Thurman wearing a long dark wig.” I therefore cannot tell you “exactly which lipstick she bought” or “whether she’s just as lovely in real life” or pass on your note “because she must want a friend to hang out with and I think we’d really get on.”
I wish you all the best for your forthcoming move to Los Angeles. However, in answer to your other query, we do not offer introductory discounts for new residents of L.A. to “make them feel welcome.”
Thank you for your interest.
Customer Service Department
Inner Sanctum Lifestyle Spa
6540 Holloway Dr. • West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dear Mrs. Brandon,
Thank you for your letter—-I’m glad you enjoyed your recent visit to our spa.
Unfortunately, I cannot comment on whether the woman in the front row in your yoga class was Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m sorry that it was hard to tell because “she was always upside down.”
I therefore cannot pass on your query as to how she achieves “such a perfect headstand” or whether she has “special weights in her T-shirt,” nor can I pass on your invitation to an organic tea with kale cakes.
I’m glad you enjoyed our gift--and--lifestyle shop. In answer to your further question, should I meet your husband in the street, rest assured I will not tell him about your “tiny splurge on organic underwear.”
Thank you for your interest.
Achievement Manager (Eastern Arts)
Beauty on the Boulevard
9500 Beverly Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dear Mrs. Brandon,
Thank you for your letter.
Unfortunately, I cannot confirm whether the woman browsing at the La Mer stand was “Julie Andrews in dark glasses and a head scarf.”
I therefore cannot pass on your comments “How hot was Captain von Trapp in real life?” or “I’m sorry I sang ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ at you; I was just very excited.” Nor can I pass on your invitation to “come round for a fun sing--along with apple strudel.”
In answer to your further inquiry, we do not throw “Welcome to L.A.” parties or offer free gifts to new arrivals, not even teeth--whitening kits to “help them fit in.” However, I wish you every success with your imminent move to L.A.
Thank you for your interest.
Sally E. SanSanto
Customer Service Consultant
OK. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
I’ll escape from this. Of course I will. It’s not like I’ll be trapped here in this hideous confined space, with no hope of release, forever . . . is it?
As calmly as possible, I assess the situation. My ribs are squashed so that I can hardly breathe, and my left arm is pinned behind me. Whoever constructed this “restraining fabric” knew what they were doing. My right arm is also pinned, at an awkward angle. If I try to reach my hands forward, the “restraining fabric” bites into my wrists. I’m stuck. I’m powerless.
My face is reflected, ashen, in the mirror. My eyes are wide and desperate. My arms are crisscrossed with black shiny bands. Is one of them supposed to be a shoulder strap? Does that webbing stuff go round the waist?
Oh God. I should never ever have tried on the size 4.
“How are you doing in there?” It’s Mindy, the sales assistant, calling from outside the cubicle curtain, and I start in alarm. Mindy is tall and rangy, with muscled thighs that start three inches apart. She looks like she probably runs up a mountain every day and doesn’t even know what a KitKat is.
She’s asked three times how I’m doing, and each time I’ve just called out shrilly, “Great, thanks!” But I’m getting desperate. I’ve been struggling with this “Athletic Shaping All--in--One” for ten minutes. I can’t keep putting her off forever.
“Amazing fabric, right?” says Mindy enthusiastically. “It has three times the restraining power of normal spandex. You totally lose a size, right?”
Maybe I have, but I’ve also lost half my lung capacity.
“Are you doing OK with the straps?” comes Mindy’s voice. “You want me to come in the fitting room and help you adjust them?”
Come in the fitting room? There’s no way I’m letting a tall, tanned, sporty Angeleno come in here and see my cellulite.
“No, it’s fine, thanks!” I squawk.
“You need some help getting it off?” she tries again. “Some of our customers find it tricky the first time.”
I have a hideous vision of me gripping the counter and Mindy trying to haul the All--in--One off me while we both pant and sweat with the effort and Mindy secretly thinks, I knew all British girls were heifers.
No way. Not in a million years. There’s only one solution left. I’ll have to buy it. Whatever it costs.
I give an almighty wrench and manage to snap two of the straps up onto my shoulders. That’s better. I look like a chicken trussed up in black Lycra, but at least I can move my arms. As soon as I get back to the hotel room, I’ll cut the whole thing off myself with a pair of nail scissors and dispose of the remains in a public bin so Luke doesn’t find them and say What’s this? or You mean you bought it even though you knew it didn’t fit? or something else really annoying.
Luke is my husband, and he’s the reason I’m standing in a sports--apparel shop in L.A. We’re moving out to Los Angeles as soon as possible because of his work, and we’re here on an urgent house--hunting trip. That’s our focus this week: Real estate. Houses. Gardens. Rental agreements. Very much so. I’ve only popped to Rodeo Drive very, very quickly between house appointments.
Well, OK. The truth is, I canceled a house appointment to come to Rodeo Drive. But I had to. I have a genuine reason for needing to buy some emergency running clothes, which is that I’m running in a race tomorrow afternoon. A real race! Me!
I reach for my clothes, grab my bag, and walk stiffly out of the cubicle to see Mindy hovering nearby.
“Wow!” Her voice is bright but her eyes are shocked. “You look . . .” She coughs. “Awesome. It’s not too . . . tight?”
“No, it’s perfect,” I say, attempting a carefree smile. “I’ll take it.”
“Great!” She can barely hide her astonishment. “So, if you want to take it off, I’ll scan it for you. . . .”
“Actually, I’ll wear it.” I try to sound casual. “Might as well. Can you put my clothes in a bag?”
“Right,” says Mindy. There’s quite a long pause. “You’re sure you don’t want to try the size six?”
“No! Size four is perfect! Really comfy!”
“OK,” says Mindy after a silence. “Of course. That’ll be eighty--three dollars.” She scans the bar code on the tag hanging from my neck, and I reach for my credit card. “So, you’re into athletics?”
“Actually, I’m running in the Ten Miler tomorrow.”
“No way!” She looks up, impressed, and I try to appear nonchalant and modest. The Ten Miler isn’t just any old running race. It’s the race. It’s held every year in L.A., and loads of high--profile celebrities run it, and they even cover it on E! And I’m in it!
“How did you get a place?” Mindy says enviously. “I’ve applied for that race, like, every year.”
“Well.” I pause for effect. “I’m on Sage Seymour’s team.”
“Wow.” Her jaw drops, and I feel a spurt of glee. It’s true! I, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood), am running on the team of a top movie star! We’ll do calf stretches together! We’ll wear matching baseball caps! We’ll be in Us Weekly!
“You’re British, right?” Mindy interrupts my thoughts.
“Yes, but I’m moving to L.A. soon. I’m out here to look at houses with my husband, Luke. He has a PR company and he works with Sage Seymour,” I can’t help adding proudly.
Mindy looks more and more impressed. “So are you and Sage Seymour, like, friends?”
I fiddle with my purse, delaying my reply. The truth is, despite all my hopes, Sage Seymour and I aren’t exactly friends. In fact, the real truth is, I still haven’t met her. Which is so unfair. Luke’s been working with her for ages, and I’ve already been out to L.A. once for a job interview and now I’m out here again, finding a house and a preschool for our daughter, Minnie . . . but have I even glimpsed Sage?
When Luke said he was going to work with Sage Seymour and we were going to move to Hollywood, I thought we’d be seeing her every day. I thought we’d be hanging out by her pink pool in matching sunglasses and going for mani--pedis together. But even Luke hardly ever seems to see her; he just has meetings with managers and agents and producers all day long. He says he’s learning the movie business and it’s a steep learning curve. Which is fair enough, because previously he’s only advised financial companies and big conglomerates. But does he have to be so resolutely non--starry--eyed? When I got a tiny bit frustrated the other day, he said, “For God’s sake, Becky, we’re not making this huge move just to meet celebrities.” He said “celebrities” like he was saying “earwigs.” He understands nothing.
The great thing about Luke and me is that we think alike on nearly everything in life, and that’s why we’re so happily married. But we have just a few teeny points of disagreement. Such as:
1. Catalogs. (They are not “clutter.” They’re useful. You never know when you might need a personalized kitchen blackboard with a dinky little bucket for the chalk. Plus I like reading them at bedtime.)
2. Shoes. (Keeping all my shoes in their original boxes forever is not ridiculous; it’s thrifty. They’ll come back into fashion one day and then Minnie can wear them. And, meanwhile, he should look where he’s stepping.)
3. Elinor, his mother. (Long, long story.)
I mean, here we are in L.A. The home of celebrities. They’re the local natural phenomenon. Everyone knows you come to L.A. to see the celebrities, like you go to Sri Lanka to see the elephants.
But Luke didn’t gasp when we saw Tom Hanks in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire. He didn’t blink when Halle Berry was sitting three tables away at The Ivy (I think it was Halle Berry). He didn’t even get excited when we saw Reese Witherspoon across the road. (I’m sure it was Reese Witherspoon. She had exactly the same hair.)
And he talks about Sage as if she’s just another client. Like she’s Foreland Investments. He says that this is what she appreciates about him: that he’s not part of the circus. And then he says I’m getting overexcited by all the Hollywood hoopla. Which is totally untrue. I am not overexcited. I’m exactly the right amount excited.
Privately, I’m disappointed in Sage too. I mean, OK, we don’t exactly know each other, but we did speak on the phone when she was helping me with a surprise party for Luke. (Although she’s got a new number, and Luke won’t give it to me.) I would have thought she might be in touch, or invite me round to her house for a sleepover, or something.
Anyway, never mind. It’ll all come good tomorrow. I don’t want to boast, but it’s totally due to my own quick wits that I’m in this Ten Miler race. I just happened to be looking over Luke’s shoulder at his laptop yesterday when a round--robin email came in from Sage’s manager, Aran. It was entitled First come first served and read: Dear friends, there’s a last--minute place available on the Ten Miler team due to an injury dropout—-anyone interested in running and supporting Sage?
My hands were on the keyboard, pressing reply and typing, Yes, please! I would love to run with Sage! Best wishes, Becky Brandon, before I was even aware I was moving.
OK, so maybe I should have consulted Luke before pressing send. But it was “first come first served.” I had to act fast!
Luke just stared at me and said, “Are you nuts?” Then he started going on about how this was a proper race for trained athletes, and who was going to sponsor me, and did I even possess any running shoes? Honestly. He could be more supportive.
Although, actually, he has a point about the running shoes.
“So, are you in the movie business too?” Mindy asks as she hands me the receipt to sign.
“No, I’m a personal shopper.”
“Oh, OK. Which store?”
“It’s . . . actually, it’s . . . Dalawear.”
“Oh.” She looks taken aback. “You mean, the store for—-”
“Older women. Yes.” I lift my chin. “It’s a great store. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait!”
I’m being super--positive about this job, even though it’s not exactly my dream. Dalawear sells “easy--wear clothes” for ladies who rate “comfort over style.” (It actually says that on the poster. I might try to persuade them to change it to “comfort as much as style.”) When I went to the interview, the woman kept talking about elasticated waistbands and washable fabrics and not once about directional fashion. Or even fashion.
But the truth is, there aren’t that many personal--shopping jobs popping up in L.A. at the last minute for a newly arrived Brit. Especially a Brit who may only be in the country for three months. Dalawear was the only store that had an opening, because of a maternity leave. And I rocked the interview, though I say it myself. I enthused about their “all--purpose floral shirtwaist” dresses so much, I almost wanted to buy one for myself.
“Can I please buy some running shoes too?” I change the subject. “I can’t exactly run in these!” I gesture at my Marc Jacobs kitten heels with a little laugh. (For the record, I did once climb an entire mountain in a pair of shoes just like these. But I mentioned that to Luke yesterday as proof of my athletic ability and he shuddered and said he’d blanked that whole incident from his memory.)
“Sure.” Mindy nods. “You’ll want our technical store, Pump! It’s right across the street. They stock all the shoes, equipment, heart--rate monitors . . . Did you get a biomechanical assessment in the UK?”
I look at her blankly. A bio--what?
“Talk to the guys across the street; they’ll get you set up.” She hands me a carrier bag holding my clothes. “You must be super--fit. I’ve worked out with Sage Seymour’s trainer. She’s hard--core. And I’ve heard about the team regimen. Didn’t you, like, go to Arizona for training?”
This conversation is unnerving me a tad. Hard--core? Team regimen? Anyway, I mustn’t lose confidence. I’m perfectly fit enough to run a race, even if it is in L.A.
“I haven’t been on the regimen exactly,” I admit. “But obviously I have my own . . . er . . . cardio . . . program . . . thing. . . .”
I’ll be fine. It’s just running. How hard can it be?