Friday, August 17, 2012

That time I interviewed Helen Gurley Brown.

Namedropping alert! Most of you don't know about my sordid past in television, but today's blog is about that time I went to interview Helen Gurley Brown, RIP. (I may have been just assisting on the interview. I can't remember exactly, as it was 10 years ago and my journal is in storage. But anyway...)  We were producing a documentary on Giorgio Armani, and Ms. Brown was one of our talking heads.

I've never been a fashionista, but Ms. Brown's name was a name I'd known for years. You can argue all day long about whether she was a feminist, but you can't argue with her influence on women or her power as a businesswoman. I'd read Ms. Brown's books, magazines, articles, had prepared questions, and was ready for the interview -- except in one respect.

What the hell does one wear to talk with the International Editor-in-Chief of Cosmo about Giorgio Armani?

If you're me, and all your clothes are vintage-before-vintage-was-cool (or rather just "old"), and you make $22,000 a year living in Manhattan, well, you borrow something. Now my job wasn't exactly a The Devil Wears Prada thing where there's a back room full of name-brand samples. I borrowed a dress from a friend because I knew I had shoes that matched the dress perfectly. Both the dress and the shoes were in that strange plaid tan, white, and red plaid I always saw the dashing old men wearing around their necks and under their raincoats.

Here is where you say to yourself, "Oh, Burberry plaid, of course."

Did I mention I've never been a fashionista? Yeah, I had no idea what Burberry was. I'd even acquired an umbrella in that same pattern -- a gift from someone I'd been dogsitting for while they were in London. I thought it was rather weird that they were so excited to present me with a plaid umbrella, but it was well-made and very useful.

So when my friend offered her plaid dress, and I had matching shoes, AND a matching umbrella, I thought, "Right! This'll do."

From the minute I showed up to work that day, it started. "Hey, Burberry girl!" said the receptionist. "Ooooooh, lookin' sharp, Burberry," whistled my cubicle-mate. And a few other comments. I wasn't quite sure I'd heard the words right, until I'm sitting in Helen Gurley Brown's office at Cosmo. After a quick introduction and chit-chat about growing up in the South (she was from Arkansas), she winks at me and says, "Love the Burberry!" I grin and thank her, but still have no idea what the hell she's talking about. Is there some famous movie called Burberry where the main actress dresses how I've accidentally dressed? Is "burberry" just fashion code for having a perfectly coordinated shoes, dress, and umbrella? Is it "Burr Berry" and it's a color?


Anyway, the interview went well; Ms. Brown was sharp, professional, and spoke in soundbytes. My favorite quote was pre-tape when the sassy 78-year-old unbuttoned her shirt, exposing a lacy bra to the soundman who had asked her to clip the microphone to her collar. "Why don't you do it?" she grinned.

As for me, I made it back to the office just in time to ask my cubicle-mate who the hell Burberry was.
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