All of Karen Kahn’s dreams seem to be coming true. She’s been honored with the fashion industry’s most coveted award, her marriage is thriving, and some very impressive money is being dangled in front of her in a proposed buyout. The only thing missing is what she craves most—a baby. When she receives the heartbreaking news that she’ll never be able to have a child, it feels like the doctor’s verdict has pulled a loose thread—and suddenly everything seems to be unraveling. Now she has to take a hard look at her life and figure out what really suits her and what doesn’t . . .
“This new novel by the author of The First Wives Club works at every level. An engaging, behind-the-scenes look at the fashion industry, it lays bare the frenetic pace, cutthroat competition and chronic backbiting of the world of couture. Also an engrossing family saga, it shows 40-year-old Karen, who is infertile, desperately trying to adopt a baby and, as an adopted child herself, searching for her birth mother. The narrative also offers a hilariously dark portrait of Karen’s immediate—and totally dysfunctional—family. A glittering New York social backdrop, plenty of namedropping, romance, some outstandingly creative characters . . . A book that fairly hums with excitement.” —Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Olivia Goldsmith’s first novel was The First Wives Club which was made into a successful Hollywood film. This was followed by Flavour of the Month, Bestseller, The Switch, Young Wives, Bad Boy, Insiders and Uptown Girl, several of which are in development as films. She died unexpectedly in 2004.
Read an Excerpt
Reaping What You Sew
Fashionably late, Karen Kahn and her husband, Jeffrey, walked past the flash of photographers' lights and into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue. Karen felt, for that moment, that she had it all. Tonight was the annual award party and benefit held by the Oakley Foundation, and Karen was about to be honored with their Thirty-Eighth Annual American Fashion Achievement Award. If she couldn't arrive fashionably late here, where could she?
Stepping through the lobby and into the deco brass elevator, alone together for the last moment before the crush began, Karen looked at Jeffrey and couldn't repress a grin. Soon, she'd be among the crème-dela-crème of fashion designers, fashion press, and the wealthy society women who actually wore the fashions. Despite all of her hard work, despite dreaming that this could happen, Karen could hardly believe that she was the woman of the moment.
"It's taken me almost twenty years to become an overnight success," she wisecracked to Jeffrey, and he smiled down at her. Unlike Karen, who knew she was no more than ordinary-looking, Jeffrey was handsome. Karen was aware that tuxedos make even plain men good-looking, but she was still taken aback by how much they did for a looker like Jeffrey, who was both sexy and distinguished in his formal clothes. A lethal combo. The gleam of the black satin of his peaked lapels set off his thick pepper-and-salt hair. He was wearing the cabochon sapphire shirt studs and cuff links she had given him the night before. They perfectly matched the washed-denim blue of his eyes, as she knew they would.
"Not a moment too soon," he said. "It's important to schedule your Lifetime Achievement Award before your first face-lift."
She laughed. "I didn't know that. Lucky it turned out that way. Although if I had the lift first, I might still be considered a girl genius."
"You're still my girl genius," Jeffrey told her, and gave her arm a squeeze. "Just remember, I knew you when." The elevator reached their floor. "And now, see how it feels to really hit the big time," Jeffrey told her.
Before the stainless and brass art deco doors opened, he bent down and kissed her cheek, careful not to spoil her maquillage. How lucky she was to have the kind of man who understood when a kiss was welcome but smeared makeup was not! Yes, she was very lucky, and very happy, she thought. Everything in her life was as perfect as it could be, except for her condition. But maybe Dr. Goldman would have news that would ... she stopped herself. No sense thinking about what Jeffrey called "her obsession" now. She'd promised herself and her husband that tonight was one night she'd enjoy to the utmost.
As the elevator doors rolled aside, Karen looked up to see Nan Kempner and Mrs. Gordon Getty, fashion machers and society fund-raisers, standing side by side, both of them in Yves Saint Laurent. "You'd think they could have put on one of my little numbers," Karen hissed to Jeffrey, while she kept the smile firmly planted on her face.
"Honey, you've never done glitz like Saint Laurent does," Jeffrey reminded her, and, comforted, she sailed out and air-kissed the two women. One was in an oyster white satin floor-length sheath with gold braid and a tasseled belt — a lot like curtain trimming, Karen thought. Perhaps Scarlett O'Hara had been at the portieres again. The other was in black lace shot with what looked like silver, though, since it was on Mrs. Getty, it must be platinum, Karen joked to herself. Both women took their fashion seriously: Nan Kempner had once admitted in an interview that as a girl she had "cried and cried" at Saint Laurent's when she saw a white mink-trimmed suit too expensive for her allowance. The legend was that Yves himself had come down to meet the girl who cried so hard.
The foyer was already crowded with the usual backdrop of men in exquisite black wool and women in every sort of fabric and color. Funny how men always clung to a uniform. Only the Duke of Windsor had the fashion nerve to wear colored formal wear; midnight blue rather than black. But if men didn't display much overt fashion, they certainly controlled this world. Despite her success, and the success of a few other women designers, Karen knew that the business was owned and controlled by men. And most of those in control were here tonight.
In addition, tonight there was a larger-than-usual gaggle of paparazzi. Fashion seems to have become the new entertainment, Karen thought, not for the first time, but it still surprised her. There was rarely a fashion event that didn't draw a wild mix of society, Hollywood, and the rock world. She controlled herself and didn't do a Brooklyn double take as she was pushed against Sly Stallone, who was there with his latest model. Paulina the Gorgeous stood beside her husband, Ric Ocasek. Clint Eastwood stood beside Frances Fisher, who looked great for a woman who'd just dropped a baby. The Elle Halle camera crew was also there, apparently busy trying to get a shot of Christie Brinkley. Billy Joel didn't seem to be with her, but David Bowie was there, with Iman. And that, Karen thought, was only in the foyer.
An enormous noise came from the ballroom itself, which was where Karen and Jeffrey were headed. In a matter of moments, Karen greeted Harold Koda from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, Enid Haupt, one of the wealthiest and most charitable of the New York doyennes, Georgina Von Etzdorf, another designer, and bald-headed Beppe Modenese, who worked to polish the Italian fashion industry's image in the United States. They passed Gianni Versace, standing next to his sister and muse, the impossibly blonde Donetella. And still Jeffrey and Karen hadn't yet made it to the ballroom. This event was definitely going to be a success, Karen thought, and she was happy not only for herself but for the fashion business in general.
"Well, the gang's all here." Karen smiled. "At least they didn't give a party for me where nobody came."
Before she had a chance to exult, they were interrupted: "Oh my, if it isn't Kubla Kahn," said a waspish voice behind them. Karen winced, turned around, and was staring into the wizened face of Tony de Freise, another Seventh Avenue designer, but one whose star was fading.
"It's Karen Kahn," Jeffrey corrected.
"Yeah, and it's a hell of a pleasure dome she's decreed," Tony sneered. Looking around, he paused, and his mouth tightened. "They did this for me once. Don't let it go to your head. They just build you up to tear you down." He shrugged and turned away. "See you on the slopes."
Karen sighed, but tried to keep her smile visible. There was professional jealousy in every business, but there seemed to be a little more jealousy in fashion. Karen wasn't sure why that was. Belle, her mother, had once described politics back in the teacher's room at grammar school by saying, "The fighting is so dirty because the stakes are so low." Perhaps the fighting in the fashion world had become so dirty because the stakes were so high. In the eighties, fashion had become global; the take was bigger than ever before, and it seemed as if the knives had been sharpened.
"Well, that was a pleasant omen," Karen whispered. "I feel like Sleeping Beauty at the banquet when the Bad Fairy appeared."
"Oh, forget the Bad Fairy," Jeffrey told her. "No one pays attention to Tony anymore."
"Yeah. That was his point."
Karen realized all at once that this new visability would also make her more vulnerable. Other designers could take shots at her now. There war those rare few who continued to go their own way. Bill Blass, probably richer than any other American designer (with the exception of Ralph Lauren), was always friendly, open, and noncompetitive. He'd been one of the first of the established fashion moguls to be nice to Karen. If his talent wasn't huge and his clothes were sometimes uninspired, he'd be the least offended to hear it. Geoffrey Beene, a true original, was another who went his own way. His clothes were inspired, an example of true artistry, and perhaps that was one of the reasons he was an iconoclast and always above the fashion fray. In school, Karen had learned a lot by simply looking at Geoffrey Beene's designs.
Karen smiled and decided to shrug off the de Freise incident. Now she'd have to face the rest of the mob. She and Jeffrey walked into the ballroom and were engulfed by their competitors and co-workers. There are nice people here, Karen reassured herself. Then she saw Norris Cleveland.
Karen tried to spend most of her time and energy in the workroom, out of the gossip and back-biting arena. She also tried not to compare herself or her work to anyone else. But if there was one woman in the business she disliked, it was the one approaching her right now. Norris Cleveland was, in Karen's opinion, worse than a bad designer. She was the kind of designer who gave fashion artists a bad name. She was lazy and derivative; the worst of her clothes were either dull or unwearable, but ... The "but" was that Norris had a genius for having friends in the right places and getting her parties, quips, nights on the town, and her newest line placed in all the right newspapers, magazines, and television shows. Of course, calling them her clothes was an act of charity: Norris stole a little from here and a little from there. Lately, it seemed Cleveland had been imitating Karen's style. The worst part was that she even copied badly! But Karen was determined not to let anything or anyone spoil the night. She smiled at Norris, or at least she bared her teeth.
Norris was as bad at business as she was at design, but a few years ago she had married Wall Street Money and her company had been saved by a new inflow of cash. If the word on the Avenue was true — that Norris's husband was getting tired both of writing checks and of being referred to as "Mr. Cleveland" — it did not seem to have dimmed Norris's smile tonight. She came at Karen with her arms open, revealing her painfully thin body encased in a sheath of yellow jersey. Now, as Norris made a kissing noise at each ear, Karen heard cameras begin to click. Somehow cameras always followed Norris Cleveland. Karen wondered if they were real press, or simply ringers on the society designer's payroll.
"Congratulations, darling," Norris said, in that breathy, exclusive-girls'-school monotone that was so prevalent among the ladies who lunched — a sort of Jackie Kennedy Onassis with emphysema. Norris had always been pleasant to Karen, but on some deeper level, she could feel the woman's envy and distaste. After all, Karen was nothing but an upstart. "I'm so pleased for you." Yeah, right. Norris then turned to Jeffrey and put her hand on his arm. "You must be very proud," she said to Jeffrey, and for some reason, when Norris said it, it sounded like an insult. Cameras flashed again, and Karen wondered if she'd be cropped out of the picture when it ran in Town and Country.
Jeffrey just laughed. "Norris! What a dress!" was all he said.
She kept smiling. "Well, you're not the only ones celebrating tonight. Have you heard? I'm about to launch my perfume."
God, how much money did her husband have to throw away? Karen wondered. A perfume could not be launched for less than ten or fifteen million dollars. A good launch cost triple that. And only the good ones lasted.
Karen hated the perfume business. It was a cash cow for a lot of the fashion merchants, and had been since Coco Chanel invented the deal, but it was well known that it had brought only money and pain to Coco. Still, it would be perfect for Norris. Without feeling a moment's guilt, she could sell packaging with her name on it to desperate people who vainly hoped for romance.
"Best of luck," Karen murmured, and was delighted when Jeffrey moved her forward. "I hate her," Karen told her husband out of the corner of her mouth.
"She knows that," he answered.
Karen and Jeffrey moved smoothly through the crowd. It was wonderful, even hard to believe. Everyone said hello to her. She was definitely the Cinderella at this ball. And if she had spent most of her life on her knees in her workroom, tonight was the reward, the recognition for all that work.
"Serious Money ahead," Jeffrey whispered, and nudged her. "A pillar of the community."
Bobby Pillar, the guy who had singlehandedly created a new television network and was now launching his own shopping channel, was moving toward them. Karen had met him once or twice before, but now, beaming, he approached her, his hand outstretched. "The It Girl!" he cried, and instead of shaking her hand, he hugged her close. She was surprised, but after all, he was Hollywood. Always trendsetters, they'd given up air-kissing in the nineties — it was replaced with full frontal assault. Now Bobby surveyed her proudly, as if she was an invention of his own. "So? When are you going to create a line for me?" Karen shrugged, but smiled. There was something bamishe about Bobby. He was warm, familiar, and very, very Brooklyn. "Not tonight," she told him.
Bobby laughed. "We ought to talk," he said. "You ought to see the kind of numbers I'm talking about."
Jeffrey said his hello, someone else greeted Bobby, and then Karen and Jeffrey were free to vender off. When they were out of earshot, Jeffrey turned to look back at Bobby. "Can you imagine?" he said, outraged. "The guy is selling schlock jewelry and polyester pull-on pants. I don't care if he's desperate to upgrade, he's not dragging your name down. Look what happened to Cher, and she just did an infomercial."
Karen shrugged. "Still, it's nice to be asked." She certainly didn't consider the attention an insult. Her husband was a cutie, but he was also a snob. Of course, he could afford to be — his family was wealthy, German Jews with more than enough money in Manhattan real estate. He'd gone to private schools and had always been part of a more glittering world than she had. He'd always been sought after while Karen was just a girl from Brooklyn.
She wasn't interested in socialites. The people in the room tonight — the ones who actually attracted her, who fascinated her — were the other designers. She wanted to talk with them. Yet those she respected always made her feel shy. And although tonight she was being recognized by them, there was not a lot of camaraderie in the fashion world. While she admired Valentino's gowns, and sometimes appreciated the exuberance of Karl Lagerfeld, she couldn't imagine hanging out with them. They spoke at least four languages, knew all the best restaurants in all the best cities, owned palazzi and villas, and went to the opera for fun. Karen couldn't imagine them seeking out her company to split a Diet Coke and a rice cake.
Three of the fashion "walkers" congregated against the doorway. John Richardson, Ashton Hawkins, and Charles Ryskamp were successful in their fields. Cultured, attractive bachelors, they accompanied society women to events like this when their own husbands were too busy or too tired or too dead. No matter what their age, it seemed that society women required events to go to, escorts to take them, and dresses to wear. Sometimes Karen wondered at it, but it did sell gowns.
Slowly she and Jeffrey continued to make their way through the crowd to their table, where Defina Pompey was standing, tall and majestic as an ebony column. Karen and Defina had worked together for more than a decade. Fifteen years ago Defina had been the hottest runway model of the season and now, even with Linda Evangelista standing not too far behind her, Karen could see why. Her friend was still gorgeous, more beautiful than Beverly Johnson or Naomi Campbell on their best days. Today, when it was truly unchic to do a show without several black models, it was hard to remember that it was this woman who had broken ground for all women of color. Defina was deep in conversation with a painfully skinny, intense young woman dressed in black and an elegant Italian-looking man — Defina had a gift for languages and spoke flawless Spanish, Italian, and French, but she still knew how to communicate with the homeboys.
Defina looked across the table and flashed a smile at Karen. She was wearing a white silk jersey gown that Karen had designed for her. With it, Defina wore the wrap jacket that did great things for any woman who wanted to camouflage a thickening middle. Defina, in the days since she'd left modeling, had broadened and matured in all senses of the words.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fashionably Late"
Copyright © 1994 Olivia Goldsmith.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I remember this being trashy fun. And that's about it.
i enjoyed this book,however there were WAY to many details on unimportant topics. Goldsmith goes to great measures just to describe a chandelier. otherwise, the book was a great read, just to wordy.
The author is relying too much on the same type of characters, especially the handsome, charming, but ultimately untrustworthy man. There ARE plenty of attractive, heterosexual and honorable men out there; maybe they're just not in New York. Also making yet another appearance is the gay male confidante who carries the heroine along when her 'real' man lets her down. I don't think this book matches the quality of either Flavor of the Month or First Wives Club. But part of my disenchantment stems from the sloppy editing; incorrectly spelled words ('weedle' instead of 'wheedle') and quotation marks popping up in the wrong places. Plus too much white space on the pages when compared to the other novels mentioned above, as if the author and/or publisher is trying to con the reader into thinking the book has more heft than it really does. The book came across to me as a formulaic rush job to get more royalty bucks in the bank. Still, it's not a bad read, just a little too predictable.