"See, this whole business thing is like a recipe," she continues. "Lara and Elizabeth are the flour, Lizzie's the eggs, Jen and I are the spices, Lauren is the milk, and Shari is the icing." She claps her well-manicured hands in glee. "And that's the best cake ever!" Move over, Spice Girls.
One balmy evening in late September, a few days after SoHo's newest hot spot, the Mercer Kitchen, opened its doors to the public, Lizzie Grubman threw a party there to launch America Online's new 4.0 software. AOL's Steve Case and Bob Pittman gave her the names of five guests they wanted to invite; she supplied the other 1,000 from her database of 10,000 VIPs, color-coded under categories like Model, Celebrity, Fashion, Junior, Older Social, Editor-in-Chief, and Clubbers. "Honey, this is a Lizzie party," she said proudly. "This is my crowd."
To the hip-hop beats of celebrity D.J. Mark Ronson, guests like Tony Shafrazi, Mark Green, and André Balazs sipped "the AOL drink" (a blue kamikaze) while chatting up Kylie Bax and the whole Lauren brood. Models like Frederique and James King clustered with ultra-buff club impresarios Mark Baker and Jeffrey Jah in a royal-blue anteroom to chat with well-wishers online; when it was over, local it-boys Stephen Dorff, Duncan Sheik, and Chris Cuomo went off into the night swinging metallic goodie bags.
A bottle blonde with a tough New York accent that belies her Upper East Side roots, Grubman counts the trendiest of trendy nightspots as clients -- Moomba, the Independent, Cafeteria, Shine, the Kit Kat Klub, all the Jet Clubs, and Spy Bar ("Okay, it's in stage two of a nightclub," she admits. "But it still makes buttloads of money"). Earnest and efficient, with the hyper-confident air that comes with growing up rich and well-born in New York, Grubman regularly fields calls from the likes of Cindy Adams and Liz Smith; the latter recently took her out for margaritas to get the scoop on the "young whippersnappers." "God, that was the biggest compliment of my life," says Grubman, who dreamed of becoming a gossip columnist as a child.
That she grew up bouncing on the knees of people like Tommy Mottola, John Sykes, Kool and the Gang, and Madonna -- all friends and clients of her father, the powerful music attorney Allen Grubman -- didn't hurt business, either, though she says her privileged background has sometimes been a bit embarrassing to her. When her father sent limos to pick her up from school, she'd insist that they stop a few blocks away. "I never wanted to have more than other kids had," she says. Her own friends include Ingrid Casares, Tommy Mottola, and model Jamie Rishar -- of course, they're all also clients.
Like many of the other Seven Sisters, Grubman attended exclusive city prep schools -- unlike most, she was asked to leave three (Horace Mann, Lenox, and Dwight) before graduating from the Tutoring School. The most popular girl in a fast crowd, Grubman spent afternoons in the Meadow and nights at Nell's, the Tunnel, or Club U.S.A., stuffing her bed with pillows before sneaking out of her parents' Park Avenue penthouse. Once at Northeastern University, she found herself more interested in promoting clubs than in studying, and dropped out after two years. "I was never a good student," she shrugs, digging into a blini at Cafeteria. "No one thought I'd ever amount to anything."
In 1997, after a brief, ill-fated apprenticeship to the publicist Nadine Johnson, Grubman started her agency from her living-room couch. She now employs a staff of fifteen. Last year, she opened an office in Miami, where she reps the Delano and Liquid, and will soon open one in Los Angeles as well.
"It makes me feel really good that I'm working with Bob Pittman," she says. Pittman became close to Allen Grubman in the early eighties, while he was president of MTV. "Now he's all, 'I remember you when you were this big!' And I'm all, 'You used to dunk me in the pool!' And here I am, doing something with my life. A success. His equal."
Watching Grubman expertly push De Niro next to The Artist for a photo op during Grubman's birthday bash for Ingrid Casares, even Madonna is impressed. "I don't know much about Lizzie's biz," she admits, pushing up her cowboy hat. "But she's had balls ever since she was a little kid. And if she's anything like her dad, she's a fucking bulldog."
For Shriftman and her ILK, the world can be divided into three classes: friends, best friends, and sisters. "Friends" are the editors, TV producers, and writers who promote her clients: For them, there are bouquets of tulips and free designer shoes and thank-you notes that she writes in curlicues in thick metallic marker. "Kevin West? I made him," Shriftman has boasted about the "friend" who happens to edit W's influential "Eye" column. ("I didn't know I had made it quite so soon," retorts West.) Friends are invited to come stay at her Southampton beach house -- last summer, a bunch of Harper's Bazaar editors almost drowned while frolicking with water weights in the pool.
A rung higher are "best friends": celebrities like Vivica Fox, for whom she just threw a birthday party in L.A.; Dennis Rodman's brief bride, Carmen Electra, who was Shriftman's "date" on Halloween; and Courtney Love, whom her partner Harrison "personally persuaded" to wear that white Versace gown at the Oscars. (Stylefile, a company Harrison and Shriftman started with 28-year-old Greg Link, acts as a middleman between designers and celebrity mannequins like Renee Zellweger.)
The people Shriftman calls B.F.F.'s -- best friends forever -- are daughters of the superrich: Serena Boardman, Lulu de Kwiatkowski, Patricia Herrera, Rachel Peters, Tiffany Dubin, Aerin Lauder. "Sisters," however, are a bit harder to define. There are some celebs in this category too, like Bijou Phillips ("my little sister"), for whom Shriftman bought a little white poodle, and author Candace "Candy" Bushnell ("my big sister"), who says that she used a composite of the girls as an aching-to-make-it character in Sex and the City. But mostly, sisters are publicists just like her. After all, it wasn't so long ago that these women were members of real sisterhoods -- nearly all held leadership positions in their college sororities.
But, like all sisters, they suffer from occasional bouts of sibling rivalry. When a crush of Shriftman's, Scott Lerner, brought "sister" Lauren London to a wintertime gala for Esteé Lauder, Shriftman was livid. "You can't bring her as your plus-one!" she squealed, banishing her competitor. "Nasty pig!" hissed London behind her back. Grubman and Shriftman have also locked horns, in this case over a professional matter: Months after Grubman started dating Andrew Sasson, the owner of the Jet Clubs, Shriftman lost the account to Grubman. The two didn't speak for a year. "I don't care if they call me a bitch for freezing her out," Shriftman complained at the time. "You don't just take someone else's account. That's, like, a total rule." Grubman insisted that everything was misunderstood. "Whatev," said Shriftman. "I have better accounts than Guido East."