Vogue contributing editor Plum Sykes is much goofier than you'd expect of someone so immaculately composed. Over breakfast last week, in between large bites of her chocolate croissant, she did impressions of the following people, complete with funny voices: Detmar Blow, her 5-year-old daughter Ursula, Fox News' Shepard Smith, and her husband Toby Rowland. While it's no surprise that she's the kind of woman that people love to hate — she's beautiful (in her 20s, she modeled for Alexander McQueen), smart (she graduated from Oxford), and successful (she wrote the best-selling novels Bergdorf Blondes and Debutante Divorcees) — it's impossible not to contract her girlish enthusiasm for everything from her new Rag & Bone jeans to her $20 velour bathrobe. While she cut back on writing projects to have her second child last year, she proclaims herself "back to work now," and has just put out a short autobiographical piece for Amazon, titled Oxford Girl, about her first year in college. We caught up with her last week about her distaste for "chick lit," her work for Vogue, and Kate Middleton's wedding dress, which has earned comparisons to her own.
Aside from the personal pieces you've written for Vogue, this is your first autobiographical work. What made you decide to do it now?
I've actually always wanted to write something about being at Oxford, because it was such an extreme little world and it's such a good setting. I also wanted to write about the habit that people have in college or high school of being snobs, because I thought that was amusing. It's very, very snobby. And although it wasn't very nice, I thought it was one of those funny things that people might enjoy reading about.
Do you miss New York?
It never changes, and I'm back quite often. I mean, there's a few new restaurants that I haven't been to, but they'll hopefully close before I have to go to them.
Where do you shop when you come here?
The things that I really love in America are the cool sportswear things that you really can't buy in London. Or if they do come over to England, they're really expensive. Like these Rag & Bone jeans, if I bought them in England, they'd be at least twice as much. I also love Vince, and I love Earnest Sewn. I always love going to Bergdorf — the makeup floor there! I went to Bergdorf for like, five hours the last time I was here. I didn't even buy anything; I was just like, "Oh, this is so nice!" Sometimes I go to Jeffrey.
So you live in London and have a house in the country as well?
Actually, we rent a farmhouse from Detmar Blow, Issie Blow's husband. He's got this beautiful estate in Gloucestershire with all these funny fashion people renting houses. Hamish [Bowles] had one, Stephen Jones, Philip Treacy, Lulu Guinness, and they're all in this tiny area. They're not all on [Detmar Blow's] land, but it's all in the same area, because I think Issie attracted a lot of them. It's very bohemian and very wild.
Are you working on any new novels at the moment?
I'd actually started writing a third novel, but I then got pregnant and I had another baby, and so that novel is on a shelf right now. Also, when I was pregnant, I was very ill. During and after the pregnancy I had this really weird thing called vertiginous migraine, and it makes you lose your balance. I basically had to take a year and a half off of work, give or take a few months. I had to do a lot of rehab to get my balance back, standing on one leg and that sort of thing. So I've really only been back to work since February.
But you're doing quite a bit of work for Vogue right now.
Well, Anna [Wintour]'s been very loyal, and even when I was really ill, she was like, "Come to New York. I've found you a neurologist," and she was really kind to me. So although I do want to start the next book, I also want to pay my dues, so I'm writing as much as I can for Vogue at the moment. And I do get some amazing stories, and it's very hard to say, "Oh, I'd rather sit in my room and write a book than go and meet Tom Ford." But I think maybe in the fall, I'll start a new book.
What will it be about?
I want to write a sort of country house comedy, set in the eighties. After writing Oxford Girl, I thought, I should do it in the eighties because I know that. Also, I want a book that could become a series. I spend lots of time going to country-house parties, and it's given me so much inspiration. Especially Detmar [Blow], who is hilarious. Like, the other day, he had Easter lunch for ten people at his house. And he had Mara [Castilho] there, his girlfriend, who's the mother of his son, who he'd just broken up with. So he got up and he made this speech, and he said, "Do you know, I feel a bit like a sperm donor sometimes. Mara's just broken up with me, and I'm really, really upset. She's just moved all of her things out of the house." And she's sitting right there!
What do you think of Bergdorf Blondes, looking back on it now, particularly in light of the recession?
I still love Bergdorf Blondes. I just know it's a really funny book, even though it's probably very dated now, because it was so much of that moment — the blonde, Park Avenue princess of 2002. You couldn't write it now. But hopefully the jokes last, although I don't know if the fashion jokes will.
I know that you're not a fan of the term "chick lit" — do you still get annoyed when people categorize your books as such?
To be honest, all female authors have this problem of being categorized as "chick lit," just because you're a woman writer. And I always was like, "No, I'm writing a social comedy." And guess what — I really hate chick lit! I can't stand it. I hate all those bad versions of Bridget Jones's Diary. I thought Bridget Jones's Diary was an amazing book, and I thought that Sex and the City was an amazing book, but the other ones of the chick lit genre ugh.
There's also this stigma that women who are into fashion must not be very bright.
I know. Most of them aren't though, let's face it.
That's true. But some of them are very smart, especially women at the top of the industry.
Yes. But most people hate to think that someone could be clever and glamorous. I just think it's jealousy. A lot of people try to diminish anyone who's pretty by saying, "Oh, they're probably stupid." Which is terribly unfair; when someone's ugly, you don't say, "Oh, they're probably clever." But I always wondered to myself whether those dismissive things are invented by men or invented by women. I think a lot of the time it's invented by men who are threatened by very good-looking, very successful, intelligent women. They don't know how to compete with them, so they just say, "Oh, it's because they're pretty or they slept with the boss." But having said that, when you look at top, top companies, there are very few women. And it's because, if you want to have children, it's hard.
You were a commentator for Fox on the royal wedding. How was that?
You know what's so funny? I cannot believe the number of people who were like, "I saw you on Fox!" And I was like, "You watch Fox?" and they're like, "Yeah, it's my guilty secret."
A lot of people have been comparing Kate's dress to your wedding dress.
Have they? Oh good! I was really pleased that she chose Alexander McQueen because it made her look like she's got great taste. And a lot of our royals, I'm afraid, put out an international reputation of dressing like a sort of garden party gone wild. Princess Anne, for example, looked adorable but completely mad.
What's a typical day like for you?
I write from about 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. from home. I never do any writing in the afternoon. I always do something different, like go for a walk or something, because it's too intense otherwise. Or I do an interview. But with writing, I just treat it like a job. I'm not very airy-fairy about it. I only ever plan to write say, 500 to 1,000 words a day. You don't need to do any more than that if you do it well. And if you do any more than that, it's probably crap. If I wrote 2,000 words in three hours it'd be pretty much rubbish.
You're probably not one of those types to write in your pajamas.
To write, I probably wear what I'm wearing now. My Rag & Bone jeans. Although the other day I interviewed Tom Ford, and I came back and was like, "I just need to relax." So I put my dressing gown on before went up to my desk, and I was really productive. It was like, a really fluffy velour dressing gown from Marks & Spencer. My husband's like, "That is made of completely synthetic material, and it costs $20." And I love it!