“Assistant” is a bit of a catchall term. Sure, assistants schedule meetings, take notes, and retrieve coffee, but they can also act as a quasi-concierge, sending fruit baskets to top clients and buying gifts for partners. In an effort to unearth the highly specific material needs of powerful people, we sat down with 25-year-old “Leah,” who previously worked as an executive assistant to one of the most powerful and recognizable fashion-magazine editors working today. We spoke with her about the price-on-request stationery, exclusive Milanese pastries, and famous-coiffure-enhancing dry shampoo her big-name boss kept in big-time supply.
Leah’s boss is highly adept when it comes to maintaining relationships, and “gifting is part of that,” she says. Leah quickly learned that the size of the gift was always informed by how important the connection was. In practice, that meant putting more time and effort into gifts for the people in her boss’s life who might prove useful (like a “difficult celebrity she might want to be on the cover”) over those she simply felt obligated to stay in touch with. The latter group would receive the still-nice-but-stock-standard floral arrangements, and not the “let me do three hours of research”–type presents.
Most often, Leah says she’d order white roses or peonies from florist Michael George, spending around $200 per arrangement. If the flowers were for someone even more special — cover stars, actors, musicians, models, designers — Leah would place a call to floral designer Nicolas Cogrel. Cogrel’s staff would tell her what was in stock, put together an arrangement, and then send a photo to the editor’s team for approval. Sometimes her boss would give feedback on the color or placement of the flowers, but generally, she trusted Cogrel’s judgment, because “they’re very good at their jobs for a reason.”
Leah’s boss sent handwritten notes as a standard practice, always on monogrammed cards special-order from Cartier. A Cartier spokesperson told us the house only sells the bespoke stationery from its Fifth Avenue flagship, and that the service involves collaborating with the client on the look and feel of their letter-writing materials. A traditional set of ten standard engraved cards and envelopes runs $230, while a custom job can range in price based on the weight of the paper chosen, embossing, and so on.
One season during Milan Fashion Week, the editor brought back a tin of these pastries, asking Leah to send them to one of her good pals. Leah says the editor hand-carried the box herself and managed to avoid cookie breakage by asking the hotel for bubble wrap. (Impressive, considering that the variety pack of 12 types of pastries weighs in at almost 20 pounds.)
[Editor’s note: Pasticceria Marchesi lists its prices in euros, so this is an approximation to U.S. dollars.]
Around the holidays, Leah’s boss would occasionally task her with sending out panettone from Sant Ambroeus, the legendary Milanese restaurant in New York City. Described as “a delicately sweet leavened bread traditionally filled with candied orange, citron zest, and raisins,” the festively wrapped domed treat would be picked up by Leah and delivered to friends and acquaintances via the publishing company’s private messenger service. Leah says no more than three panettone would be given per holiday season (the only time they’re available), as her boss liked to diversify gifts. According to Leah, Sant Ambroeus’s Madison Avenue location was also a popular spot for the editor’s power breakfasts, usually with industry contacts (and always with a definite agenda). “I don’t think she would waste her time if there wasn’t any chance of a deal working out,” she says.
A few seasons ago, Gucci gifted guests CSA boxes from New York food purveyor Farm to People. After that presentation, Leah’s boss began occasionally sending produce instead of flowers. This swap was reflective of pandemic-induced changes the editor made to her gifting customs. While Leah’s boss had always wanted to show that she’d put some thought into a present, during COVID, “there was definitely a greater importance assigned to it,” Leah says, adding that the editor stepped up her personalized-note game even more when it came to checking in on friends. This also meant selecting relatively affordable, “safer” gifts she knew the recipient would like (she “didn’t want to go out on a limb and order something crazy”), versus a higher-price-point item that might not be the easiest to exchange or return, especially if it was being sent to L.A. or the Hamptons.
Despite having access to a never-ending supply of beauty freebies (and a steady stream of brand gifts), Leah’s boss only required one hair product be available to her at all times (plus one non-grooming item).
Because Leah’s boss is known for her hair, the one personal-styling product she had to keep on hand was this Oribe dry shampoo. Leah says the editor tried to stash at least one can in every single bag she carried to add shine and keep her blowout looking fresh between appointments. The editor would go in for a color and cut every three to four weeks and worked with two or three stylists for major events.
Leah says she kept Hershey’s Kisses and mini Reese’s Cups in stock for her boss to grab a handful of when she walked out of her office. And because Leah herself became very attuned to aesthetics while working with the editor, she would stick to the original silver Kisses rather than venture into seasonal colors.
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