Julie K. L. Dam
Some Like it Haute
Interview by Lisa Radon
This, then, is a diary of a mad, clad-in-black woman — a fashion writer at a newsmagazine, a magna cum laude in Manolos. To misquote Descartes: I shop, therefore I am.” – Alex on the Some Like It Haute (somelikeithaute.com) weblog
As accident-prone as she is shoe-obsessed, fashion journalist Alex is sent to Paris to cover women’s ready-to-wear shows where she does everything but in Julie Dam’s new book, “Some Like It Haute.” Alex bumps into her high school French teacher, meets the man of her dreams, gets the scoop on the designer story of her career and takes her Texas momma to her first couture appointment. Along the way she gets her 15 minutes of fame (of the worst possible kind) by blundering onto a runway and flattening a supermodel, floods her hotel bathroom, charges an entire Prada wardrobe to her expense account and discovers her crush is (uh-oh) on a reality t.v. show on which he’s charged with deceiving a mansionful of models into thinking he’s royalty and gaining weight to win his hand.
Lucky for us, Alex is smarter, more self-aware and 37% less annoyingly neurotic than your average chick-lit protagonist. Both in the book, and on her Some Like it Haute Weblog, launched by Alex’s creator, first-time novelist and People senior editor Julie K. L. Dam, Alex is at pains to explain to her man and to the rest of us that she is “smart … and shallow.” It’s likely that legions of women for whom following fashion perhaps a bit too closely is a top-shelf guilty pleasure will relate.
At the same time, whatever SLIH has to say about the life of a smart, shallow, modern girl, there are a few bits in the sub-plots that are worthy of a first-time espionage novel. It gets to be a bit kitchen sink, including a miracle dress, the disappearance of an Esperanto-speaking designer, shady surveillance, thugs in a warehouse and a supermodel disappearing in South America. All of this Alex takes with a general lack of gravity (putting off searching for a missing designer until after her mom’s couture appointment, say) …oh right, smart and shallow. Still, SLIH is an entertaining ride.
Papierdoll talks to Julie Dam on the eve of the publication of her first novel “Some Like It Haute.”
Papierdoll: How much of Some Like It Haute is autobiographical. You worked for “Time” … were you in London? Did you cover collections?
Julie Dam: I covered fashion for “Time” from fall 1997 to the beginning of 1999, that included covering women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and couture.
Papierdoll: In the book, the main character Alex says she’d “…fallen into my current job after the last fashion writer quit… [winning the job over other writers because] to quote Posh Spice, I was Posh compared to the rest of them.” Is this how you started writing fashion?
Julie Dam: I always loved fashion. When I started at Time, I let them know I was very interested in fashion. I was doing arts and entertainment. Then the fashion writer died in 1997. And the editor of the European edition, where I was at the time, was very interested in doing more fashion. I was the one there who was interested … and who wore nice shoes.
Papierdoll: Has the fiction been something you’ve wanted to do all along. Did you go to journalism school?
Julie Dam: I studied history and literature.
I always have loved writing. In high school, I wrote sappy, sad short stories. In back of my mind, always wanted to write a book. Then this idea and opportunity came about. I thought, let’s try it, maybe it will be fun. And it was a lot of fun.
Papierdoll: There’s a passage in the book where Alex says “covering fashion full time, as my day job, well, that makes me feel like my life has taken a turn for the inconsequential and the asinine.” And both in the book and on Alex’s Weblog (http://www.somelikeithaute.com), she talks about being “smart and shallow.”
Julie Dam: I’ve come to totally embrace my shallowness.
Papierdoll: How does book fit into that?
Julie Dam: The book is an homage to all the girls out there who are really into fashion but follow current events too.
Papierdoll: I write about arts and culture like you did, and I’m sometimes embarrassed to tell say, a gallerist or cultural mover-and-shaker that I also write about fashion.
Julie Dam: I had that hangup. Now that I’ve covered fashion for four or five years now, and now that I’ve covered celebrities, I’ve gone so far down that road but don’t even care any more. [Dam covers music and celebrity weddings as Senior Editor for “People” magazine. “Britney, Beyoncé, you know,” she says.]
After 9/11, I was at “People” and we did a couple issues that were just about 9/11. We got a ton of letters complaining that there was no puzzler. It made me realize that there’s room for fluff in the world…that in a way we need a break from all the rest of it.
Papierdoll: Then there’s the “Call me smart — and shallow” post on the Some Like It Haute weblog.
Julie Dam: I wrote an entry on the blog about smart and shallow last summer. I got so many responses from people, more than for anything else. And they were all saying, “Me, too.”
Papierdoll: Did you start the Weblog when you had the novel in the bag? Or were you working on them concurrently?
Julie Dam: I wrote book in 2003, sold it in 2003. It took time to get published. So I had time to prepare. I decided to do the blog to promote it. Actually it was my boyfriend’s idea, so I have to give him credit. And I decided to do it in the voice of the main character.
Papierdoll: So even with the novel done, you were still writing in Alex’s voice on the blog. Is it fun to be her?
Julie Dam: I have to confess that the closer I’ve gotten to publication, and the busier I’ve gotten, the more Alex is like me. For the first four months, it was like: this is Alex, this is her own thing. More recently, it’s a little more about Julie. It’s weird that I’m starting to talk about myself in third person. So an entry will start with kernel of what I did, I went to a sale today, and then she goes back and buys like 10 pairs of something.
Papierdoll: In “Some Like It Haute,” Alex says, “I often found it helpful to pick footwear and work up from there.” On your Weblog there is always a crappy photo of your/Alex’s shoe choice for the day with every post, so is this is how you operate? Do you work up from the shoes?
Julie Dam:I often do that. Definitely days I want to wear a certain pair of shoes and work around it.
Papierdoll: About this ideal dress you talk about in the book, of knitted suede, that it “Lifted like a Wonderbra, floated like a fairy wing.” I wanted to ask you…
Julie Dam: Where can I get that?
Papierdoll: No, Is there a designer that you think is approaching creating this kind of amazing dress.
Julie Dam: Well Roland Mouret a while back, the Galaxy dress that everybody was obsessed with was an example of that. I’m not covering fashion any more so I’m not as on top of it.
Papierdoll: What’s up with Lainey? This knitwear label is mentioned multiple times on the blog and in the book.
Julie Dam: I’m obsessed with her. I’m wearing a Lainey today. She’s the reason I met my agent. It’s all good karma. She’s thanked in the acknowledgments of the book. The way I met my agent, you couldn’t predict how our meeting would end up. She was Lainey’s publicist. I was going to do a story on Lainey so contacted the publicist. I never did the story. I bought a lot of Lainey. Then the publicist became a literary agent.
I had wanted to write a much differe
nt book, an angsty book, one that would take me five years to write. It was around the time that the Devil Wears Prada came out. And my agent was like, “Write about what you know. Make it fun.”
So I did. And it was.
Papierdoll: What do you think about the chick lit label?
Julie Dam:It gets such a raw deal. It’s a stigma for some people. I like chick lit, or I like a lot of it. I know that there’s this attitude people have toward it. We found this to be the case that in places like “Publishers Weekly,” if you’re even reviewed, and if they don’t completely insult you for writing chick lit, then you’re doing okay.
Papierdoll: What are your fave fashion rags?
I’m so busy, I don’t have time to read any of them. I flip through them. Does flipping count?
Papierdoll: Yes. In a visual world, flipping counts.
Julie Dam:V”ogue,” “Harper’s Bazaar,” “Allure.” I really like “Allure.” We get “InStyle” here in the office and, of course, “W.”