THE TALK WITH PLUM SYKES

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

What could be better than an afternoon tea with Oxford alumnus, muse and friend of Alexander McQueen, contributing editor to American Vogue, brilliant author and my personal idol, Plum Sykes. To say that I wasn't nervous would be a lie. Plum Sykes modeled for Alexander McQueen, graduated from Oxford, wrote three novels and works closely with Anna Wintour, nevertheless her pleasant demeanor and positive attitude was so infectious, it made our talk the most enjoyable.

Victoria "Plum" Sykes was born in London, one of six children of dress designer, Valerie Goad and father, Sir Mark Sykes, 6th Baronet, diplomat who represented Great Britain in the Sykes-Picot negotiations.

Our tea time took place at Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco, just before Plum's book signing event at Burberry San Francisco store, where she made a stylish appearance and chatted about her new book, 'Party Girls Die in Pearls'.

Juliet: You were a fashion writer for a long time working for first British Vogue, then American Vogue.

Plum: I worked for American Vogue since 1997. Long time, twenty years. I worked for them full time and I am still a contributing editor.

Juliet: What motivated you to start writing books ?

Plum: I've always loved writing since I was a child. I wrote stories for school, but I never had any confidence about it at all. Sometimes still my confidence is really low. My grandfather was a writer, he was in a very literary circle in England. He wrote historical biographies. He was very witty, funny and very clever man. A lot of my family wrote and we know a lot of writers, so for me it wasn't something new. My mother was a fashion designer, so the fashion writing came naturally. I mean when I went to Vogue, I didn't have to go to Saint Martins to learn about fabrics, I already knew all of it from growing up.

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Juliet: You started as an intern for British Vogue?

Plum: Yes, I started out as an intern writing for British Vogue for a month and then I got a job with them. I was in my early twenties. When I turned twenty seven I moved to an American Vogue.

Juliet: How did the idea about writing a book come up?

Plum: This is my third book . The first book came up after writing about a lot of Park Avenue princesses for the magazine. It was so funny and so entertaining that I thought, hmmm, maybe I can turn this into a book and soon after Bergdorf Blondes became my first book.

Juliet: I've read from one of your interviews that it was Anna Wintour who gave you the idea for writing.

Plum: I was writing a column for the magazine that was about these girls and Anna said to me, "This could be a book one day".

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Juliet: Party Girls Die in Pearls is based on your experience while being a student at Oxford University?

Plum: Apart from the murder. (laughing)

Juliet: Is this a murder mystery book?

Plum: One of the critics described it as Clueless meets Agatha Christie. So, it's actually is a comic murder mystery. It does have the murder mystery, but it's not particularly dark. Even the murder scene is Glamorous. I wasn't wanting to write something that was very, very dark, very frightening book. I basically wanted to write another sort of high society comedy.

Juliet: Can you share your experience during your time at Oxford, which are source of inspiration for the book?

Plum: The book is about two girls who arrive for their first weekend at Oxford and they are expecting lots of books and ball gowns, and they come across a body. Their mission is to solve it. Along their way, they go to lots of parties, black tie, white tie, champagne and all that stuff. When I arrived to Oxford back in 80's I was hoping that it was going to be very social and it turned out that it was far more social that I could possibly imagine. It was obviously lots and lots of work, but there was lots and lots of socializing and lots of parties, and it was very glamourous.

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Photo by Rommi Linnik for Joliegazette.

Juliet: Were there a lot of snobby people at Oxford?

Plum: I wouldn't call them snobs, necessarily, but they were definitely posh. There were a lot of very privileged private school kids. The majority, particularly in the 80s, which was the time when I was there, were like, the ultra, ultra privileged British. In a way, as a subject to write about, that made it more amusing to write about. It wasn't politically correct. There were far more man, than women, that kind of stuff, but it did mean that it was the fun thing to write about. There were lots of kinds of Sloane Ranger kids and kids who wanted to look like the Kingsroad girl.

Juliet: Are characters Ursula and Nancy based on any real life characters?

Plum: My daughter's name is Urusla. She is only 10. But it's not really based on her. I would say the Ursula character is an English country girl. She is my kind of English Country girl alter-ego and Nancy is a New York girl and she is my kind of New York girl alter-ego as well. All these characters come from your own heart. Particularly with an American girl, I went to research to know what it's like for an American girl to go and study in London. Because it seems so weird to them when they come there, they go "Oh My God!" . Everyone in American college wear sweatpants and sneaks, but it's very different in London. It was really fun talking to some of these American girls who've done that. They loved the dressing up part, they absolutely loved dressing up.

Juliet: It's surprising to know, as you don't see much enthusiasm in American girls to dress up in colleges here.

Plum: There were so many parties in the evening and everyone would dress up. If everyone else is doing it, you would start doing it too. One girl I spoke to, American girl, she had to get an entire evening wardrobe so she could go to Oxford University.

Juliet: There is definitely a difference between European girls and American girls.

Plum: Yes, big difference.

Juliet: Talk about the murder part? Is it based on a true murder at Oxford?

Plum: Funny enough there was one case while I was there. There was a case of a student who had killed his girlfriend. And I think maybe when I was thinking about that, I wanted to do this book set in Oxford, there must have been some atmosphere that was coming back to me, that I was thinking I want this book to be a comedy, but I want it to be a bit spooky too.

Juliet: Who are some of the other authors do you relate to, love?

Plum: I love reading Agatha Christie. I love watching CSI, America's Most Wanted. I love comic books, like Nora Ephron, but I also do love true crime stories. I love Stephen King. So, in a way it was a progression from my other books which were comic novels. I was thinking can I add murder mystery and still keep it a comedy and I actually think it's still really is a comedy. The girls who are reading it, the feedback that I am getting is that they love it.

Juliet: Your style is incredible. Whose style, designers are you loving right now?

Plum: Obvioiusly I am wearing a lot of Burberry at the moment. I love Burberry, I love Christopher Bailey. I also did a party in New York with Zac Posen, I love his work. My style for the daytime is basically a uniform. I am always in some kind of pair of jeans. Right now I am wearing Rag & Bone, J Brand. I love MAJE. These shoes, by the way, are from Rothy's and they are made of recycled water bottles. They are so comfortable and you can put them in the washing machine. In the really classic part of me, there is a tailor in London, called Henry Rose, who I found through Stella McCartney, he used to work for Stella. If I need a jacket, he'll make a jacket for me. In the last 15 years he's made four suits for me. I love to have a really proper jacket and I am much more likely to buy a jacket from him now, than a brand.

Juliet: What about emerging designers. Who is your favorite?

Plum: In Vogue this month, they wrote about this fashion collective. It's not Vetements. The guy behind it is Christophe Decarnin, who was behind Balmain before Olivier Rousteing. They are very cool. I don't own any of their clothes, but I am in full admiration for them. Today the brands have gotten so big and so impersonal, but now it's all about personality again. There is another designer who I really love is called Anna Mason London. Just like the books. I always read new authors, but I love the traditional. I love to read my Jane Austin, but I'll try a new book as well.

Juliet: Do you reference Fashion in your books?

Plum: A lot. There is lots and lots of reference to 80's fashion. In fact, the clothese are almost a character in a book, because the American girl has this incredible 80's party wardrobe that she's got at Bloomingdale's and it's all about yellow ball gowns with polka dots, very 80's. The funny thing is, when I was writing about it, it felt like I was writing about clothes from now. Those 80's clothes keep coming back. The fashion icon for the American' girl character Nancy in the book is Ivana Trump, because back in the 80's she was such a fashion icon with those big shoulder pads. There is lot of reference to hair and makeup. It was really, really fun to write about.

Juliet: Every writer dreams to bring their book to life. Would you want to see one of your books on big screen one day?

Plum: Of course! It would be a dream to see it on big screen. But it's years and a lot of money and a lot of people invovled who really have to believe in it.

Juliet: What advice would you give to a new writers today?

Plum: New writers have to be internet savvy, very savvy about social media and they've got to be able to write long and short pieces.

Juliet: What is next for Plum Sykes?

Plums: I am promoting my book in England. Then I am going on a holiday to Hamptons and to Ireland as well. Then sometime in September I will start writing a sequel to Party Girls die in Pearls . I will continue writing for Vogue throughout all of this of course. I feel like I've slightly neglected my Vogue stories because I was so busy with the book, so I wll try and write more for Vogue again.