A Conversation With Lisa Birnbach

Hello-Hello, welcome to a Wednursday (Wednesday + Thursday) post, we are so swamped this shall have to count for two days.

Today we share our interview with the woman we call the Grand Pooh-bah of Prep, Lisa Birnbach, the author of True Prep.  Yesterday was the book’s official release date, and we still cannot believe she found time for an interview; some readers may recall Ms. Birnbach’s day started with an appearance on the Today show, and it only grew busier after that.

NBC Universal

To say we were flattered to even be on the interview list, let alone on the book’s first day, would transcend understatement. (We will share a little secret: at the last moment throwing on a strand of pearls seemed prudent, because after all, she *would* be able to tell through the telephone what we were wearing here at the Prepatorium, right down to the accessories.  Somehow. she. would. know.)

Ummm, not exactly. From the outset Ms. Birnbach was warm and witty, if anyone was wooden and stiff… well, yes. It was I. Me. Us. (Whomever, honestly Princess, get a grip!)

Sadly, our first question was truly tasteless, we asked the obvious, what (who) were you wearing on the Today show?  It turns out the ensemble was a combination of new and old, both the skirt and the blouse were Brooks Brothers (although we have to apologize for being a witless wonder right off the bat, one was Black Fleece and the other regular Brooks, but it appears we were quite incapable of properly noting which was which), and the shoes were older Manolos. (Because they are still perfectly good shoes.)

NBC Universal

Almost all of the jewelry was on loan from Verdura, including the Beehive Pendant Watch, not unlike the one shown below in a 2007 Christie’s catalog.

Via Christie's

Verdura is covered in Chapter 4, “I Just Found it in My Closet,” sure to be a favorite for most fans, as it covers the contemporary sartorial choices one confronts in clothing and accessories.  Ms. Birnbach explained a bit of the process for borrowing the jewelry, it is not something undertaken lightly.  As mentioned, not everything was on loan, the pinky ring worn by Ms. Birnbach was her own, marking the occasion of her son’s birth.

We only had one other matter to handle before getting into the meat of the interview, a minor issue we felt compelled to discuss before we could comfortably move into more intense conversation.

TP: “There is just one little thing I need to bring up before we move on, um…well….uh, it’s….ah, it’s just something that is very troubling, actually, it’s fairly traumatic, I think some people might classify it as bordering on tragic. I’m worried it might derail our whole conversation, but have to bring it up anway.”

LB: “Oh, really? What is it??”

TP: “The Top-Siders featured on the Today show this morning.”

LB: “The Top-Siders are tragic? How are the Top-Siders tragic?”

TP: “They’re metallic.”

(As a brief refresher, below we share a snippet from our post on the topic earlier this year:

“The women’s Original 2-Eye metallic boat shoe seen below is at Crew, offered in platinum.

J. Crew/Sperry Top-Sider

(TP has stepped away for the moment, she is struggling with the word ‘metallic’ adjacent to the words ‘boat shoe’.)”

There, enough of that tedious blather the background, now back to yesterday’s conversation.

Ms. Birnbach was gracious in responding to our angst about the shoes.

LB: “Susan, let’s talk about this, allright? I know what you’re saying, I really do. But the metallic Top-Siders are sort of like the bad boy in school. You remember? You knew he was not the guy for you, you absolutely knew he was not the guy, and you may even have been repelled by him, but at the same time, there was this attraction, something drawing you toward him. I think the Top-Siders are kind of like the bad boy.  I’m not saying you should get them. I’m just saying I’m open to new ideas.”

TP: “Oh. Okay.” (Heh, heh, heh.)

Of course that exchange was understood by both parties as being in jest. Fun. Funny. Entirely couched in humor, intended to be taken as such, and returned in the same vein.

And Ms. Birnbach is *very* funny, immediately grasping the enormity of a “Princess tragedies” on the level of a metallic Top-Sider. This was helpful, allowing us to feel safe bringing up the next crisis.

TP: Since we’ve dealt with the shoe, can we talk about the skull? Did you see the CBS Early Show Monday morning, that segment on hypothetical Preppy Fashion? They said ‘The new preppy icon is the skull.” What is up with that?!” (Insert a full blast of righteous indignation to achieve the proper sense of total outrage.)

LB: “The skull? No, no, no.  Just no.  The skull of course, is rugby.  And rugby and preps do go back. It’s the Jolly Roger pirate, it’s everywhere, Smathers and Branson have the pirate, all sorts of things have the pirate, the Jolly Roger is everywhere. But it isn’t the new preppy icon.”

Phew. Another close one.

For a sense of that CBS story, here is one line:

“After lying low in the nineties, preppy has once again reinvented itself, this time led by pop stars and gossip girls.”

Indeed.

During the interview we had a splendid talk about the breadth of choices available these days when looking at clothing and accessories, from relative newcomers like Smathers and Branson or Tucker Blair for needlepoint goodies, or Vineyard Vines, to old standbys like Brooks Brothers and Lilly Pulitzer.  The number of bright, gifted entrepreneurs now making things appealing to preps of all ages continues to grow.

The writer shared a story about her own preppy look from years ago when she had one of her very first jobs in the business, this one at the oh-so-liberal (the horror) Village Voice newspaper.  As might be expected, the style was très casual, everyone dressed down. Way, way down. What was a prep to do? Ms. Birnbach went wild, and purchased a Lacoste polo shirt. In black.

No one will be surprised to learn we had fun talking about the Anti-Prep Wall of Shame, we sensed unspoken approval of our existing members. For the uninitiated, this select group includes both humans (think Paris Hilton), as well as other entities (Abercrombie & Fitch) displaying gross negligence to standards of good taste, good manners, or basic decency .  The conversation moved on to the sorry state of what passes for “celebrity” these days.

“Doesn’t anybody miss the day when you actually had to accomplish something to be a celebrity? What is it that says being on a reality tv show makes someone a celebrity or authority on life?”

Amen.

We talked about the challenge of writing True Prep. It was not easy, the enormity of following an iconic book like The Original Preppy Handbook was more than daunting.

“It is scary to come out with this book, it really is.  The writing part itself, the sitting down and typing the words actually wasn’t the difficult part… it was the going through the day, trying to look at every single thing that could have changed in the last thirty years…that part was hard. I hope people have fun with it, I hope they enjoy it, I always worry.

We also chatted about what I perceive as the challenge of the upcoming book tour and other public appearances, almost everyone approaching with a “Why didn’t you include _____________________ in the chapter on preppy colleges?” Or, “I cannot believe you think that _______________ is preppy.”  Miss Birnbach explained that she is not saying absolutely, unequivocally, that a certain school, or community, or club, or sport, or item of clothing, or anything else is the “one and only.” Nor that it should be. And she also said she learns an awful lot when from questions and comments, she very much sees the process as a learning experience.

Again, we stress the fun factor, using the following as a brief example of the writing style:

On thrift:
Do keep repairing old appliances to try to extend their lives. Don’t store them on your front porch or driveway.”

It is very much like the witty irreverence found in TOPH back in 1980.

As far as we’re concerned herein lies the crux of the interview, as well as the new book, the old book, and the entire topic: this is not meant to be taken seriously now, nor was it ever intended to be.  A simple look at the book’s classification makes things clear.

humor, n.

  1. The quality that makes something laughable or amusing; funniness: could not see the humor of the situation.
  2. That which is intended to induce laughter or amusement: a writer skilled at crafting humor.

Both True Prep and its predecessor, TOPH (The Original Preppy Handbook) are meant to be humorous, one need look no further than the chapter and section titles: “Rehab: The New Boarding School,” “What Happened to Mummy’s Face?” and “Truly, Madly, Deeply Preppy: The Second Wedding.”

We didn’t have enough time to cover a few of our most whined-about issues favorite topics, like the documented increase in diagnosed cases of Logophobia, or the deplorable loss of civility accompanying all this new technology (need we even say the c— p—- words), nor were we able to get a verdict on things like Spanx, or an even bigger issue: the Snuggie. (What do you think of one for… oh, let’s say Groton, or perhaps Spence?)

In wrapping up the conversation Ms. Birnbach mentioned the possibility of another gabfest at some point in the future, something we would enjoy enormously. She is much more than fun, and bright, and sophisticated, she is simply a delight to spend time with.

Perhaps the best way to understand Ms. Birnbach is through her simple post last night on the True Prep Facebook page, an example of very few words saying quite a bit.

“I hope all of you enjoy the book. I’m under a lot of pressure to make you happy. I’m a giver, but I’m only one slightly used preppy woman. Hoping you all have a great DAY ONE. xLisa

One quick note before leaving, if there are questions you might have for Lisa, do leave them in a comment; we’ll gather them up in a bit and put them aside for a future (cross your fingers) conversation with Ms. Birnbach in the next few months.  Again, our thanks to Lisa Birnbach, and also to Sara at Random House, they made things fun.

Until next time, g’bye!

16 Comments

Filed under Lilly Pulitzer Paper & Gifts, Logos, preppy, Preppy clothing & brands, Preppy Fashion, preppy lifestyle, The AntiPrep, True Prep & TOPH

16 responses to “A Conversation With Lisa Birnbach

  1. Ohmy, those shoes.

    OHMY! that bracelet!

    Who better than you to conduct this interview? Kudos.

  2. Loved the interview! I can’t thank you enough for asking about the top-siders. So nice of you to clear that up for us: “like the bad boy…”, that I can work with.

  3. vickym

    Princess, you are a delight! Absolutely terrific post! Actually I would love it if Ms. Birnbach interviewed you!

  4. JINDLS

    I have a pair of gold metallic sperrys that admittedly have lost their shine in the ocean waters but i still love them for being decidedly unexpected.

  5. kiki

    amazing post. great fun. Bravo, PP! i look forward to reading the book. i do hope you get to interview her again. Ms. Birnbach also made me laugh this morning on the Today Show. she is a stitch. thanks for sharing and take care.

  6. How fun! What a thrill for Lisa B and You! Thanks for sharing. xoxo

  7. How fun! What treat to get to interview her. It sounds like it was such a great conversation, too. Congrats on another great post, sweet Princess!!

  8. quite the coup! congrats!

    xoox

    kHm

  9. LPC

    Congratulations to you TPP! Great interview. Are we even remotely surprised? Only you could make me actually go BUY the thing:).

  10. Love the interview!! Ms. LB is very funny indeed! I have to totally agree with you on the CBS morning show clip you posted. She started off the segment by saying..”these days anyone can be preppy”. Mistake #1. The only thing I liked on the show was the bucket tote and camel coat. The tommy hilfiger duck boots? No thanks, what was he thinking?

  11. Congrats for landing the interview -what fun!

  12. How marvelous that you got to speak with Ms. Birnbach, or more accurately, that she got to chat with our beloved TP!

    By the way, that book is an absolute riot. I particularly liked the section about household Staff, though I fear Pretty HQ is far behind in that regard. Bother.

    Thank you for including Birnbach’s wardrobe details, by the way; that beehive watch is just beyond. Though I confess I’m open to the idea of metallic boat shoes (!), so my judgment probably isn’t to be trusted …

  13. Fabulous interview, dearie. I’m hoping beyond hope to find a package on my stoop today so I can dive in and start reading.

  14. LillyxxGal

    I loved this interview! Just started reading the book and loving the humor. XOX

  15. Texas Tory

    I am a 38 year old Gen-Xer. I truly LOVED the original. I still have two copies of it, including a special hard case edition. But just as in the realm of film where sequels are often a disappointment, Lisa Birnbach’s sequel to her 1980 “Official Preppy Handbook” is a huge letdown. It is not nearly as funny or well organized as the original. It lacks sufficient illustrations and visuals. Also, the print is tiny and it crams too much into too many pages. The last straw for me–the book is politically correct prep at its worst. For one thing, it took gratuitous pot shots at President George W. Bush and obviously fawned over Obama. Additionally, Birnbach writes that President Reagan’s election was improbable. Huh? The Gipper won 40 states against Carter, and 49 states in his 1984 reelection. Indeed, the conservative Reagan era zeitgeist probably contributed mightily to sales of Birnbach’s original book. Thanks to Ms. Birnbach for ruining great feelings about one of my favorite 80s cult classics. Republican preps need not purchase this book. In sum and in preppy parlance, this book is not key.

  16. Great interview. However, I STILL hate those metallic topsiders. Yuk.

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