Before Sephora’s laid-back, kid-in-a-candy-store approach, the Saturday circulars were our makeup siren songs. For my grandmother, it’s Elizabeth Arden. My mother gravitates towards the French-styled powerhouses Lâncome and Estée Lauder. I have had more serious relationships with Clinique and Origins than with some boyfriends. We bellied up to department-store makeup counters to buy whatever moisturizer or mascara we were devoutly loyal to, just enough expenditure to earn the “free gift with purchase,” a handful of soon-to-be-discontinued lipsticks and trial-size experimental cleansers in a seasonal case (kicky canvas stripes for summer, quilted black vinyl at Christmas). Between the three of us, we have enough of these useless teensy bags to outfit a small army of traveling mice. My mother has an entire drawer of never-worn lipsticks, all in uniform black Lâncome cases, so you have no idea what color they are without uncapping and rolling up each tube. We trade them like baseball cards.
So how could I resist the gossipy glamour of Jean Godfrey-June’s new exposé, Free Gift With Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup? Godfrey-June started at fashion bible Elle, writing her iconic “Godfrey’s Guide,” and was quickly (and, by her own admission, rather naively) promoted to beauty editor. Now the beauty editor at runaway success Lucky, a completely different style of magazine, Godfrey-June relishes dishing on the ruthless behind-the-scenes drama at Elle and is perhaps a bit too enthusiastic about her current gig. But her time at Elle provides some of the book’s best moments, between thinly veiled characters like “The Playboy” and “Above the Fray.” and the outright dropping of names like “Donald Trump” and “Courtney Love.”
Godfrey-June’s candid memoir of the beauty world’s seduction is sometimes superficial, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and constantly meandering. She has a messy, complicated relationship with the purpose of fashion and beauty magazines and their influence on American women, both defending and debunking their mysteries.
She chronicles her own ugly-duckling history, what it’s like to be surrounded by supermodels and overly perfect magazine fashionistas (the “Conde Nasties,” as Gawker.com calls them), and being caught between her decidedly unglamorous scientist mother and tomboy daughter. Her hatred for focus groups, plastic surgery, and PR events like “acne breakfasts” are interspersed with real beauty advice that can only have been gleaned from the vantage point of a front-row seat at the last two decades of beauty evolution.
If you are a discerning junkie of either the magazine-publishing or fashion and beauty worlds, or if your life has ever been changed by a bad makeover or the perfect shampoo, Free Gift With Purchase is your summer poolside read. And if you ever get jealous of her great job, peek at the inside back cover. Godfrey-June looks reassuringly very much like you.
- Leigh Baldwin