15 MAY 2004, Page 85

Manhattan manners


New York

Thank God for Anna Wintour. For any of you living deep in the shires and unaware of her name, Anna is always referred to by the British tabloids as the Queen of New York', despite the fact that she never uses the royal we, and has been known to get embarrassed when people from, say, Iowa curtsy to her. She's a good old English girl whose father used to be editor of the Evening Standard, and a very good editor to boot. Anna has been the big cheese at Vogue (in the Bagel) since always, or so it seems. The Brit tabloids also refer to her as 'nuclear Wintour', for she does not suffer unfashionable fools gladly, especially know-nothing, scruffy tabloid reporters sniffing around for a story. Last week I sat next to her at a dinner given by Robert De Niro and Graydon Carter and asked her about Plum Sykes, the flavour de jour nowadays because of her book about dumb Bagel blondes looking for rich hubbies.

I had read that Sykes had taken up airs — you know the kind: slightly bored, spoilt and turning up her nose at those she sees as her inferiors — and I was planning to give her a drubbing. Not so, said Anna. Mind you, Sykes works at Vogue, but I believed her boss. 'Don't forget, the English hate success,' said Anna, and Bergdorf Blondes, la Sykes's opus, has been doing quite well. Where Plum blew it was in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph. She was quoted as prattling on about how 'dreadfully inaccurate and unprofessional the English press is'. Absolutely correct, as far as I'm concerned, but a dumb thing to say when trying to sell a book. (Actually, it's something I would say, but then I'm not known for my salesmanship.)

Be that as it may, Sykes only left herself

open when she ventured on to literature. American lit, that is. She confused Truman Capote with the great F. Scott Fitzgerald, akin to collating the Wehrmacht with the Kuwaiti army. Never mind. Bergdorf Blondes is no Breakfast at Tiffany's, and it's certainly no Great Gatsby. It's a fun thing to read on the beach, if you like reading fluff rather than looking at girls, that is. What I liked was the way in which English hackettes described Plum Sykes, her opus and her New York world: 'Hers is a Bible for the fabulously wealthy ... No society soirée is possible without her ... The social cachet that surrounds her is such that there is scarcely a television talk show in which she does not feature ... ' and so on.

Actually, it's all balls. Society is dead in the Bagel, murdered by greedy Wall Street and Hollywood types who bought their way into the charity circuit back during the Eighties. The Wasps had beaten an ordered retreat sometime during the Sixties and Vietnam. Out went the Winston Guests and Jock Whitneys, in came the Henry Kravises and Ron Perelmans. Out went style and restraint, in came glitz and conspicuous consumption. Interior decorators became arbiters of taste. and PR hucksters arbiters of civility and manners.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. Out went the Cushing sisters and in came the Hilton ones. Babe Paley never again spoke to Truman Capote once the tiny terror betrayed her and her circle in his thinly disguised novel Answered Prayers (unfinished). Paris Hilton would have got her daddy to give Capote a hotel had she been born earlier. Nowadays, young Manhattan women tape themselves while masturbating and simulating oral sex and email the videos to men they find 'hot'. This is what we've come to. It's the Paris Hilton effect, and the girl has become a star because her boyfriend — a gentleman of the old school — had the bright idea to sell the video of the two of them doing what comes naturally. Exhibitionism has replaced every other -ism, including solipsism, in the Bagel.

But then the English tabloids speak of society. Shome society, as old Winnie would have said. When I was growing up — OK, it was very long ago — women bettered themselves by learning the piano or improving their minds. Now a Manhattan broad betters herself through plastic surgery. Femininity and grace have been replaced by women behaving like male louts — to the detriment of both sexes, I might add. Where once upon a time women provided a civilising influence, now they provide the culture of the strip joint. All one has to do is turn on the idiot box and listen to the talk shows. Monosyllabic, moronic, so-called celebrities spout inanities that would drive the Marquis de Sade to Mount Athos for life. It is depressing, but there it is. Modern Manhattan man nets. Actually, I'll take those of Madame Claude's any day.

Incidentally, I wrote last time that Genevieve de Galard, the angel of Dien Bien Phu, had lived to a ripe old age. Well, she's still around, and last week President Chirac decorated her and the great cinematographer Pierre Schoendoerffer (La 317eme section), marking the 50th anniversary of the battle. My friend Jean Claude Sauer, an old Indo-Chinese hand, informs me that Genevieve is full of beans and has all her marbles. For once, good news.