A “BRAND” NEW YOU
As a star, it’s important to be instantly recognizable, even when you’re hiding in plain sight in a baseball cap and sunglasses. What is Gwyneth without her beautiful blond locks? J.Lo without her bodacious butt? Gwen Stefani without her steel midriff bared? Celebrities are like boxes of cereal—packaged and promoted to offer a consistent, bite-size message, so that everything from the clothes they wear to the color of their hair is a reflection of their particular trademark.
The first order of business on your search for the spotlight is to start thinking of yourself as a product, a commodity, and a brand. Witness the golden arches of McDonald’s. Every time you see the giant yellow M in the sky, you know you deserve a break today. You, my friend, will need to acquire your own set of golden arches, that certain je ne sais quois that will make people think—even subconsciously—of you every time they see it. The trick is being true to yourself—and possibly coming up with a fabulous stage name (flirt with prestigious identifiable brand names like Kennedy or Rockefeller, or think about adding “Von” or “de” before your last name to give it an upper-crust spin).
You also need to be original. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the public can spot a cheap knockoff a mile away (Although for some reason boy-band amnesia seems to set in every five years; the success of ’N Sync was spawned from the Backstreet Boys, which in turn was coded from the DNA of New Kids on the Block, which really stemmed from New Edition, a total reproduction of the Jackson Five). Take it from us, the Fame Highway is littered with celebrity roadkill: starlets and also-rans who never elevated themselves from the Blond Clone Army to Hollywood Heaven.
If you don’t want to become a bloody mess, discarded like yesterday’s trash, your brand must be strong—and likable. In private you can be as quirky, odd, and contradictory as you want. But in the public eye, your brand should always come first. Whether it’s the calling cards you hand out at a party, the type of drink you order at a bar, or the kind of car you drive and the esoteric monikers you name your kids (Demi Moore named her three daughters Rumer, Scout Larue, and Tallulah Belle, for heaven’s sake!), you need to adopt a larger-than-life persona and live it to the hilt.
Exhausting? Maybe. But Hugh Hefner didn’t become Hef without his silken PJs and breast-implanted accessories.
This chapter will help get you started by teaching you to establish your brand name. We will delineate the types of personas you can adopt (nothing like a little multiple-personality disorder amongst friends). Once you pick your MO, we’ll show you how to use it to your advantage and keep up appearances, from creating a business card and letterhead to assembling your own press kit, honing your personal celebrity style, bulking up your social calendar to its desired A-list status, and asking for what you want without making apologies for it (it’s called being high-maintenance, and nothing’s wrong with that).
Be warned, all of this may come with possible public humiliation, but that’s to be expected. Renée Zellweger didn’t have us at hello until she made at least a dozen films that flopped, including Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1994.
THE BEGINNING: ACQUIRE THE FAME PERSONA
THE NAKED TRUTH
I was Rollerblading down Second Avenue on a sunny Monday morning. At Forty-second Street I stopped at a red light. I didn’t spot any oncoming cars, so I decided to go. The second I started to roll, a Volvo came from out of nowhere and clipped my left leg. I went flying back toward the curb, but I was in so much shock that I got right back up. Hordes of people surrounded me, asking if I was okay. “I’m fine. I’m fine. I have to go to work,” I said.
“You’re not going anywhere,” a woman said in a high-pitched, anxiety-ridden voice that led me to believe she was very concerned. “You’ve been hit by a car.” I looked down. My left leg was bleeding. I thought: Oh, my God, my leg is bleeding. Then I thought: Oh, my God, I can see my leg. My pants had gotten caught on the fender of the car that hit me . . . and ripped off my body . . . completely! And I wasn’t wearing underpants! (I know, I know, Mom always says to wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident . . . and I had none!)
I was standing on Forty-second Street during morning rush hour, wearing nothing but Rollerblades and a T-shirt. It was mid-August. No one had a jacket to lend me. I was horrified (though I did sport a very fierce Brazilian bikini wax). I cried, “I’m not wearing any pants!” like a madwoman until the ambulance came to my rescue with a sheet, which I wrapped around my lower half like a sarong.
Twenty stitches and one fat scar later, the story spread far and wide. I once had someone from Philadelphia tell the story of the “naked blader” back to me! I was a living urban legend. That’s when it dawned on me: I could be famous for being naked.
Look at what nakedness did for Sharon Stone’s career. Rose McGowan once showed up to the MTV Awards wearing a see-through dress made of silver chains—and a G-string—and the ensemble turned her from Marilyn Manson’s girlfriend to an It girl. Even Leo’s been photographed nude sunbathing in the Caribbean. And when was the last time you saw Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, or Toni Braxton covered up? Since I managed to survive the accident and the humiliation, I decided to brand myself as the girl who doesn’t mind getting naked.
I spent the last six years taking on the most intimate assignments for magazines like Marie Claire. For one story, I had to walk around the city streets of New York—topless. (I was photographed for the publication, covering my areolae with nothing but a magazine.) And for another, I had intercourse with my boyfriend in front of a sex coach who was there to improve our technique.
For the record, I do not have a perfect figure. Far from it. But I have always been comfortable in my skin. And doing these kinds of stories has helped me become even more at ease with my body. I built a reputation as the daring writer who likes being in the buff. Editors assign me their most outlandish ideas, knowing that if it requires me to bare an intimate part of myself, I’ll do it.
Once, an editor asked me to spend a few weeks living in one of those legal brothels in Las Vegas in order to do an exposé. I was all over the assignment . . . until they told me I’d have to sleep with a john. When I said no, my editor was shocked. “Just one,” she said, as if that would make it okay. I was upset for a second. I couldn’t believe they thought I was that kind of girl. Then I realized, Wow, I really have branded myself well!
So when a gallery-owner friend introduced me to Alexis Karl, an up-and-coming figurative artist who is known for creating seven-foot-tall oil paintings of naked women, I thought, Here’s my chance for immortality! “Please let me take my clothes off for you,” I begged. She agreed to paint me. I was on my way!
My portrait, which required over thirty-five hours of posing, was shown at the Red Dot Gallery in Chelsea, in New York, in September of 2002. I was on sale for $8,000—and I will forever be immortalized as the famous naked girl, residing above the sofa in some man’s living room!THE OVER-IT GIRL
When I first got the assignment to claw my way into the limelight in two weeks, I decided to position myself as the newest incarnation of species It girl. It girls ran around the city without stockings (even in the dead of winter), danced on tables while breaking champagne flutes, and gave in-depth interviews about the contents of their wardrobes. It was an established nightlife brand—and one I thought I could easily fake my way into after all, how hard could it be? I’d pop over to some parties, wear some tight clothes, and boom! I’d be crowned the latest queen in the It-girl stakes. God knows I can put away the free drinks!
I even found the perfect venue to display my new It-girl persona: the aptly named It-girls premiere party for the It-girls documentary starring a whole host of It girls. The film featured the day-to-day lives of two junior socialites, Casey Johnson and Elizabeth Kieselstein-Cord. Casey and Elizabeth both had bonafide It-girl chops. Elizabeth’s last name was a handbag. Casey’s was a Band-Aid. She was also a shampoo. And a detergent.
The publicist for the party was nice enough to put me on the list after I sent numerous faxes requesting entry and providing detailed, unimpeachable proof of my journalistic credentials. (I sent her a fawning note on swiped magazine letterhead.)
But styling myself as an It girl was harder than I thought. It girls don’t just appear out of nowhere. It girls aren’t born. They’re self-made. Plus, the label is commonly bestowed on chicks who don’t try so hard—or at least, those who don’t look like they do. Just look at Chlo Sevigny, who at eighteen perfected the ingenue’s indifferent shrug at celebrity in a fawning profile in the New Yorker, which fanned the media fascination even more.
Which leads me to ask, if a girl attends a party and no photographers take her picture, did she even attend?
I would have to make sure my presence was recorded somehow. I begged a good friend who worked at a magazine to put my picture in their party pages. “If you get Patrick McMullan to shoot you next to a celeb at the It-girl party, we’ll do it,” she promised. So the night before the party, I called social shutterbug Patrick McMullan’s office. I groveled on the phone and spent fifteen minutes explaining my situation to Patrick’s helpful assistant. She said Patrick would be happy to do it; I would just have to go up to him at the party and brief him on my mission.
Before the party, I spent two hours at a beauty salon getting my hair blown and fake eyelashes glued to my real ones. I put on a Julia Roberts–inspired cutout black top and skinny leather pants. The pants were incredibly tight and stuck to my thighs like sausage casing. I decided I should probably not drink anything so I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom, because who knew if I could zip myself back into them again. My It-girl debut would have to be a sober one. So much for dancing on tables.
I arrived at exactly seven o’clock, as the invitation demanded. There was a line of paparazzi at the front of the restaurant, and several more photographers and camera crew inside. I strutted inside, projecting It-girlish vibes. I telephatically communicated my It status by preening on the red carpet. Sadly, not one photographer looked up. No one took my picture. It was disheartening. And there I was wearing borrowed designer clothes and no bra! Just like a real It girl!
I decided to find Patrick immediately, which was easier said than done, as he was the most popular person there. The man was mobbed. It girls of all stripes were throwing themselves in front of his camera. After all, he was radiating Itness himself, with a television crew from the Metro Channel in tow. I had naively believed that somehow he would just “notice” my fabulous presence and immediately snap my picture. But no.
Excerpted from How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less by Melissa de la Cruz and Karen Robinovitz. Copyright © 2003 by Melissa de la Cruz and Karen Robinovitz. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.