We don’t know Lucky magazine beauty editor Jean Godfrey-June, but if her 2006 memoir, “Free Gift With Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup” (now out in paperback by Three Rivers Press, $13) is any indication, she’s the kind of smart, sassy, down-to-earth chick you’d love to have as a friend. The fact that she has ready access to a million and one beauty products - and likes to share - would just be icing on the cake.
While most fashion and beauty insider memoirs or novels tend to be of the highfalutin’ variety, in which the well-connected author drones on about about their fabulous life and their fabulous job and their fabulous friends and all the fabulous perks they get from said job and friends, making for an amusing but impossible-to-relate-read (see: Diana Vreeland’s “DV,” André Leon Talley’s “A.L.T.: 365+” and any of Plum Sykes’ slimly plotted roman-a-clefs), Godfrey-June comes across like one of us.
She’s the likable, no-nonsense girl-next-door who just happened to be obsessed with beauty and cosmetics from an early and just happened to grow up to get a to-die-for job covering the same, first at Elle magazine and now at Lucky. The fact that she still can’t seem to get over her good fortune, even after two decades as a beauty editor, makes her a winning and empathetic narrator. And the fact that she favors a take-no-prisoners approach when ripping the veil - make that mud mask - off the inner workings of the beauty industry and glossy magazine world makes “Free Gift With Purchase” an engaging and enlightening beach read extraordinaire.
Whether she’s poking gentle fun at the fragrance industry’s self-important Fifi Awards, debunking beauty company promises with refreshing honesty, frankly discussing the difficulty of maintaining editorial integrity in a business filled with freebies and swag, or talking about the many ridiculous products that cross her desk on a daily basis - she gets between fifty to two hundred “hope in a jar” products each and every day (“Some of them new...some of them gorgeous and innovative, and most of them just some dull cream...often wrapped up in an equally uninspiring package”), it always feels like Godfrey-June is sitting beside you on your beach towel, dishing like an in-the-know, beauty obsessed best friend would.
And the chapters she devotes to her time at Elle in the 1990s, where she became famous for the off-the-cuff “Godfrey’s Guide” column she penned each month, skewers her superiors - most notably the megalomaniacal, philandering French creative director-head photographer she nicknames “The Playboy” and his clueless American “model/editor/socialite” wife - in a wickedly delightful way that makes anyone who has ever wanted to give their own nasty, shallow, insecure boss a well-deserved bitch-slap sit up and cheer.
She does play nice, though, as when singing the praises of “Sally” (that’s Sally Hershberger to you and me), recalling her beloved editor-in-chief at Elle, discussing the benefits of self-tanner (in which she claims to bathe) and laser hair removal (“It’s genius!”) or extolling the brilliance of cosmetics queen Bobbi Brown.
Godfrey-June also provides great insider tips on makeup application, taking a flattering photo, the pros and (mostly) cons of plastic surgery, treating skin problems, what cellulite creams can and can’t do, and what to look for - and avoid - at the cosmetics counter, along with a wealth of other useful, user-friendly advice.
But perhaps the thing that makes this book such an engaging read, even for readers who are not remotely beauty obsessed, is that while Godfrey-June takes her job - and the power of cosmetics and beauty products to truly transform women, inside and out - with the utmost seriousness, she never takes herself or the beauty industry itself too seriously. It is this ability to clearly see and convey the difference between the two - “I do love my job....But you know, I’ve got a cousin who sits in front of a microscope all day, helping find cures for pediatric cancer. Me, I ponder lipstick” - that elevates “Free Gift With Purchase” miles above the standard fashion insider memoir.