NEW YORK — In her “Shopaholic” books, Sophie Kinsella pens tales about the most voracious designer label-lover in all of chick lit, the British fashionista Becky Bloomwood Brandon. And though the author stops far short of her much-loved heroine’s shopaholism, on a weeklong trip to Manhattan from her home in London to promote the fourth book in the series, “Shopaholic and Sister,” Kinsella still found some time for a layover at Barneys New York.
“I like that you can find so many designers from all over the place,” Kinsella says as she walks through the front door. She’s already carrying two shopping bags from Anthropologie filled, she says, with clothes for her family and friends back in Britain.
Kinsella, whose real name is Madeleine Wickham — she picked up the pseudonym when she began writing the series — discovered Barneys when she was working on 2002’s “Shopaholic Takes Manhattan.” In “Shopaholic Ties the Knot,” which was released last year, Kinsella’s heroine finds employment as a personal shopper for the store — which, of course, for the author, necessitated plenty of research time there.
So, knowing the lay of the land, Kinsella goes straight to the jewelry cases, briefly admiring a gold wire and green stone confection of a necklace before heading over to a display of hats.
“I have the exact coat that goes with this hat!” she exclaims, picking up a $175 Ann-Louise Roswald leaf-patterned topper. Although she tries on a steel blue newsboy cap and fingers a fur concoction, she sticks with her original choice. Kinsella later spies a Roswald top with the same design, but realizes too much pattern can be a bad thing. “I have the coat, and I’m buying the hat — that’s probably enough.”
“I have absolutely no room left in my carry-on bags, anyway.”
The trip to Barneys could be considered “working,” and her purchases, if she lived in the States, as a tax write-off. That is, if Kinsella understood U.S. taxes. “What is it about tax in the U.S.?” she asks with a laugh. “In Britain, 9.99 is 9.99. In New York, it’s $10.87 or some such.” (Clearly Kinsella is among the cadre who enjoy the value-added tax, which is included in the price of all clothing items in Britain and not added on at the checkout.)
Kinsella’s career had a somewhat inauspicious beginning. After studying economics, philosophy and politics at Oxford, she worked at a magazine for retirees. Then there was a stint as a financial writer. But researching the offerings of Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Kate Spade proved to be more fun than writing about pensions.
“The honest truth is that Becky’s shopping was very loosely inspired by some of my own purchases,” she says, after hunting out Manolos on the fifth-floor. While the shoes are tempting, Kinsella says her custom-designed shoe cupboard is nearing capacity. “The outside of it is white, but the inside is bright pink,” she says of the cupboard. “I love the surprise of that. It’s like a Paul Smith jacket.”
While Becky spends many humorous moments dodging her bank manager, Kinsella professes to having an excellent relationship with hers. “I do know how to save,” she says with a smile (indicating all that financial reporting was good for something). While she generally stays within her budget, Kinsella says her husband, the head of the classics department at a British boys’ grammar school, is “good at turning a blind eye” to some of her more lavish purchases. “I have hidden the odd bag in the closet,” she admits as she heads toward the elevator.
Downstairs, her husband’s leniency (and the fact that there are more than three million “Shopaholic” books in print in the U.S.) allow Kinsella to linger over a large display of Marc Jacobs purses in a rainbow of colors. She debates a few shapes before deciding on the Classic Stella in a soft green.
Then she looks at the price tag — $975 — and winces slightly. “I love it, but perhaps I should buy it in London,” she says. A refresher on the current exchange rates quickly convinces her otherwise.
“Trying not to spend money isn’t nearly as fun as spending it,” Kinsella says as she pays for her hat and bag before heading to a book signing on the Upper West Side. “But, honestly, I can get just as excited about shopping at Daffy’s.”
— Julie Naughton