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By Jacob Bernstein
This story first appeared in the August 6, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
NEW YORK — Alexandra Jacobs began writing The Eight-Day Week for the New York Observer four years ago, shortly after Alex Kuczynski left to become a reporter at the New York Times. And though Jacobs’ profile in New York City’s gossip columns does not quite rival her predecessor’s, Jacobs’ quick wit and biting tongue have kept the Observer’s famed social diary a must-read for New York social types.
She also writes features for the paper and edits Style columnist Simon Doonan. But don’t be deceived — Jacobs is less interested in partaking in the spectacle of New York society than she is in lampooning it from her desk.
Q: Your column is notorious for poking fun at the events that it lists. Do publicists actually pitch this stuff to you?
A: I would say there are sort of three levels of publicists. There are the publicists who don’t read. They’re the blind monkey, idiot publicists. They blanket everybody. With them, I just take it and go with it. I have no moral issues with it. Level two are the ones that know and read the column. They’re the ones who will play ball, and those are my favorites. Then there’s level 3. These are the ones who know it and hate it. I may be paranoid, but I feel that they send to other people and not me because they think we’ll treat it unfairly. I, of course, subscribe to the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ thing, but, whatever, I’m not a publicist. Listen, some of the best stuff I get is from publicists.
Q: Do you read other listings columns?
A: Not really, a lot of people — and I’m not talking about me or suggesting that the column is my invention, because it preceded me — but many people have copied this column. There’s something called The Guest List in the Post; you look at it and judge. That’s when I think, on to the next; time to do other things.
Q: Do you show up to the events you cover?
A: Not really. It’s funny, because I have phone relationships with people that give me tips and I’ve never even met them. I don’t mind that though because it’s just not my nature. I’m not a gossip columnist and I don’t enjoy going out. I go home every night to my husband and we eat dinner and feed the cats.
Q: Do you think the events you write about are really for the Graydon Carters of the world or is it more for the wannabes?
A: I heard once that my column was being used by party crashers and that sort of upset me. I would hope people are looking at the column for voyeuristic reasons. Anyone who actually took that and used it to order their social life — I wouldn’t go so far as to say they need help, but close.
Q: So you don’t expect people to actually go to these things; it’s more anthropological?
A: I wouldn’t expect myself to go to these things. I live in wonderment of the social lives of New Yorkers. I’m amazed by people that go out every night and I’m in awe of the people that do.
Q: Many of your longer features seem to be interested in women’s issues as well as the women’s magazines. It seems that you’re as much a feminist/humorist as you are a journalist…
A: Oooh, I love that ‘feminist-humorist thing.’ Bring it on. Ideally, though, I think journalism is a very serious thing. I believe in journalism that’s good and strong and true, but that’s not what I do. As per fashion magazines, I’m fascinated by the way they’ve co-opted feminism, though I don’t really believe in the lipstick girl power thing.
Q: You’ve certainly written a lot about fashion magazines though. You did a big piece on Glenda Bailey, another on Lucky and a third on the end of the Diana Vreeland celebrity editor.
A: I’m fascinated with fashion magazines. I’m interested in seeing how things are marketed to women and how advertising changes over time. I read all of them. My husband thinks I’m crazy. But it’s funny because when I wrote a piece on women’s magazines, it dawned on me that they were in many ways better when they were more dictatorial.
Q: That’s sort of a feminist irony, isn’t it?
A: Yes, absolutely. And at the same time, I’m fascinated by Lucky. It’s like this document for our time.
Q: But isn’t it also just a catalog?
I’m pro-Lucky. I think it’s honest. With Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue the salesmanship is cloaked, but with Lucky it’s explicit. It’s the ascension of the editing over the editor.
Q: Tell me about editing Simon Doonan? Does he make fun of your clothes while you’re line editing him?
A: He did that once. It was before I was editing him, though. I was wearing a Fifties stole with pom-poms, and though I never go out, I’d gone to the Ilona Rich fashion show — she’s Denise’s daughter — and he said it looked like one of her creations. He might have meant that as a compliment, but I don’t think so.