Home » Books in General » Revisiting Judith Krantz’s “Scruples,” a Novel with a Passion for Clothes

Revisiting Judith Krantz’s “Scruples,” a Novel with a Passion for Clothes

25 June 2019

From The New Yorker:

Judith Krantz always wanted to write fiction, but it was not until she was approaching fifty, in the late nineteen-seventies, that her husband, Steve, persuaded her to finally attempt a novel. Her career up until that point had been in women’s magazines; she had been an accessories editor at Good Housekeeping and then a writer at Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan, and she was an avid connoisseur of clothes. So when she turned, with trepidation, to fiction, she wrote what she knew. Her first novel, “Scruples,” published in 1978, is a fashion-retail version of a Cinderella story, set in nineteen-sixties L.A. It centers on Billy Orsini (born Wilhelmina Hunnenwell Winthrop), a young striver who moves to New York, where she takes secretarial work at Ikehorn Enterprises, a global conglomerate, and begins sleeping with the C.E.O., Ellis Ikehorn. They marry, and she takes to Ellis’s lavish life style with gusto—appearing at events and on best-dressed lists, and wearing a pair of eleven-karat Harry Winston diamond earrings at all times of day, “heedless of convention.” Then Ellis suffers a stroke, and the couple move to Bel Air for the mild weather. When Ellis dies, Billy finds herself a rich young widow with money and ambition to burn. So she decides to do what any clotheshorse dreams of: she opens a luxury boutique, called Scruples, on Rodeo Drive, and becomes the queen of Los Angeles fashion.

The rest of the plot of “Scruples” is schlocky, steamy “Dynasty”-era romance fare: hearts get broken, tongues get intertwined, gossip gets spread around. Much of the book reads today as deeply out of date; the phrases “divine wop” and “fag bullshit” are tossed off within the first ten pages. But, as an account of nascent eighties decadence the novel remains one of the most enjoyable texts I’ve ever read. At the store—which was modelled on the über-successful Giorgio Beverly Hills—Billy hires a smooth salesman named Spider Elliot, a blond lothario who sleeps with his customers as often as he dresses them. On Spider’s recommendation, she installs a pub and a backgammon table in the store, a boy’s club inside the girl’s club where shoppers’ husbands can drink and dally while their wives swipe their credit cards. And oh, the clothes! “Scruples” contains so many delicious descriptions of garments that you may find yourself longing to pet its pages. Fabrics are not just brown; they are “future-wordly tones of melting taupe, fawn, biscuit, and greige.” A woman doesn’t just walk into a party; she enters “with the glitter of a matador, encased in a vintage, shocking pink-and-black satin Schiaparelli, thickly encrusted with gold braid.” Of Billy’s jet-setting years with Ellis in Paris, Krantz writes:

At a state dinner at the White House she was the most resplendent figure there, only twenty-two years old, wearing pale lilac satin from Dior and emeralds that had once belonged to Empress Josephine. At twenty-three, when she and Ellis were photographed on horseback on their thirty-thousand-acre ranch in Brazil, Billy wore plain jodhpurs, boots, and an open-necked cotton shirt, but at the presentation of a new Yves Saint Laurent collection two weeks later, she wore the landmark suit from his previous collection, while Ellis, who was becoming an old Paris hand, whispered to her the numbers of the dresses he thought she should order in a way that made people with serious fashion backgrounds remember the black-tie spring collection at Jacques Fath in 1949, sixteen years earlier.

Krantz, who died over the weekend, at the age of ninety-one, developed her taste for fashion early. Born in 1928 as Judith Bluma-Gittel Tarcher, she was the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

. . . .

If Krantz had one exceptional skill, it was knowing how to walk into a store and, with laser focus, find the item that would look sensational. Shopping, “Scruples” argues, is all about self-knowledge.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker 

PG says that, absent Eastern European Jewish immigrants, New York would be a pretty boring place.

From Huffpost:

We can’t all afford the luxury of traveling or living abroad. But if you live in New York City, maybe you can experience some of Europe’s offerings without leaving the country. A slice of European flavor can be found in the personality of each NYC neighborhood.

1. East Village — Prague 
With its bohemian vibe and cultural diversity, the offbeat neighborhood of the East Village channels the Eastern European city of Prague. It’s not hard to imagine Allen Ginsberg, a former East Village resident, strolling with fellow Beatnik Jack Kerouac along the Charles Bridge in Praha, former capital of Bohemia Proper.

. . . .

14. Lower East Side — Budapest
Cheap, dirty, and crowded with youths looking to get the most bang for their buck. Youth reputations aside, both the LES and Budapest offer some great places to satisfy your hunger cravings, drunk or not.

Link to the rest at Huffpost

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