Sex, Drugs & Condé Nast: Cat Marnell Spills All

by Stephanie Maida · January 31, 2017

How To Murder Your Life is like The Devil Wears Prada on crack - literally. The much-anticipated memoir from rogue downtown beauty editor and Page Six headline-maker Cat Marnell finally drops today after actual years of buzz, and, despite some of the criticism she's garnered in media circles throughout her career, the New York literati have welcomed the sure-to-be-Bestseller with open arms.

And it's no wonder. Marnell may be making her hardcover debut, but her best writing has always been a bit autobiographical, honest, and perhaps most importantly, shameless. Why shouldn't it be? A former member of the masthead at Lucky, and an alum of Glamour and Teen Vogue, she came up in New York living the glossy dream at Condé Nast, roaming the halls designated by Queen Wintour and her ilk. Sure, it sounds like the typical "white girl works at a magazine" story, but when you start hallucinating rats under your desk, amid bags and bags of luxury skincare products, the perspective certainly shifts a bit.

You see, between all the swag, free facials, and swanky press parties, Cat was hitting up not only the city's hottest clubs and secret after-hours spots, but also just about every psychiatrist on the Upper East Side. Her story is that of a young, female drug addict who, despite appearances, was falling deeper and deeper into the darkness that few return from. But, of course, she lived to tell the tale. A pretty pricey one, at that.

How To Murder Your Life is dedicated to "all the party girls." On a recent night at a Lower East Side slumber party (don't ask), it was easy to see why. Cat, sitting on a floor lounge of pillows in a long, mint-colored wig, is magnetic, furiously gabbing, and an effortless attention-grabber - whether she means to be or not. (Once, at a Lucky book launch at the Bowery hotel, she apparently set her hair on fire. Accidentally.) After a few stints in rehab and her final departure from Condé Nast, she garnered notoriety for her seamless intertwining of both drugs and beauty as a founding editor of the recently-shuttered xoJane, working under the legendary Sassy EIC Jane Pratt. It was there where stories of her Adderall-addled nights and coke benders segued into recommendations for "The Art Of Crack-ttractiveness" or "The Secret Shampooing Life of Pillheads." It was a far cry from lip gloss blurbs at good girl Lucky, but it wasn't so wild. Anyone who swaps makeup with drunk girls in bathrooms knows that much. 

"One night that winter, I had an idea. It came to me at the nightclub Kenmare, where I'd been watching party girls apply black eyeliner and check their noses for coke residue in the bathroom. I'd shared mirror space, drugs, and Trident gum with chicks like this for half my life...Why couldn't I share beauty advice with them?" she recalls towards the end of her book, right before landing the perfect position at xoJane. As most of New York media knows, her relationship with that publication also fizzled, an amphetamine-themed column at Vice quickly following for a short while. 

The memoir, as funny as it is horrifying at times, offers a unique glimpse into the heyday of elite publishing, before Condé moved into One World Trade and interns sued, back when, if "a high-strung, thoroughbred Condé Nasty like Jean [Godfrey-June] - or Anna or any of them - was cracking her Hermès whip, it was an honor to jump." But it also cracks a certain facade, shows us the seedy underbelly of glittering New York, a place where seemingly perfect beauty editors were snorting heroin until dawn or purging on press trips to Italy. Nothing is as pretty as it seems.

Reading the book, and being fascinated by her tales of boarding school, overdoses, abusive friends, pill bottle after pill bottle, feels better once you know that today, Cat is doing much better. It's only human to want to watch a train wreck, but it's more human to hope for survivors. And though she's not completely clean, Cat, a gifted writer, bitingly sharp, and acutely talented, has survived.

How To Murder Your Life: A Memoir

[Photo via @cat_marnell]

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