If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of Kitson

Remember when Lindsay Lohan crashed her car? (No, the second time.) She’d just been shopping on Robertson Boulevard. Images of ”It” girls emerging from the street’s boutiques fill the pages of celebrity magazines. It’s no accident, either. Dave Gardetta on how one store, Kitson, has become the trendiest on the map
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On a warm evening in late September, outside the fashionable clothing boutique Kitson, 30 or so photographers snapped pictures of George Clooney’s on-again, off-again girlfriend—the actress Krista Allen, who posed on Robertson Boulevard’s otherwise empty sidewalk—filling up time until the arrival of the night’s promised money shot: Paris Hilton, behind the wheel of her Mercedes to attend the party inside. Like Melrose Avenue and Sunset Plaza before it, Robertson has become Hollywood’s fashion runway. This is due partly to the presence of shops like Lisa Kline and Maxfield Bleu, which cater to celebrities, and partly to the combination of ever-present paparazzi and the Ivy restaurant’s front porch—the Industry’s unofficial P.A. system. When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wanted to ensure that the world knew they were an item, what did they do? Arrive for dinner at the Ivy on the back of Cruise’s sleek black motorcycle. The following week nearly 6 million readers of People magazine and Us Weekly would peruse the photos of the staged event.

Inside Kitson nearly a hundred guests, most wearing either size 0 skirts or Ryan Seacrest’s haircut—including Mr. Seacrest himself—milled about the well-lit shop. They nursed apricot-colored cocktails in plastic cups and casually examined piles of $200 jeans and $400 hoodies, as well as purses designed by Nicky Hilton, jackets by Gwen Stefani, and T-shirts by Krista Allen. Barely noticeable near the store’s back exit was a small man in a rumpled suit. His name was Fraser Ross, and he looked like he wished he could be anywhere else in the world. At the moment, though, he was trapped: It was his store and he had thrown the party.

Ken Baker, the pale, thin West Coast editor of US Weekly, sidled up to Ross. As an adolescent Baker suffered from a pituitary tumor that left him, according to his book Man Made: A Memoir of My Body, with no libido and modest-size lactating breasts. The party, held in Baker’s honor, was a fund-raiser for the editor’s Head to Hollywood charity, which offers brain-tumor survivors a “celebrity experience in Hollywood.”

“Why don’t you walk outside,” Baker gamely asked Ross, “and take some pictures?” Ross, who appeared to be coming down with a toothache at the suggestion, shook his head no. Unlike many Hollywood entrepreneurs, Ross takes no pleasure in clasping hands with Ashton Kutcher—Dude!—or making nice with Access Hollywood‘s Billy Bush. He is Kitson’s only publicist—at ease passing along an Eva Longoria sighting to a magazine editor—but he is also an introvert, near-allergic to the idea of manufacturing his own celebrity. At times he can soft-pedal his success. “My God, we’re selling a hundred sweatshirts a month at $400 apiece,” he says. “That price is ridiculous, but they want it. Where else but La-La Land, where there’s so much disposable income, could a store like this work?” Such self-effacement makes Ross instantly likable on Robertson Boulevard.

Baker waited a beat for his friend to change his mind, then slipped back into the shop, calling out to no one in particular, “This store is the epicenter of celebrity in Los Angeles!” Watching Baker disappear, Ross half glumly said, “I don’t mind throwing parties. We threw Paris Hilton’s party when her movie came out, and next month we’ll do Justin Timberlake’s party for his new clothing line.” A Justin Timberlake party, however, generates more publicity than does an editor’s soiree. “We had to close two hours early tonight to prepare,” said Ross. “That’s $15,000 in retail we could be doing.”

What Ross has done—put celebrities and shopping and magazines together in a way that benefits everyone—sounds simple enough, but no one had thought of it before Kitson. The typical model of a celebrity boutique had been Fred Segal on west Melrose. Privacy was held at a premium. Paparazzi were kept off the property, and a journalist walking in to ask if Calista Flockhart had been shopping with Harrison Ford would be ushered out. Worse, shoppers who weren’t lucky enough to turn up in the pages of Variety often discovered they were just as invisible to the help.

Ross decided to do the reverse. If Teri Hatcher or Lindsay Lohan came in to shop and reporters called, he would let them know that a pair of Mukluk boots or a SKINNY BITCH! T-shirt had left the store, and provide the items’ prices and his Web address. If the paparazzi arrived at Kitson’s window to shoot Britney Spears buying a pair of jeans, Ross wouldn’t send out his security guard. Instead he’d make sure the shop’s lighting helped Spears look as appealing as possible. Just as important, all patrons not up for potential roles on Desperate Housewives were to be treated the same as Kelly Monaco.

The strategy worked. Ross’s retail scheme benefits actresses who rely on steady media attention to prove to TV producers and perfume companies looking for a new spokesperson that they come equipped with a loyal fan base. The magazines can count on a steady stream of soft gossip to fill their style pages and keep up their newsstand sales. Kitson receives mention as a boutique of choice for Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, guaranteeing customers who will shop on Ross’s Web site, or who so crowd his store on weekends that he is forced to place a red velvet rope and a security guard on the sidewalk. And because Kitson’s merchandise is a mix of high and low—$1,200 jackets hanging alongside $24 T-shirts, $15 candles, and $9 bottles of Karma Guard—any customer can afford to shop in the same boutique as her idols.

Near the rear exit Us Weekly‘s West Coast news editor at the time, Jill Ishkanian, appeared by Ross’s side. Ishkanian is fortyish and fast-talking and snappy. You could easily picture her in the Rosalind Russell role in His Girl Friday, set in the tabloid world. She arrived at Us Weekly from the Star three years ago, when no one from a Hollywood boutique would return her calls except Ross. She has a low, rich, gravelly purr of a voice that inspires people to tell her she should be a phone sex operator. Ross liked her immediately “She gets to the point when she calls,” he says. “Everyone else wants to know if the buyer looked happy or on drugs.”

“I need to get some baby presents for Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck,” Ishkanian told Ross. (In fact, the presents were for a relative of the couple who wanted to give them.) Together the three of us exited Kitson, sidestepped Carmen Electra arriving in a white Mercedes, then crossed the street to Ross’s second store, Kitson Kids, which he opened in August because of the interest in celebrity babies.

Inside the boutique, which is shiny and bright and resembles the interior of a Willy Wonka Gobstopper, Ishkanian looked over the baby shirts that carried slogans like I AM A BOOB MAN and MY GIRLFRIEND IS OUT OF TOWN. Ross, swirling his drink, asked, “Didn’t Carmen’s mom die of a tumor?”

“Yeah,” Ishkanian answered, but her thoughts were elsewhere. “She had a brain on her pituitary and then her sister died, and that’s when she married Dennis Rodman.” Ishkanian held up a teensy shirt that read DOES THIS DIAPER MAKE MY BUTT LOOK BIG? and announced, “I like this one.”

“Cute,” Ross agreed, and after several more shirts were pulled, gift wrapped, and presented to Ishkanian, the three of us left the store.

Outside I realized I was standing in the center of a giant whirring machine, one of endless promotion and profit fed by and benefiting all involved. Before me, Krista Allen was being photographed in front of a Kitson backdrop. Her line of clothing was for sale in the store. Her picture would be offered by photo agencies to People and the Star and OK! and Hello! (News of Kitson’s party was also televised on Inside Edition and on E!) Behind me, Ishkanian carried the clothes bound for Jennifer Garner and—months from now, when the baby is born—possible mention in Us Weekly along with Kitson’s Web address. “When we run something like that in People,” says Susan Kaufman, the magazine’s style director, “by Monday I can hear back from a featured store that they got 3,000 calls over the weekend.”

Ross and I paused to take in Kitson’s window display of Curious George apparel. Universal came up with the line to support the upcoming film, hoping that someone like Hilton might be photographed wearing a sweater and create buzz for the movie. A theme window devoted to Us Weekly last year was featured twice in that magazine, once in Janice Min’s Editor’s Note, where she urged readers to “do as the stars do and check out Kitson on hip Robertson Boulevard.”

Staring into his busy store, Ross spoke in as droll and deadpan a voice as he could muster. “No one,” he said, arching an eyebrow, “considered doing men’s cashmere with Curious George on it until I thought up the idea.”

Eva Longoria, Paris and Nicky Hilton, Gwen Stefani, and Nicole Richie
Tori Spelling, Eva Longoria, Paris and Nicky Hilton, Gwen Stefani, and Nicole Richie

 

The clothing lines Ross carries are not complicated and offbeat, like Marc Jacobs’s designs, or intellectually challenging, like those of Miuccia Prada. Some of them can make even Calvin Klein’s work look complicated and challenging. Almost everything in the store is casual, to be worn at the dog park or Katie Holmes’s baby shower. “We have to be fashionable but not too fashionable,” says Ross. “High fashion is death. I mean, no one wears Valentino to the Starbucks.” Most of the jeans, skirts, and T-shirts in Kitson are also the opposite of “cool,” as in aloof or ironic. They are “hot.” They exude the heat and healthy appetite of a group of “It” girls who wear them out of Ross’s store and show up on the covers of Us Weekly and People—Paris, Lindsay, Jessica, Britney. Last year, with the help of those women and the celebrity magazines, Kitson sold $18 million in merchandise.

None of Ross’s current success would necessarily have happened, though, were it not for a change that has occurred in women’s fashion magazines. “In Style really made a shift in how people began looking at celebrities dressing,” says People magazine’s Kaufman. “There was no magazine before that devoted to celebrity fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. It just didn’t exist.”

“What shifted,” says Ishkanian, “is people stopped caring about what models wore and began caring about what celebrities wore.” Or, to be more precise, what celebrities wore to the Quiznos. “People still go to the traditional fashion magazines for trends they can aspire to,” says Kaufman. “But the fact is that the weeklies are showing celebrities in their everyday lives, and that’s what people are eating up.” Increasingly it’s Us Weekly, not Vogue, that drives fashion trends for a large segment of the country.

That’s why Ross has no interest in courting Glamour or even In Style. Because of the way monthly magazines operate, a three-month lag sits between a reporter’s phone call and the story’s publication. At Kitson, a tennis shoe craze takes off tomorrow when Ashlee Simpson walks out the door wearing a pair. “Even by the time a trend shows up in the New York Times Sunday Styles section, it’s over,” says one of Ross’s buyers.

What Kitson has that a fashion house like Gucci lacks is the speed of the marketplace. Ross doesn’t think about next season’s trends. He thinks about next Tuesday’s trends and the girls and women who will come in seeking them. There are the 12-year-olds enamored of Ashlee Simpson, the 18-year-old Mary-Kate Olsen wanna-bes hiding behind their Chanel sunglasses, the 25-year-old Paris Hilton clones chatting into their bejeweled Sidekicks, and the 35-year-old housewives asking after Teri Hatcher’s latest purchase. They crowd into a store divided by aisles of T-shirts, hoodies, handbags, sweatshirts, boots, belts, blue jeans, skin cream, and mink cell phone cases. Three lines to three dressing rooms are always snaking along the back wall (Ross hopes the small number of rooms will force shoppers into making a speedy choice).

“Eighty percent of them are under 45,” Ross says. “But the remaining 20 percent are our biggest sales, our $15,000 purchases, and it’s them that you need to keep in your buyer’s mind. Anyone can sell a designer line. But taking an unknown item and selling it to both 18-year-olds and 50-year-olds? That’s work.”

Often when hanging out with Ross, I could imagine that he lived by a series of retail rules, the first being When celebrities have something to publicize, they go shopping. On the afternoon Kobe Bryant decided to publicly express his contriteness over recent infidelities, he brought his wife, Vanessa, to Kitson and purchased $6,000 in diamond-studded bracelets. The next day the shopping excursion appeared on the front page of the New York Post. When Lindsay Lohan wanted to inform her fans that boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama was now her ex, she picked out a YOU WERE NEVER MY BOYFRIEND T-shirt from Kitson and wore it on TRL. And on the day after her sex video broke over the Internet, Paris Hilton flew in all the way from Australia to emerge from Ross’s front door, fully clothed, for the waiting paparazzi.

I could imagine more of Ross’s rules, such as The right celebrity can sell anything. A year ago Kitson found itself stuck with a pink pom-pom boot it could not give away until Madonna’s manager expressed interest. After word got out that it was actually the pop singer who wanted the pink pom-pom, 800 units, at $145 a pair, quickly left the store. At the start of a trend, one needs to keep another rule in mind: Always control the nation’s inventory. When Lohan walked out last year carrying two pairs of Mukluk boots—a kind of furry Ugg—and then Beyonce and J.Lo followed suit, Ross called the vendor and bought out the entire warehouse, all 500 pairs. By the time Sean “Diddy” Combs’s office began phoning around the country, trying to locate two pairs for his mother, Kitson had cornered the Mukluk market.

Eventually, however, the competition will get ahold of the merchandise, in which case the fallback rule is Try to control the merchandise’s name. When Jessica Simpson and J.Lo were seen wearing a belt Ross had named “Old Man River”—a nod to the elderly Venice gentleman who made it—the item became a smash hit for Kitson. But after other boutiques started calling their similar-looking belts “Old Man River,” Ross renamed his “Dirty Diamond” and left the competition stuck with last season’s accessory. Finally, remember the rule You can’t control the market forever. One morning in Kitson I watched a cigar-chomping man in his midfifties place $1,100 worth of women’s boots on the counter, pay in cash, and then instruct the shop clerk who was poised to bag them, “No paper, no boxes, sweetie—just the shoes.”

“Why should he need a box,” Ross told me, “when he’s flying them to China tomorrow to knock them off and put them in department stores next year?” I was surprised this knowledge didn’t make Ross feel bitter or victimized. “At least in some way I think I’m helping the world’s economy or the workers in China,” he said. Ross is often struck by vaguely philanthropic thoughts like these. After the photograph of Paris and Nicky Hilton wearing TEAM ANISTON and TEAM JOLIE T-shirts appeared this year, turning the Kitson items into a retail phenomenon, Ross zeroed in on the fact that Aniston was outselling Jolie 25 to 1. “You know, okay, some of her fans were a little bit off-the-wall,” he said, “crying in the store because we were out of their size. But I really think we helped show that Aniston was still a player in this town with a huge fan base. I mean, look at all the movies she now has in production.”

Whenever Britney sparks a T-shirt craze, or Jessica Simpson’s cap purchase starts a trend, Ross is quick to hope that Kitson is supporting the celebrity’s career, the magazines’ sales, the vendors’ families, the photo agencies, the workers of the world. These aren’t shallow or self-serving feelings on his part. He really thinks a store operating on Paris Hilton’s next purchase can lift all of us along with his bottom line.

Fraser Ross inside his store, Kitson
Fraser Ross inside his store, Kitson

Photograph by Cheryl Himmelstein

Ross was born in Scotland but moved to Toronto with his family when he was three. He went on to attend nearby York University, where he enrolled in business classes and discovered he had a detail-oriented mind that performed best under pressure. Once, on a crowded day at Kitson, I asked Ross how many shoppers he thought were in the store. In the time it took me to blink he scanned the room and said, “Thirty-five.” I made a count. There were 36 shoppers.

Following college, Ross waited tables, worked in an advertising agency, and saved his money. Then in 1989, when he was 26, he and a partner opened a high-end boutique across from Toronto’s Four Seasons. They named it Ice and sold jewelry, watches, and clothing. Winters were tough. “In Toronto,” says Ross, “you’re putting out winter merchandise in July because January to March no one goes outside.”

Five years ago he decided to leave the cold for Los Angeles. He looked at Montana Avenue, at Sunset Plaza, at Melrose—which he deemed “horrible and low-end”—and then picked a location on Robertson, in part because the Ivy sat to the north and a city garage sat to the south. Downtowns fashion vendors told him he could never compete with Fred Segal, and in his first two years of business he proved them right. He made mistakes. He put out heavy sweaters in winter because he still carried Toronto in mind. He tried selling books, candles, creams, and tchotchkes, but they weren’t necessarily drawing the Ivy’s higher-profile diners. Christina Minasian, Ross’s former New York buyer, worked as a sales assistant at the time and calls this period “Before the Frenzy,” or B.F. Of her in-store celebrity encounters, B.F., she says, “It was like, ‘Oh, that’s this guy from Law & Order,’ and I’d be like, ‘Oops!’ That kind of thing.” Ross held on to Ice, using his Canadian profits to help his flagging L.A. venture stay alive. “It was struggle beyond struggle,” he says.

Then everything changed overnight. In 2002, Ross had begun carrying a line of handbags with initials on their sides, and Halle Berry walked in one day and bought an H bag. The next day she returned wearing her new purchase. This was after Berry had won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, and the paparazzi were out snapping her picture. The H on Berry’s bag, however, was turned against her hip. “I remember,” says Ross, “that I asked her, ‘Why don’t we flip the H around?’“ Berry did, and the shot of her leaving Kitson ran in People the following week. The producers of Access Hollywood saw the shot, and in a TV interview Berry described Kitson as “my one-stop-shopping Hollywood-fabulous store.”

Kitson sold $1.3 million worth of initial bags in the ensuing months. After Ross doubled his store’s size two years ago, he called his new floor space the “Halle Berry Wing.” I once asked him if he had experienced a lightbulb moment when the initial bag took off, and he laughed and said, “Yeah—get more things with initials on them and fast.”

He did just that. He brought in leather bracelets with diamond initials. Remember Kobe Bryant’s gift to his wife? It was a pair of the bracelets. Next, one of Ross’s buyers told him that she believed a little-known clothing line called Von Dutch was about to blow up. Ross bought deep into the Von Dutch line, and it was huge. Minasian, Kitson’s New York buyer, found a letter one day from a start-up women’s line called LaROK. This was at the time that ponchos were taking off and sequined cardigans were coming in. LaROK had both, and at Minasian’s suggestion, Ross carried the line. When Paris Hilton appeared on The Simple Life wearing the sequined cardigan, and then Lindsay Lohan and Teri Hatcher were seen in one, too, LaROK sales soared. Rebel Yell T-shirts, Kurtz caps, True Religion jeans, Mukluk boots—all would follow.

Ross’s talent, it turned out, wasn’t based on his own internal fashion compass. (Only recently did he try on what he calls a pair of “hip” jeans, and then only because they were a present from a vendor.) Nor was it based on his media savvy, or his keen sense of street trends, or his ability to schmooze actresses into wearing his merchandise by the sheer power of his personality. Ross had none of that going for him when Halle Berry entered his life three years ago. What he did have was the ability to divine who around him possessed those qualities. He trusted their sensibilities and knowledge and capitalized on them with one thing he’d always had: a near-obsessive, detail-centric mind.

“Fraser can tell you,” says Minasian, “what he paid wholesale three years ago for a box of Equal, what it retailed for, when the invoice came in, and what he did with it.” In that brain, distilling retail success from the opinions and hunches of others became an exacting science. “It used to be that I would pick out things he never would understand,” says Minasian. “But now Fraser will pick out something, and I’ll say, ‘That’s so ugly!’ But he’ll say, ‘No, you don’t understand. It’s perfect for a certain kind of customer.’ And he’s right.”

It was also Ross’s great luck that at about the time the initial bag took off, Us Weekly‘s Ishkanian walked in looking for a boutique owner who would talk to her on a regular basis. Paying sources for information is forbidden at Us Weekly. But writing about what is in Jennifer Garner’s closet, along with the boutique that provided the information, is not and can be lucrative for the tipster. Like everything else that came his way, Ross latched on to the opportunity Ishkanian presented and figured it out. He learned publishing deadlines. A Justin Timberlake party, he decided, had to be held on Thursday to best match up with Us Weekly‘s Monday deadline. If Teri Hatcher appeared on Letterman, Ross wouldn’t automatically mention to reporters that she wore a Kitson blouse. “You want to avoid too much press, since advertisers are spending $80,000 a page,” says Ross. “You’ll piss them off—it’s bad for your relationship with the magazine. Ken Baker knows the audience he wants to reach with Us Weekly is our customers.”

For an introvert, Ross can be blunt. He barks orders with sometimes uncharming abandon if the Hudson jeans are on the wrong table or the Rebel Yell T-shirts misplaced. Most of his merchandise is casual, but his sense of the shop’s order is just so. He appreciates loyalty and promotes from within, but when things aren’t the way he wants them—and now—he gets frustrated and lets his staff know it. Despite this sometime tension, Ross and his shop assistants have introduced the otherworldly-idea of friendly customer service to the snobbish world of Hollywood boutiques. That strikes any shopper walking into his store for the first time: Everyone is so nice. You have only to pass through the lonely doorways of some of Kitson’s neighbors to remember that the help can still get sniffy.

Next month Skechers will launch a line of Kitson sneakers that are slated to appear in more than 100 stores around the country. Already Kitson is sold in Japan, where Ross’s shop may be even more popular than it is in America. Once, when Minasian was planning a trip to Tokyo and was unsure about the weather there, she asked Ross what to pack. Standing at Kitson’s register, Ross jabbed a thumb at his store’s crowded floor and answered, “Why don’t you ask one of the 19 people in here who live in Tokyo?”

Ross is also trying to sell his company in a deal where he would retain half ownership. He imagines a brand as big as Prada or Gucci. If he succeeds, Kitson would become one of the few fashion brands founded not on the name of a designer, but on the name of a little boutique. This entire scenario is based on the hope that the Kitson-celebrity-magazine cycle keeps spinning, generating enough power to build Ross’s own fashion house. Recently, however, Ross has started worrying that his dream might die before Kitson’s first cupcake-print sneaker appears in Akron.

One of the last occasions on which I saw Ross was an unhappy one. The day before, Lindsay Lohan had crashed her $186,000 Mercedes convertible after shopping on Robertson and being photographed by paparazzi. The accident’s fallout looked bad for the boulevard’s shops: News helicopters hovered overhead, capturing live images of the crash, and rock musician Avril Lavigne showed up to scream at the photographers. Why Lohan chose to arrive there with her Mercedes’ convertible top down and spend the day shopping one week before news of her next album and MTV video would break in Us Weekly and People was never explored.

“It’s bad,” Ross said, standing on the sidewalk outside Kitson. “She’s a good customer, she’s a good star, and I don’t know when we’ll see her or other celebrities on the street again.” Ross’s Scottish cheeks were more pink than usual, and he was dressed in his typical unfashionable outfit: untucked shirt and unhip jeans. For a man who grossed $18 million last year, Ross is decidedly unconcerned with flaunting it. He still drives the same Saab he did three years ago and lives a few blocks from his store.

“But what should I do?” Ross said, stepping into Kitson. “Sue the paparazzi because I lost a good customer?” He had thought of creating a LOHAN DRIVING SCHOOL T-shirt to place beside his store’s best-selling MRS. CLOONEY and I’LL HAVE YOUR BABY, BRAD shirts, but nixed the idea. It broke the most important retail rule: Never offend the “It” girls who move your stock.

Good or bad for Robertson’s businesses, it’s typical teenage problems that keep Lindsay, Britney, Ashlee, and Paris in the tabloids: crashing the car, liking the wrong boy, embarrassing oneself in public, getting caught naked when the light (or, in Hilton’s case, the Internet search engine) is switched on. Once, fans of an actress like Grace Kelly aspired to her idealized life, her refined fashion sense, her elegance. Ross’s success flips this hierarchy. Today fans not only identify with the tabloid dramas of Lohan and Simpson, but they can also afford to buy the same Kitson jeans, T-shirts, belts, and caps worn by them. Ross’s merchandise captures a trend in women’s sexuality that really took hold in this country after Britney Spears’s “Baby One More Time” video appeared on MTV: the blending of little-girl imagery and adult carnality. Kitson’s skimpier tees and sexier jeans are printed with ponies, rainbows, cupcakes, Curious George, and Tweety Bird. (Last spring Warner Bros., in an attempt to relaunch the cartoon character as a fashion symbol, created a Tweety Bird line for Kitson.) The boutique, more than any other in the country, captures a moment in fashion, celebrity, capitalism, and sexuality, and its success is also the source of Ross’s greatest nightmare: What happens when the “It” girls grow up?

“We need to develop new stars in these magazines,” he said, standing at Kitson’s counter and flipping through the pages of the latest People. “But it’s not happening.”

The shop was filled to its fire-safety limit plus two teacup Chihuahuas. Outside, behind retail’s only velvet rope, a line of shoppers patiently waited in the sun for a security guard to wave them in. Turning the magazine’s pages, Ross made pronouncements about each photograph and story. Of Prince William he said: “Royalty does nothing for us.” Of J.Lo: “I think that’s almost over.” Of Angelina Jolie’s celebrity endorsement deal: “She’s worth every penny St. John gave her.” Of a story detailing Marcia Cross’s headache problems: “Who cares about migraines?”

“Who’s the next generation?” he asked. “Is it Britney’s sister? Julia Roberts’s niece? Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter? You have only a few important customers. Then they die off and you have no customers.” For the first time since I’d met him, Ross looked hapless and despairing.

He had nothing to worry about. In the coming week Jessica Simpson was reported to have broken up with her husband, Nick Lachey; Katie Holmes would announce her pregnancy; and Ashlee Simpson would turn 21 and return to Saturday Night Live, hoping to rebuild a career after her last ruined performance. Stories of Lohan’s crash were still swirling in the tabloid pages, and Paris Hilton was allegedly sleeping with Mary-Kate Olsen’s ex-boyfriend, Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos. It looked like it was about to be a very good month for Ross after all.

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