Right around the time when fashion lovers were digging into The Devil Wears Prada, Lucky beauty editor Jean Godfrey-June published her breezy, light-hearted memoir, Free Gift with Purchase. Similar to the other fashion tell-all books in this short-lived subgenre, Godfrey-June gossips about the best beauty products, catfights in the office, and wearing designer clothes to posh parties.
When she’s describing the cattiness of Elle Magazine, Godfrey-June is funny and entertaining. But when she’s describing her follies in childhood and adulthood outside of the magazine universe, Godfrey-June’s humor is hit-or-miss.
The book is part memoir, part tell-all, and it doesn’t do either exceptionally well. The first few chapters begin with a slow rendition of Godfrey-June’s childhood as an awkward teenager falling in love with beauty. This long introduction weighs down the potential impact in the first half of Free Gift with Purchase.
The fun and juicy bits start in the middle chapters where the author suddenly finds herself in the unfamiliar territory in the Elle editorial staff. Godfrey-June uses fun nicknames for her former co-workers like Fashionista (the Elle Fashion Editor) and Model Wife (self-explanatory). In her descriptions of the cruel work atmosphere at Elle, the stories are both sad yet entertaining.
Unbeknownst to the old art director, she was fired and found out when she noticed the new art director working on the next month’s issue. This vivid narrative of a Machiavellian, cutthroat world is the heart of the book.
The author plays off the absurdity of the serious business surrounding beauty products. The description of the Fifi Awards, the so-called Oscars for perfumes and fragrance makers, is hilarious. Godfrey-June doesn’t live out her days at Elle to the benefit of her career and the reader. She guides the reader to her follies in online publishing and finding a new home at Lucky magazine.
Throughout the book, the author gives beauty and lifestyle advice from buying red lipstick to Botox. A few of the later chapters discuss what exactly a beauty editor does. Godfrey-June vividly describes her experiences in reviewing perfumes, spas, makeup, and creams.
Free Gift with Purchase would be a stronger read if it stuck to the good stuff: the insights and secrets to the exclusive beauty and fashion business. Unfortunately, Godfrey-June tries to weave in beauty lessons with life lessons all in one straight, chronological order but with little success. In some passages, the author portrays herself as a girl-next-door character in a romantic comedy than as a rising beauty editor. Despite these setbacks, Free Gift with Purchase delivers the dish on the world of fashion.