The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Primates of Park Avenue’ author Wednesday Martin dishes on D.C.

Author Wednesday Martin signs books at the George Town Club. (Photo by Carol Joynt.)
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Wednesday Martin, the chronicler of the “Primates of Park Avenue” — that species of designer-bag-wielding ubermothers who populate the penthouses of New York’s Upper East Side — looked very much at home at a book signing and talk in Georgetown on Thursday.

After all, the women who flocked to listen to her speak at the tony George Town Club, their gumball-sized rings flashing as they picked at their crab salads and sipped chardonnay, are not-so-distant cousins of the women Martin dissects in the tome of that name.

“There are Park Avenues everywhere you go,” Martin said during an interview with Carol Joynt, the host of the “Q&A Cafe” series, which airs on local cable. “D.C. is no exception.”

[RELATED: The harried tale of ‘Primates of Park Avenue’]

Martin, looking serene and summery in white pants and sleeveless top (a matching Prada bag was perched on a barstool of its own next to her) sees quite a few similarities between the milieu of the Beltway and UES elite. Both, she said, have a power structure in which men control the majority of the resources (as in her book, Martin prefers anthropological terms), a flourishing “body-display” culture, a tendency toward perfectionist parenting, and social climbing accomplished via strategic playdates.

So close are the two that when she launched into a riff about the passage in her book describing the role of the coveted Hermes Birkin bag as status symbol par excellence, she felt compelled to seek a show of hands. “Anyone here have one?” she asked.

The answer from the frosted blonde collective was no — perhaps. As Joynt noted, the women might not want to ‘fess up, as showy displays of wealth just aren’t a big Washington thing. (They might, Martin observed darkly, get one indicted.)

And there, she found, was the major difference between the two tribes. “You fetishize political power the way … the culture I studied fetishizes money,” she said. In other words: “Influence is your Birkin bag.”