Former Beauty Editor: Dr. Brandt Was a Legend

5 minute read

Cat Marnell is a former beauty editor. She is writing a memoir, "How To Murder Your Life," for Simon & Schuster.

When I was a beauty intern — at Nylon, Teen Vogue, and Glamour — and then a beauty assistant at Lucky, all I ever wanted was to go see the dermatologist Dr. Fredric Brandt, who died Sunday at age 65 from an apparent suicide. To me, visiting Dr. Brandt was the absolute Holy Grail. All of the editor-in-chiefs and beauty directors saw this magical dermatologist, and I knew this because I used to call Dr. Brandt’s publicity firm and book my bosses’ appointments for them.

Someday, I’d think, at age 23, sitting at my desk in the Glamour beauty closet, where I spent hours every day filing products. Until that day, at least, I had all of the Dr. B products I could ever want. His grainy, lemon-scented exfoliant, Microdermabrasion in a Jar, made my skin glow — not an easy feat for someone who stayed up all night and worked all day, like I did back then.

Dr. Brandt had an office on East 34th Street, over by the East River and FDR Drive in Manhattan, where there is bad traffic during morning rush hour. Once, when I was a magazine intern, I answered the phone, and it was a top-ranking editor. She told me she was in front of Dr. Brandt’s office, and her town car wasn’t there to pick her up.

“There is BLOOD … all over my face!” she was shouting. “And I am in front of Dr. Brandt’s office … and my car isn’t here! And there is BLOOD … ALL OVER … MY FACE!” Oh, she was just livid! It was so glamorous. I called the town car driver and berated him until he found her.

When I passed the editor that afternoon at the office, I snuck a peek at her skin. If it had been that gory earlier in the day, surely it would look swollen, pinched, bruised, tweaked, or puffy mere hours later. But the editor looked youthful, dewy, and — dare I say — relaxed (though I knew the truth), like she’d spent 90 minutes doing kundalini yoga that morning instead of in crosstown traffic on 42nd Street.

Dr. Brandt was that good.

At another magazine, the editor-in-chief suffered from terrible headaches. Her office was lit up like Kramer’s apartment on Seinfeld when a Kenny Rogers Chicken restaurant opened up across the street. And this was not so good for her migraines. Then I heard that she had gone to see Dr. Brandt, and he had injected her all over her head with Botox, which had just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for migraine treatment. His treatments vastly improved her once-disabling condition. Dr. Brandt could do anything.

When I was 26, I was promoted from beauty assistant to associate beauty editor at Lucky. I got business cards that said “editor” on them for the first time, and I was flown first-class to Gucci perfume launches in Rome and to Dolce and Gabbana makeup dinners in Milan. I also finally got to see Dr. Brandt.

I was so excited for my first appointment, where I saw a famous editor-in-chief wandering through down a corridor in high heels and clutching a Birkin bag, looking for her treatment room, white numbing cream already on her face.

I was ushered into a treatment room of my own, and then… enter Dr. Brandt! Much has been made of his “looks,” or how he mutilated his own face. But in his own element, in this fabulous, surreal office, he looked just right. The aesthetic he rocked was striking: With his platinum hair and weird glasses, he reminded me of Andy Warhol.

He was terribly nice. I confessed I had prescription drug problems and insomnia, and that I thought it was all coming out of my skin as acne. He didn’t judge. He gave me a terrific laser treatment that was like something out of a science-fiction movie. He prescribed me the prescription retinol Tazorac — a favorite of his — and told me to keep coming back. I did, many times.

My acne cleared, though my drug problems didn’t. A year later, I wound up quitting my dream job at Lucky due to my addiction, so I stopped seeing the world’s most coveted dermatologist.

In November 2014, I attended the opening of the artist Takashi Murakami at the Gagosian gallery. It was a big, crowded party, and on my way out I bumped into a man. I looked up, and it was Dr. Brandt. In the press that has come out since his apparent suicide, I learned that he was a contemporary art lover who lived in West Chelsea, close to the galleries. I hadn’t seen him in years, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled if it had been Madonna — Dr. Brandt’s most famous client — herself.

“Dr. Brandt!” I squealed, like a teenybopper. “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I used to be a beauty editor at Lucky!”

“Good to see you,” Dr. Brandt said in his sweet way.

“You totally cured my acne!” I rambled on. “I’m your biggest fan!”

“Thank you!” he said. Then the crowd shifted, and he was gone.

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