I developed my first girl crush—on the illustrator and writer Leanne Shapton—three years ago, when I was working as a Web producer at The New Yorker. A colleague of mine had Leanne’s second book on her desk, and one day I picked it up and slowly started turning the pages, transfixed. The book—Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry—is a mock auction catalog that tells the story of a deteriorating relationship through the deacquisitioning of the couple’s possessions. It’s capricious, intelligent, and delicately done.
According to Google and my close interrogation of those who knew her, Leanne appeared to have a most enviable life: She lived in a stunning West Village apartment, all antique rugs and Farrow & Ball paint; wore a Dries Van Noten skirt as effortlessly as she did a painter’s smock; and was happily engaged to the handsome and successful publishing executive James Truman. I adored her from afar, and I suppose a part of me wanted to be her.
A generous friend who knew Leanne found my obsession amusing and arranged for the three of us to have a drink. On the appointed day, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror a cliché of a nervous wreck: rehearsing what to say, fretting over what to wear. Should I go understated and elegant in a black Maria Cornejo dress and Margiela booties? Or maybe something a bit more romantic, like my floral-print Mayle dress with Chanel flats? Should I lead with a handshake? A cheek kiss? A hug? And if she ordered a martini, should I get one, too—or would it be wiser to stick with a glass of Sancerre? More important, why was I treating this like a date?
The “girl crush” may sound silly, but sometimes it takes something unserious to get us talking about a serious subject: the ambitions of young creative women and the need for worthy role models. Among my own nominees for inaugural members of the Girl Crush Hall of Fame are Zadie Smith, with her daring, brilliance, and wild success; Joan Didion, with her cool, spare prose; Patti Smith, with her soul and wisdom; Sofia Coppola, with her chic grace and unmistakable taste; and Tina Fey, with her goofy smile and razor wit. Each of them has accomplished something the rest of us dream of doing. And because they’ve done it, we feel we can too.
There’s a distinctly nineties flavor to the term (think Riot Grrrls), but the idea of the girl crush is much older than that. F. Scott Fitzgerald had something to say on the matter in an essay he penned in 1930: “ ‘Crushes’ were once a boarding-school phenomenon—now any sort of courageous individualism makes a woman the center of a cult…What effect has this woman worship on the young girl herself?”