At 25, Ruthie Friedlander shouldn’t feel like an old lady. Yet last year, the senior digital manager for upscale fashion line The Row was pretty down about her physical health. “I was really frustrated with my doctors,” Friedlander says. “I was having a number of medical problems, ranging from minor to serious, and needed a fresh eye.”
That’s when Friedlander sought the help of Dr. Frank Lipman, a downtown Manhattan internist whose holistic approach to medicine is wildly popular with the fashion flock.
“Within two weeks, I felt like a new person,” she says of her post-Lipman experience, which included acupuncture to help with migraines, as well as taking vitamins, drinking Lipman’s own line of health shakes, and abstaining from foods containing gluten. “It has improved my sleep, skin, and energy level dramatically. The weight loss was an added bonus.”
Friedlander’s experience with Lipman is echoed throughout the industry — he is indeed the fashion clique’s doctor of the moment. And as good as the fashion industry is at making models, designers, and celebrities famous, they’re even better at forcing their favorite neuropath, dermatologist, plastic surgeon, or even plain-old general practitioner onto their friends, colleagues, neighbors, and — if they work in media — readers. Sit down at a table with a group of fashion people and the conversation quickly moves to what new procedures they’re trying, from lymphatic face drainage (not as gross as it sounds — it’s just a special facial massage) to medical cleanses to the latest advances in Botox.
Dermatologist Lisa Airan was one of the first “fashion doctors” to gain recognition beyond the confines of her Upper East Side practice, appearing on both the society and beauty pages of Vogue beginning in the 1990s. Dr. Patricia Wexler is another standby, with regular features in Allure promoting her skin-care line. But today, Lipman is king. The cleanse advocate is best known for suggesting an elimination diet that requires patients to cut out all the good stuff — sugar, dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol — adding each category back in one by one to determine what’s causing physical problems. (He has an impressive celebrity following as well, including Most Perfect Person in the World Gwyneth Paltrow.)
Since fashion people love an excuse not to eat — or at least that’s what many presume — it’s an easy guess as to why Lipman’s methods are so well-regarded. But in reality, fashion people are also hedonists, which means very few of them are willing to give up a good steak, a buttery croissant, or maybe most importantly, a Diet Coke, for an extended period of time. “I love my caffeine,” admits Friedlander. Adds Erica Domesek, founder of the DIY-fashion blog PS I Made This and Lipman devotee: “I’m willing to ditch gluten — but a glass of wine or cocktail is something I really enjoy.”
While the doctor says that his fashion patients don’t vary much from the rest, there are a few subtle differences. “The exception is that they want and need to get results quickly,” Lipman told BuzzFeed.
Indeed, fashion people expect split-second transformations from their gurus. That’s probably because they are asked to complete similarly impossible feats on a regular basis. (Insane deadlines are typically part of the job, no matter what your job actually is.)
“I had a bunch of people come and see me right before the Met Ball, saying, ‘I need to look good in my outfit!’” says holistic guru Tracy Piper. While not a medical doctor, the Chinese herbologist and certified colon hydrotherapist — there are a million other things she does too — is a favorite with models and also works with plenty of top stylists, designers, and editors on “internal fitness” from her NoLIta wellness center. (Think colon cleanses, lymphatic draining, and acupuncture.) “When you work in fashion, everyone is looking at you, so appearance is more important than in many other fields,” she says.
Dr. Joe Wolf, an Upper East Side plastic surgeon who says about 30% of his patients are in the industry, disagrees. “Interestingly enough, I would have to say all of my patients want one thing, and that is a natural aesthetic that suits their lifestyle and personality,” he says. “She could be an editor-in-chief, supermodel, hip-hop star, corporate professional, or mother.” He will admit, however, that one recommendation from a fashion person is way more valuable than that of a laywoman. “One referral from an editor can lead to designers, stylists, models, photographers, makeup artists and hair stylists,” he says.
The most important difference between regular patients and fashion patients isn’t that the latter is better dressed or better connected, says Dr. Marc Lowenberg. His Central Park South dental practice has welcomed plenty of designers over the years, as well as supermodels Heidi Klum, Gisele, and Christy Turlington. (Ford Models co-founder Eileen Ford turned them on to Lowenberg’s perfect-smile-forming methods, including bleaching, veneers — aka caps — and “cosmetic contouring,” where the dentist uses a drill and sandpaper to make your teeth more even.) To Lowenberg, the biggest difference is the editor’s/designer’s/makeup artist’s need to, well, get involved. “Fashion people want the same thing as our other patients: a beautiful smile,” says Lowenberg. “The difference is that most people in the fashion industry have a great aesthetic eye and are active participants in designing their new smile.”
Most of the doctors I talked to seemed ambivalent about their popularity in the industry. “My goal is always the same: to arrive at a plan that will yield the best result possible and a satisfied client,” said Wolf, brushing off his notoriety to instead focus on the needs of the patient.
But Dr. Frederic Brandt, a Miami-based dermatologist who runs a satellite practice in New York to cater to his fashion-crowd patients (approximately 20% of his practice), says fashion is part of the reason they love him. “People are always interested to see what I’m wearing,” says the Madonna-endorsed doctor, who is known to carry a Steven Sprouse x Louis Vuitton bag or two. “And the results they will get when they come to see me.”
Fashion people have their favorites for everything from Botox to caps, but it’s hard not to wonder: Who will be crowned fashion’s next king of health? Most of the current monarchy consists of those who have ruled for decades, the Donna Karans and Ralph Laurens of medicine. But there’s always room for new talent — the kind that only a fashion editor can spy.