Text messages were flying last spring between a half dozen or so friends in the beauty industry—hairdressers, stylists, those in-the-know about how New York City’s celebrities and socialites maintain their appearance—when Madonna was spotted slipping into the entrance of 1049 Fifth Avenue. Was she scooping up a new residence in the posh condominium building Possibly. But more likely? After the death of her beloved dermatologist, Dr. Fredric Brandt, weeks earlier, she was searching for a new doctor to wield the injectables that keep her looking age-indeterminate. And dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank just happens to have offices at 1049 Fifth. It looked like the Queen of Pop was anointing a new clinician.
When asked to verify the rumor of taking on Madonna as a client, Dr. Frank demurred, explaining that he was inhibited by state privacy laws and that, of course, he could not confirm or deny that the iconic singer was a patient. He did offer this: “Either way, the truth always comes out in the end.”
The truth of where the many prominent clients of Dr. Brandt are taking their business is not easily obtained, however. It was a key question that circulated among mourners at his April memorial, hosted by socialite Lisa Marie Falcone, wife of hedge fund manager Philip Falcone and held in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Some of the guests were too embarrassed to speak above a murmur. But in the weeks that followed his death, patients asked one another in voices growing steadily louder and more urgent: Whose hands should we trust our faces to?
There were the obvious choices: Dr. David Colbert (who has compared the skin to an expensive fabric “that should be maintained like your finest cashmere sweater”), Drs. Patricia Wexler, Ellen Gendler, Melanie Grossman, Doris Day, Roy Geronemus, Lisa Airan, Joel Kassimir, Dennis Gross—there is no dearth of contenders. (And I’m sure I’ll hear even more names from readers disgruntled over the omission of their favorite, so let me here offer a pre-apology.)
“One person called me with a list of eight names, asking me which doctor I thought she should go to,” says beauty doyenne and Allure contributing editor at large Joan Kron, who declines making recommendations because she doesn’t think it’s an appropriate role for journalists.
Not every doctor is simply sitting back and waiting for Dr. Brandt’s patients to come to them. Melinda Farina, the president and founder of the patient-referral service Integrated Aesthetics Consulting, says that she’s noticed a number of MDs trying to capitalize on Dr. Brandt’s demise by co-opting his trademark techniques: “They’re putting all of their money into optimizing their online Google searches and investing in key words like ‘Liquid face-lift’ or ‘Y face-lift,’ all of the procedures he was best known for.”
Superstar colorist Sharon Dorram has bestowed beautifully natural color reminiscent of children’s hair on Barbra Streisand, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson, to name a few—as well as some of the top fashion and beauty professionals in the city. In the elegant Upper East Side salon she shares with business partner and hairdressing icon Sally Hershberger, Dorram has been privy to some disturbing jockeying.
“Some of the dermatologists who sit in my chair have been mercenary in asking me to recommend them to clients—so offensive, so soon after Fred’s death,” says Dorram, a close friend of Dr. Brandt’s who was still reeling over his passing when we talked. “And I didn’t see it myself, but one of my clients said that a certain derm was actually giving out cards at Dr. Brandt’s memorial.”
Another shady development: doctors who claim to be flooded with desperate A-list clients … but aren’t. After all, who’s going to fact-check it? One lesser known dermatologist I spoke to alleged that he was seeing “dozens of Dr. Brandt’s patients,” a dubious claim that sounded like an attempt to push his name into the ranks of A-listers.
The sad circumstances of Dr. Brandt’s death make such maneuvers particularly questionable. “Why, Fred, why?” comedian and talk-show personality Joy Behar asked plaintively at Dr. Brandt’s invitation-only memorial. More than 400 wrinkle-free boldfaced names, from TV star Kelly Ripa to actress Blythe Danner to fashion icons Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein, packed the auditorium. As we sat facing the stage, usually home to the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, we agreed that Fred would have adored the 3,000 white orchids filling it now. A beauty editor sitting next to me whispered, “If only Dr. B. could have seen the love here today, do you think he would have done it?”
All of us who knew and admired him were stunned by the news that the pioneering doctor who used Botox as far back as the early ’90s—when it sounded absolutely insane to inject botulinum toxin into your forehead—our friend, our confidant, the doctor who made up rap songs and sang show tunes during our appointments and who made the business of serums and syringes positively fun, had taken his own life. Gwyneth Paltrow and supermodel Stephanie Seymour were clients, and with offices in New York and Miami, Fred Brandt was considered by many to be one of the country’s premier dermatologists for 20 years—a feat that’s hard to manage in any field. He specialized in the “Y” lift, injecting filler beneath the cheekbone to add volume to the face, helping patients avoid surgery. In a youth-obsessed society, some patients came to see him in their twenties, and others checked in once a month, although he never let anyone go overboard.
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