It appears as though our imperialist friends across the Atlantic have elevated the feature-length glossy troll to an art form. There is no other way to explain why the December issue of British Vogue decided to refer to Yahoo CEO (CEO!) Marissa Mayer, One Kings Lane cofounder Alison Pincus, and Kleiner Perkins partner Juliet de Baubigny as the "alpha trio" of new breed of socialite: "Silicon Wives and Girlfriends."
Forget New York, Los Angeles or the old-money oil fields of Texas, if you want to be on the frontline of America's most influential social scene, Silicon Valley is where it's at. And it's all thanks to the Swags—Silicon's Wives and Girlfriends.
More than just arm candy, the Swags are highly educated, public-spirited, stylish, successful and sharp, an independent force to be reckoned with: you're more likely to see them power-walking to a business summit than driving to a spray-tan appointment in the latest Ferrari. Indeed, far from being the gatekeepers to their high-tech, high-powered husbands, the Swags often run multimillion-dollar technology businesses of their own using the knowledge they accrued at Ivy League universities—often doing the course on which they met their spouse. And they're changing the face of the Valley.
Driving a Ferrari to a spray-tan appointment? Does British Vogue think rich people in America are villains from a John Hughes movie? Gotta hand it to the magazine for making the rigors of a first class education sound like an MRS degree, though.
Until recently, this part of California was seen simply as a nerds' paradise. Located close to Stanford University—a crucible for the next generation of tech geniuses—the Silicon area had no "scene" to speak of. Billionaire software executives from the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter were famous for their laid-back lifestyles and low social profile the Valley uniform was no more sophisticated than Converse, baggy jeans and a hoody. Dinners would be brief affairs held in anonymous local diners, leaving everyone time to "code" until the small hours. Not any more.
Part of the reason the article—you can download it to your iPad or read the scans below—sounds like some black-and-white imaginary version of Silicon Valley (anonymous local diners?) is because Vogue doesn't appear to have spoken to Mayer, de Baubigny, or Pincus. Rather the article rattles off the executives' fashion pedigree like it's the Westminster Dog Show:
Today, Silicon Valley's "alpha set" revolves around a trinity of women, of whom the most visible is Marissa Mayer. Recruited to lead the firm when she was seven months pregnant (she's since had baby Macallister), Mayer is the youngest CEO at a Fortune 500 company . She's unapologetic about being a working mother—she built a nursery next to her office—and she's equally bold in her style favouring colorful gowns by Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, vintage Balenciaga, Erdem, or Oscar de la Renta (it's said that she once bid $60,000 at an auction to have lunch with him.)
Her close friend Juliet de Baubigny is a stylish venture capitalist who lives in a $3 million home in nearby Atherton with her husband, Andre, and their two children, the 44-year-old was born in Britain and also serves as a board member on Bono's Product Red ethical consumer initiative. An immaculate blonde who bears a resemblance to her friend Gwyneth Paltrow, she boasts a wardrobe of Azzedine Alaia, Chanel, Derek Lam, and Alexander McQueen. She describes herself as "resolutely English with an American twist" and manages her frenetic family life, including holiday packing, through judicious spreadsheeting.
The only sources quoted in the piece are "San Francisco super-PR" Allison Speer, who was also featured in the well-read trend story about female entrepreneurs finally feeling like they wouldn't be judged harshly for caring about fashion (sorry, but girl you a Swag), Damion Matthews, editor of SFluxe.com ("a website which celebrates luxury living in San Francisco"), and philanthropist Bita Daryabari, the woman who paid Julio Iglesias $1 million to sing at her revenge wedding. All three couldn't be happier with this picture of the Swag lifestyle.
Under their influence, the scene in Silicon Valley has transformed. "The Rosewood Sand Hill hotel is the place to socialize for women who work and live down in Silicon Valley," says San Francisco super-PR Allison Speer. The modern ranch-style hotel is set in 16 acres of land and its cocktail bar is renowned for doing a mean margarita. It's also popular for its Michelin-starred American restaurant Madera, with a wood oven and extensive wine list. Further afield, many tech women hang out at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto—with its huge indoor fireplaces and outdoor terrace—or they go to San Francisco for meetings in the St. Regis hotel's Ame bar. But it's the newly opened members' club in the city's Jackson Square neighbourhood, the Battery—owned by Xochi and Michael Brch of Bebo game—that Speer credits as San Francisco's current hottest hangout.
"Unlike the guys, women in the Valley have networking cocktail nights," says Speers. "Sheryl Sandberg often has dynamic speakers at her home for such events: the women venture capitalists in the area are great connectors and like to introduce women to the women in business."
Yeah, no male founder or venture capitalist has ever discussed business over an alcoholic beverage before in their goddam life.
After cataloging the extravagances of the native Swag, Vogue uses Daryabari to highlight the philanthropic works of these nouveau-riche innovators. Nevermind that, as the East Bay Express reported, the influx of tech money has led to a more "transactional relationship in philanthropy, where you give something and expect to get something concrete back."
Charming and persuasive, Daryabari is adamant that Silicon Valley is an area where women can prosper: her own story is a testament to that. She was working her way up the ranks of the Valley's telecommunications industries, making significant money through investment, when she first met her now ex-husband Omid Kordestani.
When she stopped work to concentrate on raising the couple's two children, Kordestani became the twelfth employee at Google, a career decision which ultimately netted him $2.2 billion. The couple divorced in 2009, and although Daryabari, now remarried, still invests in tech companies and start-ups, her passions today are philanthropy and fashion.
As far as testaments go, the takeaway from Daryabari's Swag story—as opposed to the alpha set—seems less about a woman's ability to thrive in the tech industry and more about marrying into equity. But maybe I'm reading it upside down.
The article ends on a sympathetic note about the pressures of being a Swag (and a rather rosy view of Dell stock):
"Life in Silicon Valley can be very stressful," says Daryabari. "There's a lot of pressure, so people like to get out and do something different. The working day doesn't end at four or five o'clock; everyone is looking for another Apple, another Yahoo, another Dell… You have to keep up to date. There's a lot of backstabbing and it can be very hard."
"But people like Anne Wojcicki, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg prove that women can get ahead out here. And such good things are being done with the money we're generating. Do you know much was raised at the last fundraising evening at Atherton's Sacred Heart School?" Daryabari asks me. "A hundred million dollars. Can you believe that?"
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