The Desert Swan

An ex-New Yorker goes through a battery of beauty treatments to get a feel for Vegas-style glamour

I … volunteered … for … this.

This is my mantra as I stand, legs akimbo, in a cheap black thong (and nothing more) while Terry instructs, “Lift your booty up, gorgeous. Got to get your money shot.”

Luckily, I’d had a bit of liquid courage in the form of a cocktail a la Louisiane earlier that night (the bartender assured me that the combination of bitters, absinthe, rye, Benedictine and sweet vermouth would cure the cold I’d been trying to squash for two days). If not for that potent punch and my newly bronzed skin, Terry would have seen my entire body blush a deep, dark purple.

In point of fact, I actually volunteered twice for this assignment—a Sin City-style makeover that would take me from conservative ex-New Yorker to Va-Va-Vegas party girl in the span of 72 hours. The first time I proffered myself, my editors rejected the offer. They thought the transformation might not be dramatic enough—my teeth were already white-ish, my skin tan-ish and my body hairless-ish. And while I could stand to lose 10 pounds, probably the only person who would notice the weight loss would be my husband (who would have to deal with a chocolate-, coffee- and wine-deprived wife).

Still, I was dead set on a makeover. A new city called for a new me. Besides “having the boobs for it,” as a former editor so aptly remarked, there is nothing remotely Vegas about me. For one, I always seem to be the most dressed person in the clubs. During my most recent foray into Vegas’ nightlife, for example, the only skin showing was the flash of flesh that peeped out from my strappy shoes. And before that, I seem to recall making an appearance at Pure in a crisp white button-down, demure tweed skirt and sensible pumps.

The first and most important thing I had to change was my hair. I was in need of a new ’do. Almost as critical was my wardrobe, which on most days means skinny jeans and flats—and on my most adventurous days means motorcycle boots and a miniskirt. The rest—spray-on tanning, teeth whitening, fake lashes and nails—would be icing.

And so it was that I found myself with Terry at Bronzed—The Art of Tanning on a Thursday evening, trying not to steal glances at the unflattering full-length mirror while getting sprayed down by a man with nary an ounce of fat. In retrospect, it might have been better to do the tanning earlier in the week, before I had decided that the nine-day Isagenix cleanse I had signed on for was for the birds.

Earlier that morning, you would have found me in a similarly unflattering position—this time, derriere in the air as I had my nether regions waxed to perfection. In roughly an hour and a half, Bree Goldwater, human landscaper extraordinaire, had de-fuzzed me from head to toe. She even convinced me to wax my nostrils, one of the less painful procedures, as it turns out, but certainly a bad move considering the aforementioned cold.

The New York Classic look (before): DKNY Sleeveless Bubble Hem dress ($295) and belt ($170). During the transformation (below left): the hair and makeup session at Kim Vo salon. The Va-Va-Vegas “after” shot (opposite): Mara Hoffman Colorblock Mini ($310, available at Intermix) and, not shown, Veda cropped leather jacket ($650, available at Intermix) and DKNY Elena Ankle Strap sandals ($355).

My entire transformation week began with a comedy of errors. First, there was my cycling accident, which left me with bruises from thigh to chin. Then, the day after the “before” photo shoot, I woke up with a screaming rash on my legs (which Urgent Care identified as contact dermatitis). So much for my plans to go to the Las Vegas Athletic Club’s Body Sculpt class every day. With all my maladies, it was all I could do to get myself out of bed and to my various beautifying appointments. At the Trump Spa, I’m pretty sure I started snoring mid-facial, and during my professional makeup session, which involved my first set of false eyelashes and airbrush makeup, my nose was an irate, snotty mess.

Still, despite the setbacks, after three days of primping and pampering, culminating in an epic seven-hour day at the Kim Vo salon, I was barely recognizable. My nails had been painted a rich purple (Lincoln Park After Dark), which gave me a rock ’n’ roll edginess; my hair had been dyed a chocolate brown and teased and curled into a white-girl ’fro; and my lips had been painted cotton-candy pink. When I looked in the mirror, I marveled at the statuesque sexpot with bedroom hair and come-hither eyes. I felt like Raquel Welch—only a less graceful version, surely, as I teetered and tottered on my borrowed heels.

The final test (besides the photo shoot, which would forever document my transformation) was to take the new me out for a spin. At 5:30 p.m., the trip from the salon to the valet felt like a walk of shame, though I honestly don’t think I got a single second look. And when I showed up for happy hour at Blue Martini, I felt the need to introduce myself to people with a caveat: “I don’t normally look like this.”


  • Ultimate Kate facial, Trump Spa, $350
    476-8000, 2000 Fashion Show Dr.
  • Spray Tan, Bronzed: The Art of Tanning, $45
    737-8266, various locations
  • Mani/pedi (with hot wax), Kim Vo salon, $165
    791-7474, The Mirage,
  • Cut, color and blowout, Kim Vo salon, $295
  • Makeup, Kim Vo salon, $140
  • Nine-day cleanse, Isagenix, $200
  • Waxing (the works), Box Human Landscapers, $166
    893-9993, 4750 W. Sahara Ave.,
  • Crest Whitestrips, $55
  • Shoes, DKNY, $355
    650-9670, Forum Shops at Caesars
  • Clothing, Intermix, $960
    731-1922, Forum Shops at Caesars,
  • TOTAL COST: $2,731

It was only after several strangers commented on my dress (admittedly gorgeous, if a size too small and several inches shorter on both ends than I was used to), shoes (strappy stilettos that my husband would call “fuck me” shoes) and a cropped leather bomber that I realized … No one else besides me thought I looked out of place.

After the “after” photo shoot later that evening, I changed out of my too-tight dress and killer shoes and into my cozy sweats. I scrubbed the makeup off my face (it took four washes and I still had remnants of smoky eyes) and brushed the oversize curls out of my hair. It was almost too easy to convert back to my former self—gone, so quickly was that gorgeous goddess. But when I looked closer, there were still remnants. There was that golden tan (actually quite a nice shade of brown) and my bold, beautiful fingernails. My hair, even devoid of curls, still had a needed bit of attitude.

And the next day, when it came time to return my borrowed clothes, I decided to keep that dress, because, while Holly Madison I am not, who’s to say I can’t have the best of both worlds?

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