The Salon of Madame Marissa

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008 | SMASH Pop Culture with

Madame Marissa

The Silicon Valley blog Valleywag has almost made it a sport of ridiculing Marissa Mayer’s every move. The site provides snarky gossip about IT companies like Yahoo!, Apple and Google and it seems to have honed in mercilessly on Mayer, but it’s not like she doesn’t deserve it. Mayer, who has been at Google for over a decade, and is now Vice President for Search Products and User Experience, is arguably one of the most visible members of senior management, apart from Eric Schmidt and, to a lesser extent somehow, Sergey and Larry. And she has become one of the most derided, if some recent postings in Valleywag are to be believed.

Mayer apparently runs a fiefdom that encompasses what one might call the ”good life”. She has personally called herself the “high priestess of simplicity” by allowing her management of Google’s user interface to then spread all that warmth and goodness into people’s lives. If you admire the homepage of Google, with its relative minimalism and even the quirky artwork that’s been specifically selected, you only have Marissa to thank. She has become the face of Google, jetting around the world to spread her message.

Along the way she has collected all sorts of whimsical tips about how we should organize our searches when we go to our computers, and she is eager to pass them on in her singular, chirpy style of speaking. Yet I wonder how the transition from engineer who has helped shape one of the largest tech companies in the world to being an arbiter of style, art, and fashion happened. Did Google just create a new “social arbiter” position recently? Does an IT company that seeks not to be “evil” or tell us how to live our lives somehow betray this by unwittingly creating and then unleashing someone like her to the rest of the masses, even beyond the IT world?

Valleywag reported yesterday that Mayer was named to the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

It’s a prestigious position for sure, but it’s also interesting because she happens to own several pieces of art. The position also allows her, with the Google imprimatur, to continue to bring her presence to what is one of the Bay Area’s signature cultural landmarks. That, and the fact that she has attended swanky lunches there, like the SF MOMA ball –one of the City’s premier chi-chi events–that she hosted last year.

It’s something that would fall in line with the frequent social gatherings and sightings that have been reported recently. She is in the society pages now, from opening night San Francisco Symphony to philanthropic functions. Much was made, for instance, of a lunatic $60,000 auction bid she made (and won) at a charity event so she could have lunch with famed designer Oscar de la Renta. Oh, and she was wearing a de la Renta gown at the event as well.

For a woman with clear social aspirations with her incessant appearances at various events (she is still single, by the way), it begs the question: at what point do her work responsibilities cross into her own personal –and now public—space or persona? How much is her ascension dependent on her role at Google and how much of her experience there has allowed her to enter these vaunted social circles? Furthermore, why make the impression that you are simply trying too hard to be noticed?

The orbit around Marissa’s blonde head is both gilded and sheltered, obsessed with all that is material, concerned with the environment when it’s cool, a slave to designer fashion and all that is beyond most people’s means. And all this because she can. She doesn’t just shove our face into the fact that she wore an expensive hand-beaded gown at this year’s Oscar Ball (another big SF charity event for the well-scrubbed).

But it’s just hard to understand what it is that drives her if not mere social ambition, or like someone posted recently, it’s as if she didn’t go to her own prom. How does all this climbing affect the company that made her who she is, and not just the unspeakable wealth she seems to literally wear on her designer sleeves?

I can’t resist one more dig. I am a fan of yelp.com, a user-driven website for restaurants and other services; it’s a good way to search for places and receive reliable reviews. Last week, I received a perky email from Yelp, informing me and all Yelpers that their crack investigative staff visited Google –uh, wait, the Googleplex—and met up with the inimitable high priestess herself, Marissa, and conducted an interview with her, took pictures, and you can be sure there was a lot of giggling going on.

We learn that she lives close to University Avenue in Palo Alto, where she isn’t above having a taco at a local taqueria, though the one in question is a place called Andale! (now inside the Googleplex, natch), or how she likes to take in a sauna at Sports Club LA (certainly not the Y) before hitting those clubs on Friday nights. It’s actually hilarious to read the exchange between Yelp’s Connie C and Nish N. and Marissa; we don’t know who is hustling whom, what with all the references to the Yelp listings and the name or label-dropping during this chat-fest. (Wonder if, secretly, the Yelp girl is thinking, “Can you please buy us? Please?”) Since this interview, with the cute pictures, came out, I also wonder if either of them has actually read their own exchange out loud to hear what helium sounds like.

So there you have it, a virtual salon, like those in 17th century France where you held court with the right people and soaked in all the proper social gatherings of the time, right inside Google. She is a 21se century incarnation of a Madame de Condorcet. By the way, according to her own Yelp site (only 15 reviews, girl’s busy!), she manages to get around to telling us how marvelous the Ritz-Carlton-Central Park is, especially with this charming tip:

One tip: You can pay an upcharge on your room for “Club Access” which gets you into the really nice lounge on the 2nd floor, where they serve 5 mini-meals through out the day - breakfast, lunch sandwiches, afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres, and dessert. So, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time or money eating out, you can eat really well just by visiting the club (great gourmet food). I find it’s worth the Club Access charge for this.

and Barney’s, which, good Lord, finally made it to San Francisco. She probably wishes we could one day afford such mundane places ourselves.

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