Semi-Gloss

Semi GlossFormer Elle Australia editor Cullen’s memoir would at first blush seem a bit niche. From her upbringing in the white bread suburbs of Southern Sydney where she first encountered racism because of her Indonesian descent to swanning around the world at million dollar parties as a European football WAG and a high flying international magazine editor, it’s all quite a ride.

But the elements of her life she’s talking about (several divorces, a history of sexual harassment and near sexual assault and the urgency with which she reminds us how many women face them in life, her career in print magazines during their heyday in Australia under Kerry Packer’s ACP) seem on the surface to be by turns mundane – most of us have had break-ups and kids, and relics from a bygone era – who under 40 even remembers magazines?

But the pleasure in the reading it that Cullen is such a good writer, bringing her story to vibrant, endearing and sometimes heartbreaking life. From the time she so evocatively and beautifully describes the sensory and cultural milieu of an Australian summer as a kid to the evolution of her career in ACP’s womens’ magazine stable – starting in work experience and ending up leading one of the most powerful fashion media brands in the world – it all becomes quite gripping.

The story of a little girl finding, chasing and achieving her ambition along with many ill-advised and youthful misadventures and missteps is a great character drama full of love, hate, laughter and tears and the lively and at-times gorgeous prose Cullen uses to deliver it is the icing on the cake.

In less talented hands the way she tells the story in rough chronological order could be choppy and episodic, but she has such a strong sense of who she’s been and who that young woman grew into with all her triumphs and disappointments, it feels fluid and solidly structured.

If you’re a certain age you might come for the inside dirt on Australian consumer magazines when they were at their most powerful, but you’ll stay for – and enjoy – every other aspect of Cullen’s story just as much.