Patricia Altschul uses Neutrogena wipes to remove her makeup.
The most popular cast member of “Southern Charm” — who isn’t even technically a cast member — rings a bell so her butler can make her a perfect 5 p.m. martini. She wears (and designs) jewel-necked caftans and lounges in her meticulously preserved pre-Civil War manse in Charleston. She is an art collector, a New York City socialite, a grande dame, a Southern belle. She’s witty and intelligent and wonderfully acerbic. She’s magnanimous yet elitist. She’s warm yet sharp-edged. She’s imposing. She’s royal.
And at the end of the day, she uses the same drug store product I do to remove makeup.
It shouldn’t shock me, I guess, now that I’ve had an actual conversation with her.
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For someone so elegant and moneyed, she is remarkably salt of the earth.
It makes no sense, I grant you. But it’s true.
She comes across authentically, which is what makes her new book, “The Art of Southern Charm,” worthy beyond her fan circles.
It’s an etiquette and Southern lifestyle guide that doesn’t preach.
Her advice is usable. And any detectable snobbiness in it stems from her true appreciation of and access to the finer things in life and isn’t some Bravo-lebrity put-on to assert superiority or flaunt her social position.
In other words, she’s not Luann de Lesseps, the “Real Housewives of New York” star who tried to brand herself as a classy mentor to the masses while using the F-word and doing the walk of shame.
Altschul is above the screaming and clawing that makes Bravo so perfectly Bravo.
In fact, she is only on “Southern Charm” because she’s a big fan of her son, producer Whitney Sudler-Smith, who is also on the show. He asked her and she’ll do anything for him, she told me.
And thank goodness for that.
If not for Sudler-Smith, Bravo fans would never have had the pleasure of hearing Altschul’s droll, perfectly delivered insults.
There would have been no “I mean, she’s a scandal. A shameless strumpet.”
No “Women today look like they’ve been shot out of a cannon.”
No “Instead of impregnating 21-year-olds, you might refocus, is all I’m suggesting.”
And no book.
“I used to joke that I was the only person I knew who hadn’t written a book,” she said.
It wasn’t something she ever saw herself doing.
When she was approached to write a lifestyle guide, it just made sense. Fans are always asking her for advice. Why not put it all in writing?
The day before I spoke with Altschul, friends gave me their bucket lists of the things they’d ask her if they ever got to meet her: What does she use on her skin? Who is her dermatologist? What products does she recommend? What does she put in her hair? Where does she buy her clothes?
She is goals, they gushed.
And luckily for them, she’s generous with that kind of information (she even shares what’s on her Kindle).
“The Art of Southern Charm” — probably the only Bravo-connected book that has a vocab list — doesn’t just give tips on decorating and entertaining; it outlines Altschul’s habits and beauty routines in very specific terms while also emphasizing the importance of finding what works for you.
She gives women an attainable framework for living happy, healthy, confident and, most importantly, intelligent lives.
I say “most importantly” because the No. 1 question Altschul gets from young women, she told me, is “How do I marry a rich man?”
While she readily admits her book ascribes to old-fashioned values and while the book also celebrates love and romance, it’s thoroughly modern in its belief that a woman’s worth isn’t about the man.
It’s about being the best version of yourself in all aspects.
“We’re all familiar with the life lessons behind ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book about how to find and experience your passion,” Altschul writes. “Well, I’m going to do my version of the sequel, and I’m calling it ‘Speak, Write, Read.’ I’m a woman who thinks that smart is the new sexy. I believe in Southern belles, not dumb belles, wherever they’re from.”
Altschul will hold a book-signing — her first ever — at 7 p.m. April 18 at Barnes and Noble in the Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah. If you can’t make it then, you’ll have another opportunity to meet her from 2 to 4 p.m. April 29 at The Gibbes Museum in Charleston.