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To have and to hold on to; When you're married to a multi-millionaire, you have to be on your guard for the newer, younger model always waiting in the wings.

Byline: MORAG PRESTON

Entering the Tomassettis' huge New York mansion, it's obvious that appearances count for everything.

The gleaming gold statues, spotless white marble floors, and crystal chandeliers make it look like a cross between a pharaoh's palace and a French chateau.

But pride of place, above the fireplace in the dining room, hangs a portrait of Rocco Tomassetti and his wife, Vincenza.

Taken some years ago, before the arrival of their three children, Vincenza looks tanned and slim, dressed in sparkly disco gear, standing proudly beside her husband. It is a position that she is not about to give up easily.

Being married to a man with pockets as deep and well-cut as Donald Trump's, she is acutely aware that a legion of younger women are eager to assume the title of Mrs Tomassetti.

So while Rocco is hard at work running the successful construction company that built half the skyscrapers in Manhattan, his diamond-encrusted 43-year-old wife is busy seeing to some maintenance work of her own.

Regular visits to the beauty salon, manicurist, hairdresser, tanning shop and plastic surgeon are permanent fixtures in Vincenza's diary. And she's not alone. Vincenza is one of a breed of perfectly coiffured middle-aged New York women who have dedicated their lives to combating the ageing process. They are a tough-talking, feisty bunch who fill their days with a relentless battle to turn back the clock.

They've been nipped, tucked, plumped up, polished and waxed - and they believe it's worth every cent. "I've always been conscious of how I look," says Vincenza, who is of Italian descent and could easily pass for someone 10 years younger. "I wouldn't dream of going out without make-up or leaving the house without fixing my hair." By day she can usually be found jumping into her Mercedes and dashing off to lunch with a friend, shopping for a new pair of shoes or paintings for the house, or having some more work done at the salon.

By night, she is on show on her husband's arm at drinks parties and corporate events. "We go to a lot of social functions so I need to look my best," she says, nibbling on a fat-free wrap delivered to her home from her favourite deli. "With the technology that we have today, there's really no excuse not to." With her children - nine-year-old twins Rocco and Dino and five-year-old Gina - it's hard to imagine how she manages to devote so much time to her appearance.

But when the Estonian housekeeper hang up little Gina's fake- fur coat and gets her something to drink on her return from school, it's clear that money can buy more than just a 17,000 sq ft house with its own gym and indoor swimming pool. Sitting next to Vincenza at her kitchen table is Rosemary Morash, her shopping companion and plastic-surgery partner.

The wife of a wealthy New York hotel owner, Rosemary, 46, is equally obsessed with her looks. "I've probably been a little bit on the vain side all my life," she says, picking the grilled vegetables out of her wrap. "I was a very heavy child and was teased a lot so I'm very conscious of my weight.

I never eat junk food and don't bring any into the house. I eat a lot of salads and try to stick to drinking just water and tea."The two women met at their country club - a perfect place for checking out the competition - and bonded after Vincenza passed on the name of her cosmetic surgeon, Dr Victor Rosenberg.

Rosenberg had performed both liposuction and a breast augmentation - something Rocco had long been inquiring about - on Vincenza in the same session. "I was already booked in to have liposuction on my stomach," she says. "I was going to be put to sleep so I thought they might as well make my chest bigger at the same time. "Whenever I wore anything tight, I had this little bulge and it drove me crazy," she says.

These days, Vincenza slips comfortably into her purple PVC trousers with matching high-heeled boots. But it was her bust that caught Rosemary's attention. "I remember being so impressed byVincenza's openness, the way she talked about her implants and the way they looked so natural," says Rosemary, whose eyebrows have been tweezered almost out of existence. "My breasts have never been small, but they were beginning to sag. It got to the point where I hated the way I looked. After I had them done, I was thrilled. I thought I looked great."

As a large part of her husband's job is social, Rosemary had plenty of opportunity to show off her new look. "He has to entertain all the time, and the people we are out with make judgements about him based on me." Both women believe that looking goodis an intrinsic part of being married, especially in an image-obsessed city like New York. "There's always the next younger model out there," says Vincenza, dragging on a cigarette.

"My husband's successful, he works in Manhattan and he's exposed to a lot of beautiful women. I used to be more trusting but it's harder as you get older." To help her keep in shape, a personal trainer used to work out with Vincenza twice a week in her gym at home. That all stopped when her husband discovered that her trainer was a man. "He didn't like me having a man because he knew someone whose wife had run off with her trainer," she says. Vincenza is just as careful to vet the women who work for her husband at his multi-million dollar company, Empire Transit. "I always have a say in who is hired," she says, adding that she usually sits in on interviews.

"I'd never let him take on a young girl. Why put something under somebody's nose? He's not dead." Hubby Rocco, 45, never eats junk food and uses weights daily to build up his upper body. "If a man is conscious of the way he looks that puts more pressure on the woman to look good," says Vincenza. But there are limits to what she will tolerate to keep her man. "I'd leave him if I found out he was having an affair," she says, "because I'm very proud and don't want to be made to look a fool.

He knows what he's dealing with." Another of Dr Rosenberg's clients isnative New Yorker Marion Berlin, who knew him as a friend long before she required his services. Three years ago, Marion went to Rosenberg for a full facelift. "I wanted to look rested," says the 62-year-old. "I'm an enigma because I don't look my age. People are always shocked when I tell them how old I am, because I look like I'm in my thirties. But when I started to feel a little drooping under my chin, I went to see Victor and he recommended surgery."

Marion is another self-confessed trophy wife who feels it's a woman's job to look good if she wants to hang on to her husband. "It's usually the wife's fault when her husband runs off with another woman," she says. "Some women let themselves go - they're no longer the woman their husband married. If my husband cheated on me, I'd have to look at myself."

After a lifetime of watching her weight and keeping the wrinkles at bay, Marion is certain her husband has never strayed. "He would never want to lose me. He's mesmerised by me. He's never bored." Eric, Marion's husband of 38 years, owns a manufacturing company. "He has been through some hard times, but he tells me he never lost his millions because he has me," she says. "I'm his shining diamond, and I never lose my sparkle. He's 63, bald and cute, and not bothered about the way he looks. It's enough for a manto have a pretty woman on his arm."

Marion has worked as a model, music producer and actress. She was also a fashion consultant on the set of the 1961 movie The Misfits, which starred Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. "I taught Marilyn how to tie a scarf," she says wistfully. "Remember how she used to tie a belt around a big, thick sweater? That was me. "I also used to hang out with Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger. I was in with the in-crowd.

"I don't look like an artificial woman," she says. "I look like Linda Evans when she was on Dynasty." To keep her looks in check, she makes weekly trips to her beauty salon for manicures and pedicures. Her hairdresser charges $400 an hour to tweak her shoulder-length platinum- blonde extensions into shape. "I watch what I eat. No fat. No red meat. If we go out, I'll always order fish. "I constantly get hit on by young men - it's so cute," says Marion, who has two sons, aged 29 and 35.

"I have little boyfriends wherever I go shopping. I'm a city girl. New York women have so much class." Her mornings are devoted to grooming. "It takes me a long time to get ready. I wouldn't be caught dead without make-up on. "She fills her day with trips to the upmarket department store Henri Bendell for outfits to add to her extensive wardrobe. Then it's usually lunch with one of her gay male friends at the trendy restaurant Nobu. Walking her pampered pooch - a black-and-white Lhasa Apso called Sofia - and yoga keep Marion fit. "Ageing is an art," she says.

"Everyone wants to look young. You first have to develop an attitude. Keep your head up and always look proud,because, honey, you are the best, and you'd better believe it." In America, cosmetic procedures have risen 275 per cent in the past decade. In 1999 alone they numbered more than a million, including 231,000 liposuctions, 167,000 breast augmentations, 142,000 eyelid surgeries, 73,000 facelifts and 55,000 tummy-tucks. And in an image-conscious city like New York, beauty is no longer a gift, it's a commodity.

With diet, exercise and surgery, any woman can turn back time. Daniel Lorello, president of theAmerican Society of Plastic Surgery, suggests that going under the knife is no different from "putting a nice sweater on, combing your hair, doing your nails or having a little tan". Five years ago, breast augmentation was the most common request Dr Rosenberg received.

Before that it was nose jobs. Now it's liposuction. "People want to keep up with the times," he says. "If they have their nose done in their twenties, their eyes start going in their thirties, and then theycan always have their face done when they hit their forties." The walls of his office are lined with pictures of celebrities, including talk- show host Joan Rivers and actress Cheryl Tiegs.

But perhaps Dr Rosenberg's best client is his wife. Sixty-year-old Debby Rosenberg has had three full facelifts, one nose-job and two bouts of eye surgery, all courtesy of her husband. She is the ultimate trophy wife - a walking sandwich board for her husband's business.

Debby is tiny, with eyes like saucers and closely cropped hair that she has cut every fortnight. She had her first facelift in 1973, when she was 33. Rosenberg has also operated on both their children. Spencer, now 29, who works in TV, had his nose operated on after he broke it playing sport. Ria, 27, who works for a modelling agency, had her nose fixed when she was 14.

Back at Tomassetti towers, Vincenza is planning yet another shopping spree. "I can get in my Mercedes today, go shopping, and buy anything I see. I could go around the world as many times as I like and afford all the plastic surgery that I want," she says.

"But I don't have my husband here to do those things with me. He's a workaholic, and that's hard. That's what you sacrifice if you want to have a lifestyle like this."

CAPTION(S):

Clockwise from left: the "enigma" that is 62-year-old Marion Berlin; Rosemary, 46, thinks people make judgments about her husband based on her; the shape of things to come for Vincenza; Rosemary and Vincenza bonded over plastic surgery; Marion has kept hold of Eric for 38 years
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN LTD
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:M on Tuesday
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 3, 2001
Words:2051
Previous Article:M Fashion: Checking out; Fashion Lounge.
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