The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Reading isn't always serious.
A Review by Bruce McKinney
Prada did you say? Is AE a history site whose threads are entwined with Prada? Yes it is true but please don't tell anyone. Ever the reader I too need to change gears. After recent bouts with Henry Ford and Alexander Hamilton I chose something that is described on its paperback cover as "the phenomenal New York Times bestseller." Is that an endorsement from the New York Times? Not exactly. Nevertheless it's very interesting. It is the thinly veiled account of the author's year as an assistant to Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue. One hopes it isn't true.
I always have a book with me. Ten minutes are not for wasting and I had this book with me recently when I went to get a haircut. The stylist [at the price she could not have been just a barber] wailed at the site of this book. "My God I haven't read it yet and I have to. Everyone else has." I regularly carry Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Book Award material to the barber and I've never encountered a reaction before except for once when someone asked how I could carry such a heavy book around. This day I quickly learned that The Devil Wears Prada is a hot topic under the hairdryers.
For those whose orientation is history I'll explain it this way. Ms. Weisberger, the author, is now uncharitably compared to Benedict Arnold by the cognoscenti who write about this field, for committing the heinous crime of writing a novel based on her experience in the world of clothes, couturier, and massive unrelenting dieting. In other words this is the polar opposite of books. This is truly only skin deep. Books to me have always been most interesting for their investigation of what is not visible to the naked eye. Welcome to the new millennium.
To prepare to write about this book I scanned the back issues of the New York Times that report upon fashion and the goings in the "rag" trade with the same vigor they bring to Presidential campaigns. I found reviews by Kate Betts and Janet Maslin published on April 13 and 14, 2004. I also ran a Google search and found 14,900 matches of varying intensity. I coincidentally learned there is now a category of books called "chick lit." Is this now a college major? I thought it was gum.
Miss Betts and Maslin in their reviews set out, compelled by rage, to do for this book what every publisher dreams about. They make accusations that only readers can judge and thus fanned the flames for a group of readers who do not come easily or often to book stores. If ever a book was a natural to be sold next to the sunglasses and mousse racks this is it.
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Miss Weisberger has broken the code of omerta.
The book tells the story of Andy, a young woman fresh out of Brown, who becomes the junior assistant to Miranda Priestly who runs Runway magazine, the most important 'zine" in the fashion field. The author actually worked in the same capacity for Anna Wintour of Vogue. Andy becomes a slave to the whims and demands of her boss who, in the book, is presented as the primal scream of high couture. The book details Andy's loss of humanity as the months ensue and her eventual recovery as the year ends, tragedy overtakes, and her boyfriend puts his foot down. It's a novel for Christ-sakes but one that I have come to learn is close enough to the truth to titillate the interested and petrify the knowledgeable. Hence the double New York Times reviews and the spleen they express.
Here are some quotes from these reviews:
Kate Betts, former editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar wrote:
"It's hard to get past the onslaught of Page Six gossip and film-rights buzz that has preceded "The Devil Wears Prada," Lauren Weisberger's thinly veiled roman a clef about her thankless year sidetracked in the trenches of a fashion magazine. Start with a Mommy Dearest premise featuring our most famous fashion editor, add an irresistible title and throw in a six-figure movie deal - does it even matter what's actually on the page when everybody is reading between the lines?
And Janet Maslin wrote:
As is customary in this increasingly popular brand of bite-the-boss fiction, the names (and hair color) have been changed to protect the guilty. Weisberger worked at Vogue - here called Runway - as an assistant to its pencil-thin brunet editor, Anna Wintour, here the blond Miranda Priestly. Conde Nast has been renamed Elias-Clark, but Oscar de la Renta and Tommy Hilfiger and most of the rest of the vast throng of designers, photographers, models and celebrities who adorn the fashion firmament are undisguised."
"If Cinderella were alive today, she would not be waiting patiently for Prince Charming. She would be writing a tell-all book about her ugly stepsisters and wicked stepmother, taking care to position herself at the absolute center of their story. She would be dishing the dirt, wreaking vengeance and complaining all the way.
Only one question remains. Where can you find this tome? For sure it is in bookstores. Whether it is also in pharmacies by the sunglasses I don't know. But it should be. As a change of pace it is a fun time out.
Cinderella may have been too nice for that, but Lauren Weisberger is not. Ms. Weisberger graduated from college and began per professional life in a low-level position at the Conde Nast publishing empire. Now she has written a novel, "The Devil Wears Prada," and can devote a second career to insisting it is not exactly, precisely, entirely one long swat at the editor of Vogue."