It was almost inevitable that I would pick up the books The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.
It must be that I worked in that world, the world that they write of, which is fashion, and in particular, New York fashion. For several years, every summer I would leave my job in Boston and my university and head to Manhattan to what was, at the time for what I did, one of the most enviable jobs in the industry. I was what they called a “rover” at the dark and ominous and smoked glass and ever-so sleek and sexy 350 Madison Avenue, home of Conde Nast Publications. It was the building that held the secrets of what next year’s look was going to be. It held Vogue, Mademoiselle, GQ, not to mention almost any other magazine you can name that isn’t owned by Hearst (they own Cosmopolitan and other such publications – the ‘other’ Conde Nast in some ways, but with a different aesthetic altogether; not quite as highbrow in some ways.).
I was fifteen when I started, or when I was hired. “The youngest person.,,” etc etc. I was told over and over again, and I’m still not sure if that was a point in my favor or against, or if it was just someone musing outloud about how they let the “kid” into the club. ‘My first assignment at Conde Nast was to work at Vogue magazine, and it is Vogue that is at the heart of both of these books. In Lauren Weisberger The Devil Wears Prada, there is a thin (and i mean, very, )thinly disguised version of some real editors that I myself had worked with, right-down to the cutting descriptions of the Editor in Chief who could be Anna Wintour, but we’ll never know for sure, though Weisberger mentions Anna Wintours name directly in the book as a “friend” or associate of her own editors – one wonders if there was a little bit more than just clever tongue in cheek here. She seems to be spelling it out for us, a bit of a wink and a nod.
Weisberger’s has taken what is most likely her own experience as an intern at either Conde Nast or a company very much like Conde Nast, and turned it into a very clever and amusing book, that is a good quick read (perfect for planes and beaches). She has taken what I know first hand to be a rather hellish experience with unbelievable demands and deadlines that are not even rational, including running all over New York City for her boss to find an antique of some sort that she describes very vaguely as “in the shop with the green flag” or some such vagary. The portrait is perfect – and I remember being sent on such ridiculous errands myself, once to buy “the right music’ for some photoshoot, which had me running all over lower Manhattan in search of the just-then-opened Tower Records (before it was known) and hunting down Ruben Blades CDs of all things, so that the model could “get in the mood.” Now what mood this put her in I will never know, but it seemed to have done the trick. Errands like this were the norm, and Weisberger describes the absurdity of them to great comical effect in her book; one wonders if she cleverly kept a journal of her time at this publishing house in order to write a book afterward, because her memory is so sharp and so keen on, and though the book is described as fiction, I can tell you first hand that this is some people’s lives because I myself lived it and lived to tell the tale, like Weisberger herself.
After reading Weisberger, I have a sense that she and I would have a great deal to talk about, all the way through working through a bad case of mononucleosis because fashion assistants just “don’t get sick” because that would be “inconvenient and to completely subordinating your entire life (in my case, for three or more summers) for the sake of saying you had this experience and praying that it will lead you somewhere.
Weisberger has taken her time and cleverly fashioned it into a bestseller and hooray for her for doing so. I only wish I had the idea myself, though that didn’t seem to stop Plum Sykes who soon after came out with her own, slightly gentler version (since she is still employed by Conde Nast) called Bergdorf Blondes – itself also an amusing book, but lacking the cleverness and wit that abounds in The Devil Wears Prada.
If you haven’t worked in the fashion scene or have no interest then this is not the book for you – but for those who have, or who have a deeper interest or have had any boss who is same sex and degrading, then this might be a satisfying read. Her characters little spiteful vengeances are fun to read and smart and not over the top, the book is well-written and mature for such a young writer (her cover photo certainly makes her look no more than her late twenties, heaven help us), and again, to her credit a bad experience has allowed her to enrich the present with a book and a good one at that has gained her the accolades she will need for the future.
It seems doubtful that a person as spirited and opinionated and frankly, healthy, as Weisberger would last two minutes in fashion, let alone endure the full summer that she did. The other interns often take after their editors, little anorexic mini-me s who want nothing more than to fit in and be accepted in a world in which a six 6 is enormous an a size 2 is “just right.” No breasts, hips allowed, check them at the door, please.
The cult-like sense of devotion of assistants to their editors is also well-portrayed as Weisberger interacts with her nemesis, the other assistant, who seems out to screw her over at every turn, and who delights in finding meaningless busy work that is time consuming and petty just to show some small power that she has because this is what she learned form her boss.
To be fair, not all of Conde Nast or any large publisher is true to such stereotype, but like anywhere, they do exist and Weisberger has nailed them all. There is much to be learned at such internships and I wouldn’t ever say I’m sorry I did it –not at all. I learned a great deal about what I wanted to be and what I certainly didn’t want to be and for sure, I did not want to be making eighteen thousand a year at age twenty five only to be an indentured slave for some size 2 fashion witch who felt that I was fat and short because I have hips and tits and some semblance of a personality. It is almost a compliment to not be accepted in this world, for if you were – and I was to some extent, after starving myself thin and finally giving into the wardrobe of all black and pencil skirts and absurdly tortuous high heels in which I ran all over Manhattan – and I’m glad I had the experience – as no doubt, Weisberger herself is, but that doesn’t mean we have to be all sweet and roses about it when anyone who has done it could tell you fairly, that part of it did indeed suck. Count the times people told me “You’re so lucky: do you know how many girls would die to be in your position?” a line Weisberger uses again and again, and she’s right. I heard it too. Worse, she was right. There ARE girls who would have died to be in that position and that was perhaps the saddest part of all. Like Weisberger, i was incredibly grateful and honored but that didn’t mean that the job, like any, didn’t come without its thorns.
To be totally fair, without the experience, Weisberger wouldn’t be where she is today; perhaps her next book will be a bit kinder given this consideration, though really, the book would fail to be as funny if it lacked the horror stories that abound. Whether all true or not, or more likely, perhaps ever-so-slightely exaggerated Weisberger succeeds in writing one of the funniest quick reads of late. And while this book isn’t for everybody (some may be bored stiff), if you know whereof she speaks, pick it up today.Powered by Sidelines