Weisberger, Lauren 1977-
WEISBERGER, Lauren 1977-
PERSONAL: Born 1977. Education: Cornell University, B.A., 1999.
CAREER: Vogue magazine, New York, NY, personal assistant, c. 2001; Departures magazine, New York, NY, staff writer, c. 2003.
The Devil Wears Prada, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
ADAPTATIONS: The Devil Wears Prada was optioned for film by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
SIDELIGHTS: In The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger's first novel, recent ivy league graduate Andrea Sachs lands the job of a lifetime as the personal assistant to Miranda Priestly, the tough-asnails Prada-wearing editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, the country's leading fashion publication. As Andrea simmers through the menial and demeaning tasks that comprise her days, she dreams of a more fulfilling career as a staff writer for the New Yorker and hopes that her current job will be the stepping stone to the next one. Even though she is constantly reminded that "millions of girls would kill for her job," she finds it hard to be grateful for the opportunity to be humiliated in public by her boss, even if she gets free designer shoes in the process. At the bottom of the publishing pecking order, Andrea's hours are long, recognition is nonexistent, and the boss keeps her on call twenty-four hours a day. Her exciting life in New York City leaves her no time for her friends and family and makes her suspect that her college education was a waste of time. The biggest names in the fashion world—Hilfiger, de la Renta, Versace, et al—serve as the backdrop.
When The Devil Wears Prada was published in the spring of 2003, it became a bestseller as much for what it was about as for who it was about. Prior to writing the book, Weisberger worked as the personal assistant for Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, and the book was widely rumored to be a dishy exposé about working for the notoriously difficult fashion icon. Interest in the book even before it was finished led to a bidding war and a high-profile deal that also gained Weisberger a lucrative deal for the film rights.
Like her heroine, Weisberger graduated from an ivy league school in 1999 and quickly landed her job at Vogue, where she was launched head first into the fashion world with little preparation or experience. She quit after a year, and when her next job left her enough time to enroll in a writing seminar, she compiled a collection of vignettes based on her work experiences that her instructor urged her to submit to an agent. The agent, Deborah Schneider, generated lots of advance buzz about the book, and by the time it was published expectations were high. As Kate Betts noted in the New York Times, "does it even matter what's actually on the page when everybody is reading between the lines?"
The fashion-unconscious Andrea has only taken the Runway job because she hopes that Miranda will recommend her to the New Yorker. She arrives at the office wearing Nine West shoes, and soon enough a kind soul gives her a makeover, raiding the office's vaunted "closet" in the process, which wields her a pair of thousand-dollar Gucci pants that no one else can wear because they are a hefty size six. Add a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos, and Andrea's fashion consciousness starts to revive. But Miranda makes her life too miserable for her to enjoy playing dress-up. The boss is an overbearing size zero who eats bacon, steak, and ice cream and throws her clothes away after she wears them twice. She makes unreasonable demands: Andrea must not eat in her presence; Andrea must pack her travel clothes in velvet; Andrea must locate copies of the yet-to-be-published Harry Potter book to ship to Miranda's children in Paris.
The pressure prompts Andrea to indulge in revenge fantasies. "You don't want her to die," she thinks, "because if she does, you lose all hope of killing her yourself. And that would be a shame." Andrea blows off steam over late-night drinks with her friends, but she regretfully finds herself losing touch with her childhood friend, whose drinking habit is verging out of control. Also neglected is Andrea's boyfriend, Alex, a fourth-grade teacher of disadvantaged kids, who is perennially disappointed over having to take a back seat to his girlfriend's career. Apart from the magazine, her career plan involves attracting the attention of Christian Collinsworth, a literary wunderkind whose first book was hailed "as one of the most significant literary achievements of the 20th century." With encouraging words from him under her belt, Andrea musters the nerve to confront Miranda at a Paris fashion show that becomes a showdown.
Critics reacted to the story's tell-all nature with varying shades of amusement, with many of them comparing the book to other recent muckraking chick-lit novels, such as The Nanny Diaries. Stacy Alesi of Library Journal called The Devil Wears Prada a "fastpaced black comedy [that] has enough dirt to please any fashionista." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly said the book has "plenty of dead-on assessments of fashion's frivolity and realistic, funny portrayals of life as a peon," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor deemed it an "on-the-money kiss-and-tell debut."
Other critics took issue with the character of Andrea, pointing out that her reason for wanting to write for the New Yorker—they have witty cartoons—is a bit naíve. Some found Andrea's small-fish-in-a-big-pond attitude toward New York patronizing; she stereotypes East Indians for their love of curry and expresses surprise over surviving her first subway ride. The "book's sour, sarcastic, self-involved heroine is too much of a pill to be endearing," wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Furthermore, Maslin stated, "the book's way of dropping names, labels and price tags while feigning disregard for these things is another of its unattractive qualities." Betts also noticed some of Andrea's hypocritical tendencies and said that "Andrea's aura of self-importance is almost enough to make you sympathize with the Prada-wearing devil herself." A number of critics failed to see the devil in Miranda at all. According to Jenny McCartney of the London Sunday Telegraph, "to seize power in the fashion world, players need to transform themselves into an instantly-recognisable brand," which is exactly what Wintour (and Miranda) do.
In interviews, Weisberger distanced the character of Miranda from her former boss and discouraged comparisons between Runway and Vogue. Miranda "is certainly not modeled after Anna," she told David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. On the contrary, she continued, "there was something amazing about getting to work for and see this incredibly bright, powerful woman." Furthermore, Weisberger believes the scope of the novel is broader than critics have deemed it. "I think it goes beyond the fashion industry," she told Lynn Andriani of Publishers Weekly. "It's a year in the life of this girl: her relationships, and what it's like to be right out of college and living in New York. . . . You're in so far over your head, you have no idea of up from down." Furthermore, she stated that the narrative "is composed of stories from my friends. . . . And a lot of it is my slightly overactive imagination." But not everyone was convinced. "The Devil Wears Prada is a roman a clef of the unsubtlest sort," wrote Diane Roberts of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "maybe more a roman a vengeance." Summarizing the wide-ranging opinions of many critics, Lisa Lockwood of Women's Wear Daily wrote that "the book is far from a literary masterpiece, but its in-depth knowledge of the inner workings and absurdities of the fashion magazine world should keep both outsiders and insiders chuckling through the breathless sentences."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Weisberger, Lauren, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 25, 2003, Diane Roberts, "Devil Skewers Fashion Maven," p. E1.
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Kathleen Hughes, review of The Devil Wears Prada, p. 1355.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of TheDevil Wears Prada, p. 268.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Stacy Alesi, review of The Devil Wears Prada, p. 132.
Newsweek, April 28, 2003, Cathleen McGuigan, "Prada, Yada, Yada: A Wintour's Tale," p. 60.
New York Observer, March 31, 2003, Alexandra Jacobs, "The Underling's Revenge, by Conde Nast's Whistleblower," p. 11.
New York Times, May 27, 2002, David D. Kirkpatrick, "An Insider's View of Fashion Magazines," p. C6; April 14, 2003, Janet Maslin, "Elegant Magazine, Avalanche of Dirt," p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, April 13, 2003, Kate Betts, "Anna Dearest," p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2003, Lynn Andriani, "The Devil Wears Prada, and the Writer Wears . . . Dior?," p. 53; March 17, 2003, review of The Devil Wears Prada, p. 53.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), March 9, 2003, Jenny McCartney, "In the Fashion Business, It's Cool to Be Cruel."
Women's Wear Daily, May 24, 2002, Lisa Lockwood, "What's in Vogue for 2003," p. 13.
Readers Read,http://www.readersread.com/ (May 12, 2003), interview with Lauren Weisberger.*