Two fluffy spring releases, The Devil Wears Prada and Fashionistas, dish dirt about the garb, the excess and the shallow, cruel (say it isn't so!), heady world of high-fashion publishing. Both of these books feature fresh-faced heroines, and both deliver a bit of a "Lesson." Not much, mind you (we wouldn't want you to lose your low-cal lunch), but just enough "learning" to cram inside a Fendi baguette handbag. Call it: "Small Town Girl Finds Out What Really Counts at Big Bad Fashion Magazine." A perfect read for your next flight to Milan.
The Devil Wears Prada places aw-shucks Connecticut college gal "Andrea Sachs" as an assistant to "Miranda Priestly," the formidable editor of Runway magazine.
Prada's author, Lauren Weisberger, actually endured a stint as assistant to none other than Anna Wintour. She's the legendary harpie/editor of Vogue magazine, nicknamed "Nuclear" Wintour. And yep, you guessed it. This is a "fictionalized" tell-all of dear Lauren's tenure working for the world's most formidable fashion-mag hag. More The Nanny Diaries than Diana Vreeland's DV (a vivid, staccato fashion-world autobiography if there ever was one), Weisberger's novel takes young Andrea through the agonies of serving fashion's most demanding mistress, from step-and-fetch missions to Chanel for aught-sized hot pants to hand-wrapping hundreds of bottles of Christmas champagne. Think of it as "Editor Dearest."
While nobody buys Weisberger's claim that the book is fantasy, the actual fun of reading it is separating fact from fiction. But as a fashion-world confessional, The Devil Wears Prada is only so-so. Though the book oozes with name-dropping detail, embarrassing failures of fact abound--for example, Weisberger mentions makeup artist Bobby Brown (that'd be "Bobbi," per her prerogative). Tales of free Jimmy Choo sandals and couture dry cleaning are laid out like juicy berries, but the book's only real fruit (besides the "flamboyant" gay men that populate Runway's offices--can we please, please find another adjective for queeny gents?) is Priestly herself, nasty and quixotic as can be.
But even worse, and unlike in the recent memoir A.L.T. from fashion-world vet Andre Leon Talley, there's scant insight about, or enthusiasm for, the fashion world in Prada. Our Gap-fed heroine cares not a fig for fashion (she's bucking for an eventual spot at The New Yorker). So what's really at stake if young Andrea loses her job? Not much. It also misses humanizing detail. In his own tome, Talley describes reading to an elderly Vreeland in her Chinese red bedroom while the famed fashion editor--gone all but blind--quaffs vodka. By contrast, Prada's Miranda Priestly is a one-dimensional hydra screeching for her next Starbucks latte. Let's hope the upcoming movie version, by Forrest Gump producer Wendy Finerman, fills the novel's drippy narrative gaps with inspired casting.
Fashionistas, a new page-turner from Lynn Messina, similarly positions a young editorial hopeful at a postage-stamp-sized desk in a fashion-rag office. Messina has edited for InStyle, which supposedly served as the inspiration for Fashionistas. Like nubile Andrea Sachs, heroine Vig Morgan is repeatedly buffeted by the histrionic hijinks of the high-pressure style environment. Wacky scenarios involving scented candle testing and flat-chested bridesmaids ensue. You get the picture.
Released under the Red Dress Ink imprint (a subsidiary of --are you ready?--bodice-ripping romance publisher Harlequin), Fashionistas may lack the cachet of Weisberger's novel, but unlike Prada, Fashionistas is actually funny. The writing clips along with all the gossipy menace of, well, of a would-be editor who has logged many a loopy hour in the toxic offices of an actual fashion magazine. Weisberger could learn a lot from Messina, who takes the Sturm und Drang of the fashion world as a matter of course, designed for no nobler purpose than a good laugh. And this heady biz of covering fashion could use a little more levity. Don't you agree?
The Devil Wears Prada
Lauren Weisberger (Doubleday, 360 pages, $21.95)
Lynn Messina (Red Dress Ink, 288 pages, $12.95)
A.L.T.: A Memoir
By Andre Leon Talley (Villard, 288 pages, $24.95)