Perhaps you shouldn't mention this around the feminist
thought police, but women often hate working for other women. While men
compete for status by trying to include as many underlings as possible
in their hierarchies, women gain prestige by excluding the maximum
number from their cliques.
Running Vogue, the most celebrated fashion magazine, might be the
ultimate in cliquishness, and Anna Wintour, who in 1996 became the
industry's first million dollar per year editor, is famously frosty
toward anyone beneath her in the pecking order.
English journalist Toby Young tells the story of a Vogue executive's
teenage daughter interning at the office. Once, as the intimidating
editor bore down upon the awestruck girl in a hallway, the stiletto heel
of one of Wintour's Manolo Blahniks snapped, sending her sprawling at
the intern's feet. The girl had been warned by her mother that "under no
circumstances was she to speak to Ms. Wintour -- ever. Consequently, she
gingerly stepped over Anna's prostrate form. As soon as she turned the
corner, she sprinted to her mother's office… Had she done the right
thing? Yes, her mother assured her. She'd done exactly the right thing."
Wintour has erected a persona for herself that "glories in self-created
aristocratic solitude," like a character in a Camille Paglia-directed
revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. Wintour resembles a
dead-serious cross between Oscar Wilde's fashion-fixated duo, Gwendolen,
whose motto is, "In matters of utmost importance, style, not sincerity,
is the vital thing," and her Gorgon mother, Lady Bracknell, who
proclaims, "Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are
worn very high, just at present."
Personally, I find Wintour's blunt snobbishness refreshing compared to
the faux-egalitarianism of the high tech world. When interviewing for a
job at chipmaker Intel in 1982, I was told that no employee got an
office, not even vice-chairman Robert Noyce, the co-inventor of the
silicon chip. Of course, I had to stand on my tiptoes and peek into his
cubicle, which turned out to be 600 square feet, with Impressionist
masterpieces hanging on the gray fabric dividing walls.
Lauren Weisberger, a recent Ivy League grad hoping to get a toehold in
the writing business even if it meant she had to associate with
frivolous fashionistas, took a job for a year as Wintour's junior
personal assistant. Weisberger then wreaked her revenge on her demanding
boss by publishing a bestselling roman à clef novel, The Devil Wears
Prada, about an evil editrix who demeans her idealistic, talented
(and, let us not forget, Ivy League-educated) assistant by making her
fetch her dry-cleaning.
Fortunately, the comic movie adaptation, with Meryl Streep as "Miranda
Priestly" of Runway magazine and Anne Hathaway (the starlet with the
dark eyebrows from "The Princess Diaries") as the ingénue, is more
enjoyable than the book, with both characters made more sympathetic.
Hathaway's scenes away from the office, where she must choose between
her sous-chef boyfriend (Adrian Grenier, apparently cast because his
eyebrows are even more Brezhnev-like in their luxuriance) and a
glamorous Jay McInerney-style novelist, are lackluster, but the film
wakes up whenever Streep is on camera.
Whether or not being high priestess of the fashion arms race is a job
worth doing at all -- former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland defined her
role as giving "them what they never knew they needed" -- Streep's
character clearly does her job well. She uses her prodigious
recollection of every layout ever published to decide whether the
hamster wheel of couture has spun far enough around that it's time, say,
to "reinvent the drop waist dress" all over again.
At the Condé Nast building in Manhattan, nobody dares share an elevator
with Wintour. You let her ride up in splendid isolation while you wait
for the next elevator. The film allows you to understand why, as Streep
makes her daily grand entrance to the office rattling off long lists of
must-dos for her assistants to get hopping on. The social awkwardness of
a communal elevator ride would distract her as she gathers her thoughts
for the day's work.
Rather than rant like Cruella De Vil, Streep underplays, dropping lines
like "Tales of your incompetence do not interest me" as softly as only
the truly feared can. The downside to Streep's understated performance
is that diminishing returns set in. Brilliant as it is in initial
conception, Miranda's lack of dynamic range makes the second half of the
film less exciting.
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality.
to The American Conservative
(because I don't post my magazine reviews online until long after
the films have come and gone)