Better the devil you know? The Prada queen is back

Better the devil you know? The Prada queen is back

A decade after The Devil Wears Prada made Lauren Weisberger an overnight publishing success, magazine tyrant Miranda and her lowly assistant are back. Hannah Stephenson catches up with the American author to talk success, sequels and style. [divider]

Having just taken part in a ‘stiletto strut’ with 36 other women in canary yellow mile-high shoes to promote her new novel, Revenge Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger looks relieved to have changed into soft, beige ballet pumps.

It’s 10 years since the author rose to fame with her debut novel, The Devil Wears Prada, loosely based on her 10-month stint at Vogue magazine as an assistant to editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

Lauren Weisberger has penned her new novel, Revenge Wears Prada
Lauren Weisberger has penned her new novel, Revenge Wears Prada

The book, an instant New York Times bestseller, sold four million copies, was translated into 40 languages and became a hit movie in 2006, starring Meryl Streep as the icy, impossibly demanding Runway editor Miranda Priestly, and Anne Hathaway as her put-upon assistant Andy Sachs.

Unsurprisingly, Weisberger, who made a mint out of her satirical slant on the fickle world of fashion, doesn’t have a wardrobe full of designer labels and haute couture pieces.

“I do have one pair of fluorescent orange Jimmy Choos, which were as expensive as they are uncomfortable,” the 36-year-old says, although she won’t reveal what she paid for them. “They look great. They don’t feel as great as they look.

“They were purchased for this tour. At home, I’m in my mummy uniform – jeans and a T-shirt, covered in vomit all the time.”

For all the hype surrounding the new book, Weisberger seems fairly ordinary. She is naturally pretty, with blonde, shoulder-length hair, clear complexion and little make-up. She is also super slim.

She says she doesn’t really follow fashion and today looks casual in a floral short-sleeved, loose-fitting top from Saks over bright blue skinny cotton jeans and those comfy-looking pumps. Are any of them designer? She says not.

“I’ve never bought anything from Prada, for me, in my entire life. In terms of Chanel, Gucci, the really crazy high-end stuff? That’s not my thing, but I love buying clothes as much as the next girl. In New York I head for department stores like Bloomingdales and Saks. I do Gap and I love Toms shoes.”

After the mammoth success of the first Prada book, she did feel pressure when writing the second.

“I’ve never written a sequel but it gave me the best of both worlds. You keep the characters you know, so you’re not faced with a blank, terrifying screen, you get the creative part of filling in the lapsed time. It was fun for me and a new challenge.”

BOOK Weisberger 085454Did the characters created by Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt in the film influence her writing second time around?

“I thought about Emily, not the other two. There was something about her performance, the attitude, the accent, the great one-liners… I envisaged her when I wrote the sequel.”

In it, we find Andy and her one-time Runway colleague Emily as unlikely friends and business partners in a hit bridal magazine called The Plunge.

As the magazine goes from strength to strength, monstrous Miranda Priestly, who has now become editorial director of fictional publishing house Elias-Clark, turns up wanting to buy them out.

Simultaneously, Andy marries Max, the dashing head of a big media company, and has a child, so life for her changes beyond recognition. But things never turn out as planned.

The book seems closely linked to real life, as Weisberger also married and became a mother within the decade, while Wintour climbed the career ladder and is now artistic director for Conde Naste, Vogue’s publisher.

“To an extent, the changes in Andy reflect my own life,” she agrees. “I just think between your 20s and 30s there’s a huge change. I got married and had two kids. It’s officially adult time now. We both parallel that.”

Miranda is just as monstrous in the sequel as she was in the first book, but Weisberger says she’s never crossed paths with Wintour, the woman so harshly parodied in her pages, in the last decade, and isn’t expecting to any time soon.

“I don’t think I’ll be bumping into her in my Gymboree classes, which is where I spend the majority of my time these days.”

She never worried when the movie came out that the Vogue editor would seek her out for a dramatic dressing-down.

Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada
Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada

“I wrote the book as a fun beach read. It wasn’t supposed to be a take-down, but was meant to offer an inside glimpse.

“So much of what I did at Vogue was the regular boring assistant stuff, the finding and fetching things. I just set it against this very sexy, glamorous place and made it more readable. Some parts were exaggerated and some weren’t. It was crazy, very overwhelming for me.”

Today, Weisberger and her husband, playwright and screenwriter Mike Cohen, live in Manhattan with their son and daughter, aged two and one respectively. They have a nanny to look after the kids while they both pursue their careers but Weisberger admits juggling work and family hasn’t been easy.

“It’s challenging. My friends and I talk about it all the time. Women have to try and balance family and work in a way that you feel you’re giving both your all without driving yourself crazy.”

She describes her husband as ‘incredibly supportive and hands-on’ and has more support from family nearby.

Born in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a mortgage broker father and a teacher mother, Weisberger graduated with an English literature degree from Cornell and was then thrown into the world of fashion as an assistant at Vogue.

“I had come from such a small town. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I don’t know if it made me tougher but it probably gave me more of a ‘can do’ attitude, that there’s always a way of getting things done. That was one of the great things I took away from that job.”

Meryl Streep starred as the icy Runway editor Miranda Priestly, in the 2006 film version of The Devil Wears Prada
Meryl Streep starred as the icy Runway editor Miranda Priestly, in the 2006 film version of The Devil Wears Prada

A decade – and a string of novels – later, she’s hoping that the Prada sequel may spawn another movie.

“It would be great if it happened. My fingers are crossed. There are always murmurings of interest. Fox owns the characters from the first film so it’s their call if they choose to make another.”

Weisberger still seems a little bewildered at all the attention she is attracting with the new book, 10 years after she was thrown into the limelight with the debut.

“Looking back, it was wild. I had no idea the book was going to become what it did. It was really exciting to go on the first book tour, meet the readers and feel the buzz from the book, but it was overwhelming as far as the media and interviews were concerned. I wasn’t prepared for it.

“I was so young and just not expecting it, but that said, it allowed me to continue to write books.”

She already has ideas for her next book and hasn’t ruled out bringing Andy, Miranda and Emily back again at some point – just not right now.

In years to come, the character of Andy may well leave the place that’s been her home for so long.

“I can’t see her raising both kids all the way through childhood in the city. They deserve to know what grass is – and they currently do not.”

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger is published by HarperCollins, priced £7.99. Available now

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