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  Lauren and the devil press
A fashion insider's new book invites comparisons, but the author doesn't
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

Lauren Weisberger's book, The Devil Wears Prada, rumoured to be a thinly veiled portrait of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, was written shortly after she left her one-year stint as Wintour's assistant. "I was writing it for a course and my writing teacher said, 'You really have something here, you have to show it to someone.' "

And show it to someone she did. Weisberger, 26, who now also has a movie deal with Fox 2000, says, "Wendy Finerman [producer of Forrest Gump and Stepmom] is the producer. They're moving forward with this -- it's not just languishing in a drawer somewhere." Weisberger's only previous writing experience was "short pieces for Departures Magazine, a freebie periodical sent to platinum cardholders."

This was one university grad who knew what she wanted. Her aim was to work in magazines, but fashion was not a particular interest. She applied to all publishing houses and says bluntly, "Vogue was the biggest magazine I could get. I figured that I could focus on content later." After working for Wintour for less than a year, "from the time I was 22 to 23," she wrote her book. "It's a fun book, and it's fiction. It's not some crazy tell-all," she insists.

Some people in the fashion industry don't see it that way and say Weisberger's character bears striking similarities to her former boss. But she is adamant that isn't the case. I'm not sure if she's trying to convince me or herself. Weisberger does admit her experience "definitely influenced my writing, but none of my characters are based on characters at Vogue, there's no one-to-one ratio." And she goes even further. "We parted friends," she says of her former boss, "but we haven't been in touch."

"Not even since the book?" I ask. She shakes her head. Doesn't sound like friends to me. When I press her about the similarities between her life and the novel, Weisberger says curtly, "There's been a lot of emphasis on this because of the backdrop of the fashion world and the insights ... It could be any industry."

What will appeal universally, she says, is the aspect of the first workplace experience. (She definitely wants me off the subject of Wintour.) "It's a lie," she says, "the whole notion of what your parents and your professors are telling you, that college is preparing you for the real world. Well, it's absolutely not true."

She says when she started that first big job with Vogue, "I had no idea what I was doing. I was wide-eyed and overwhelmed. You come out of school with this fancy degree, and then all of a sudden someone asks you to make 4,000 copies before lunch -- it's a reality check."

But the Cornell grad definitely sees value in a university education. "Vogue never would have hired me without it," she says. "You know, Anna Wintour didn't have a university degree, but now I take it for granted that there's nothing you can do in the professional field without one."

I ask her to reminisce about her old job, and she gets momentarily enthused. The perks, she tells me, "were all the parties and the people, Giselle, Iman, Puff Daddy ..."

But to get her to talk about specific duties is like prying teeth. "I had to locate people who were all over the world," she tells me grudgingly. But who did she locate, and why? She starts to tell me, she seems to want to tell me, then she stumbles and finally stops. "The book is what I want to talk about," she says. "I'm too young. It's not about me."

When I try again to make the parallel between her life and her novel's heroine, she becomes downright indignant. I match her on that one, becoming even more indignant. I point out that the promotional material for her book included a newspaper story from the New York Daily News, questioning whether or not Weisberger's former editor will see herself in the story. "If you don't want to talk about it, why send me the article?" I want to know. From the look she gives me, I'm sure that she's starting to think the devil writes for the National Post. She tells me that she has no control over her publicity. "I'm not denying that it didn't influence my writing," she says again. "My book is No. 6 on The New York Times bestsellers list and I would venture that most readers don't know who she [Wintour] is, or care."

So even though Weisberger's people are promoting the rumours about fiction and reality, Weisberger herself is at the same time denying there is anything to them. Isn't that kind of like having your cake and eating it too?

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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