One good thing about life on the road is the opportunity to catch up on movies. On the flight over, I saw Casino Royale, and as I bounced around Germany, I saw Children of Men, Nacho Libre, Departed, and The Devil Wears Prada.
I was surprised how sympathetically "Devil" presents the fashion industry. It ends, as it must, with Andy Sachs repudiating the fashion world and taking a "real" job at a "serious" newspaper. In the meantime, director David Frankel and writers Lauren Weisberger and Aline Brosh McKenna manage a more sophisticated view.
At one point in the film, Andy (Anne Hathaway) dares to laugh as Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) struggles to make an editorial decision. Miranda challenges her, and Andy replies,
No, no, nothing. Y’know, it’s just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. Y’know, I’m still learning about all this stuff.
This… ‘stuff’? Oh… ok. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of a clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.
We don’t like the fact that the fashion world helps construct our culture. Should something so superficial be allowed to give shape to who and what we are? Most say "no." Especially when the architects of the industry appear to be not only superficial but mean, demeaning, selfish, egotistical and vain.
So condemnation is the order of the day. In this case, Anna Wintour and Vogue were irresistible targets. (The film is of course based on a book of the same name, and this reports, in fictional form, the author’s stint as a Wintour’s assistant.)
The trouble with the traditional view is that it often fills fans of fashion with a certain self loathing. Their love of fashion obliges them to hate themselves…at least a little. How could they care about shoes and handbags? Can they really be a superficial as this ?
So it was a pleasure to hear another argument, especially when given so beautifully by the preeminent actress of the American cinema. True, the balance offered by Devil does not represent the intellectual versatility of a Russian novelist, but it is vastly better than the monochromatic approach of the average film. It may also be evidence that contemporary culture is mustering a more intelligent view of itself. Well done, Frankel and company.
I thank unamed volunteers at Internet Movie Database for the transcription of the passage above. There are more quotes from the movie here.
For the full imdb treatment of The Devil Wears Prada, go here.
To Joan Kron who taught me to take fashion seriously.