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Friday 19 September 2014

'The Devil Wears Prada' author is back with long awaited sequel

Ten years after exposing the perils of working for a fashion magazine, 'The Devil Wears Prada' author Lauren Weisberger is back with more tales about the editor we love to hate.

Stephen Milton

Published 30/06/2013 | 05:00

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'Revenge Wears Prada' is on sale now.
Lauren Weisberger, who has published a long awaited sequel
Author Lauren Weisberger - Getty Images.

We've all worked for the boss from hell, at some stage in our lives. Ludicrous de-mands, snarling orders and an all-round despotic tyranny in the workplace. It's an unfortunate, and unavoidable, rite of passage.

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So we fantasise revenge in a number of scenarios – lacing their lunch order with industrial-strength laxatives or exposing their clandestine office affair – yet ultimately bottle out.

Lauren Weisberger, however, followed through with a recipe for retribution.

Ten years ago, she shrewdly parlayed her experience as the downtrodden assistant of Anna 'Nuclear' Wintour into her first novel, 'The Devil Wears Prada', thinly veiling the identity of the notorious editor of US 'Vogue' in the guise of the demonic Miranda Priestly.

The book sold millions, leading on to a big screen spectacular starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.

It seemed Wintour had finally been 'outed' for her oppressive autocracy.

Weisberger, however, has never admitted a direct link between the book and her former employer and, a decade on, with the sequel, 'Revenge Wears Prada', about to hit shelves, it's a mantra to which she doggedly clings.

"I think it'd be easier if Miranda was Anna," she answers, calmly fielding the issue once again. "That everything that happened, the way she acts, was how it was with me. But it was an amalgam of stories about other bosses, combined with artistic licence and plain old imagination."

With her signature bob, oversized shades and perennially pained expression, Wintour has always proven a fascinating figure as the doyenne of the fashion industry.

It is easy to believe she'd have demanded the unpublished new Harry Potter manuscript or a private jet in the middle of a hurricane, as Miranda does of lackey protagonist Andy.

Was this ever a case of art imitating life for Lauren during her time at 'Vogue'?

"I mean, some of [Anna's demands] found their way into 'The Devil Wears Prada', but I'm not going to say which.

"I guess the notion of being on call, 24/7, which featured in the book, was pretty spot- on. The fact that my cell phone could ring any time, day and night, that for me was like, 'Ahhhh'. That ring tone provided a level of anxiety I was far from used to."

With all this denial, maybe Wintour is the complete antithesis to Miranda, a laid-back boss who regularly lets loose.

"Ehhh," Weisberger pauses, a slow smirk inching across her face. "I wouldn't use the words 'let loose'. That probably wouldn't be my first description of Anna. I wouldn't even use the word 'smile'. But Anna was a professional and great at her job, how about that?"

Off the back of her first book's success, she has since penned three more novels – 'Everyone Worth Knowing', 'Chasing Harry Winston' and 'Last Night at Chateau Marmont' – all perfect poolside literature and all falling short, far short, of her debut effort's mammoth sales.

It makes sense that the mother of two young children, now married to photographer Mike Cohen, would return to the lucrative foibles of Priestly and her former charge, Andy Sachs.

Picking up 10 years after Andy eloquently told Miranda to "f**k off'', the sequel is a potboiler of business skulduggery, marital betrayal and always-fabulous parties.

Sachs has her own magazine now, a wedding glossy named 'The Plunge', which Priestly's publishing group, Elias Clark, wants to buy.

She's also about to get married and is business partner and best friends with Emily, her one-time secretarial nemesis.

"I wanted a realistic, believable path for her, but not so super-boring and predictable. I wanted to show that's she's grown up," says Weisberger.

After RJ Cutler's documentary 'The September Issue', which showed the inner workings at 'Vogue' and somewhat humanised Wintour, has Weisberger followed through with her own softening of Priestly?

"Miranda hasn't changed at all and it was interesting to come up with new and more interesting ways to portray her evilness. I hope she doesn't seem more humane, that definitely wasn't my goal," she says.

"She's not on every page like before, constantly torturing them, constantly present, ringing them every second of every day. She features less but makes a stronger, more vengeful impact in this book."

Perched on a soft beige sofa in a central London hotel, 36-year-old Weisberger is a vision of groomed New York gloss: blonde and slim, wearing a cream shirt and ballet flats.

With soft-spoken, considered tones, she strains to be heard over the intrusive clatter from a nearby table populated by zealous suits loudly plotting their next corporate takedown.

"That's one serious meeting they're having there," she points, scanning the group, potentially cataloguing for her next urban tome.

The film version of 'The Devil Wears Prada' made more than €300m at the box office and landed a deserved Oscar nomination for Streep as Priestly. Is there talk of shooting 'Revenge'?

"There's definitely talk, but bringing back together these actors of such high calibre would be a logistical nightmare. And while nobody is asking me for casting ideas, no one is replacing Meryl Streep, not successfully," says Weisberger.

"It was the craziest thing. I don't remember exactly when it was, but they were talking early on about who they were planning for Andy and Emily and I remember hearing Anne Hathaway and thought, 'Wow, she'll do'.

"And then when I heard Meryl Streep. I mean, I'll be honest, she's not who I envisaged as Miranda. I just didn't have the imagination to see it, but the first day on set, I understood how I would never survive in casting. It was pure perfection."

In the 10 years since she excised her 'Vogue' demons, has Weisberger ever come face to face with her former boss?

"I get asked that a lot," she sighs, mildly rolling her eyes, "but I'm knee-deep in diapers and 'mommy and me' classes. Our paths do not cross. I have no idea if Anna even liked the book or not. And can't say I've really thought about it."

It's this constant evasive manoeuvring away from her relationship with Wintour that fuelled the negative critique when 'The Devil Wears Prada' was first released.

Retribution, perhaps, for her unfailing, diplomatic discourse on the hot topic.

And it's also the reason why Weisberger refuses to read her own reviews.

"The worst was probably what the 'New York Times' did to me: back-to-back scathing pieces, first on the Sunday and a different critic did it again on the Monday," she says.

"It was horrible and unheard of that you would waste this space twice on the same author. That had a really weird effect on me."

The critics will surely have their knives out for 'Revenge', but Lauren can comfort herself with millions of book sales around the world.

Five novels and one movie in the space of a decade – it's an astounding achievement for someone who rates her skills as 'average.'

So what's her secret? What advice would Weisberger give to all the distinctly average aspiring novelists out there, struggling with their debut?

"First, find the time," she says. "It's the hardest thing in the world to dedicate to writing, but if you do that even once a week, after six months or a year you'll have something substantial.

"Now, I'm not a person who would get up at 5am to write, but I could sacrifice my Friday night and just order in dinner, sit at home and get into it. And I liked to go out, believe me, but for five hours every week I could do that.

"There's some kind of time slot in the week that can work for you. Identify it and stick with it," she adds.

However, Weisberger warns, it's not always a good thing to check over your work.

"Second," she says, "don't read back on what you've written. I know so many perfectionists who do that halfway through, which is the stupidest thing you can do. You're going to hate it and start all over again; it's only natural.

"Get at least 400 pages done before you start tearing it apart. And if those two steps work for me, they can really work for anyone. Although I've probably just inadvertently created mass competition for myself..."

'Revenge Wears Prada' is on sale now

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