NEW YORK — Two years ago Lynn Messina found herself at the white-hot center of a burgeoning new literary genre: Fashion Mag Chick Lit. “Fashionistas,” her debut novel about a naïve young woman swept up in the backstabbing and cutthroat world of fashion editors, was published within weeks of Lauren Weisberger’s “The Devil Wears Prada.” That Messina worked at In Style and Weisberger had previously been an assistant at Vogue only incited further comparisons.
“It all seemed so random and arbitrary,” remembers Messina, who now works as a copy editor at Self and Metropolitan Home. “I was suddenly part of this weird little movement.” (“Fashionistas” has been optioned by Paramount and Lindsay Lohan is reportedly attached.)
The experience got Messina thinking about the nature of trends — where they come from and why they exist. “I just thought it was amazing that I could be writing ‘Fashionistas’ while Lauren Weisberger was writing ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and Carolyn Wang was writing ‘In Full Bloom,’” she says, referring to Wang’s novel about a Korean-American woman working as a fashion assistant. “We were all in isolated chambers writing our books.”
And so Messina’s latest novel, “Mim Warner’s Lost Her Cool,” centers around a cool-hunting firm, Pravda, and its coiffed and collected director, Mim, a chic Martha Stewart clone. (“Pumpkin is having a moment,” Mim declares over a bowl of gourmet soup.) When Mim’s cool compass suddenly plunges south, she starts making style predictions like “Slut” T-shirts for eight-year-olds. It’s up to her loyal assistant, Meghan, to save her boss before the other underlings declare outright mutiny.
The novel is full of Messina’s trademark wit and clever satire. “I can’t help but make fun of whatever is nearest me,” she admits. Even her real-life insecurities don’t escape parody. When one character frets that his “magical nihilism” novel will drown in a publishing market that is saturated by the genre, it is hard not to hear echoes of Messina’s own anxieties about moving beyond Chick Lit.
“You know, you box yourself into a corner,” she laments, “and now no matter what I do, it’s Chick Lit. I’m youngish, I’m urban, the narrative is somewhat perky. Case closed.”
This story first appeared in the March 31, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
With “Mim Warner’s Lost Her Cool,” which is, at times, considerably more dark and somber than her previous work, Messina hopes to put a little distance between herself and the kind of writing that landed her on the literary map. Even if “Petra Swift Saves the World,” the title of the novel she’s currently writing, makes it sound like Chick Lit, Messina insists it’s not.
For starters, it’s about three unlikely people on a remote island together in Southeast Asia. “It’s not set in New York or a major metropolitan area,” insists Messina. “Nobody has a fabulous job and wears fabulous clothes and drinks fabulous cocktails in fabulous bars. Nobody — dare I say it — is fabulous.”