NEW YORK — Let’s be honest: The fashion industry is prime fodder for parody, what with its flitting bag fetishes, worship of hobble shoes and all-around inexhaustible hunger for pricy clothes. Add to that the colorful characters bred on the editorial and design floors and you’ve got the makings of a blockbuster summer flick. Which is exactly what Twentieth Century Fox is counting on with the late-June release of “The Devil Wears Prada,” with Anne Hathaway playing a semiclueless fashion assistant to Meryl Streep’s vitriolic editor in chief, adapted from Lauren Weisberger’s infamous book.
Whether out of the-joke’s-on-us amusement or the very self-absorption the movie mocks, the fashion flock has been most intrigued by this project. It’s also waiting to see just how into character Streep went with Miranda Priestly, Weisberger’s thinly veiled spin on her one-time boss Anna Wintour. Not that much, it turns out, from the top of Miranda’s silver white coif to her flashy hoop earrings to the rest of her supposedly editor in chief-worthy wardrobe, styled by Patricia Field. For that matter, the entire staff of the fictional magazine, Runway, loses out on the cool clothes one would expect from such a movie. Perhaps it’s playing instead to outsider notions of how editors might dress.
In other words, if Runway is supposed to be the world’s style bible and Miranda its high priestess, where are the insider clothes? Where are the hip labels, such as Rochas and Chloé, that editors champion? Where are the powerhouse Diors and Guccis? Where are even the smartly styled chic-on-the-cheap from the mass retailers? There are only occasional flashes of the recognizable: Chanel, Valentino, Fendi, Kate Spade, Rebecca Taylor and, yes, Prada.
Instantly distracting, not to mention just plain wrong, everyone here sports demonstrative eye makeup. According to the movie, the higher up the masthead a girl climbs, the more green, blue and purple eye shadow she must wear. Or perhaps it’s vice versa. That said, in the most heavy-handed case, Emily Blunt, who plays Miranda’s fabulously flippant and snippy first assistant, manages to outshine her character’s shellacked makeup job. And back to that hair: While Hathaway’s Andrea is all adorable ingenue with chocolate brown Anita Pallenberg bangs, Miranda doesn’t fare as well, with an unfortunate early Nineties power do. As one real editor mused after a recent screening, “I don’t think the editor of a major American fashion magazine would ever go so asymmetrical.”
This story first appeared in the May 24, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Miranda’s daily ensembles, though a bit ho-hum, are of a polish general moviegoers might expect of a woman who air-kisses Valentino (who makes a cameo) and has Oscar, Karl, Domenico and Stefano on speed dial. Field dresses her in woolen layers, dark wraps accented with wide belts and a straightforward, sophisticated white blouse with black trousers. Nothing untoward but nothing interesting, either, except for the number of colored furs and designer bags Miranda tosses onto her assistant’s desk daily, as well as the overstyled accessories.
Here, Field really lets loose. Gold-rimmed sunglasses, layered metal chains, giant hoops and bulky bracelets — all worn at once, mind you — often overpower not only Miranda but Andrea, as well. While the boss at least has the chutzpah to wear it all with some conviction, her poor assistant seems to have swiped a load off the giveaway table and layered it on.
Indeed, Andrea is the biggest fashion oops here, dressed first as an overly frumpy, awkward young academic type in lumpy cableknits and orthopedic shoes, and later transformed into a trend-laden hottie who fell into a vat of logos. In the real-life fashion world, only the chicest and most confident editors could get away with those higher-than-thigh-high black leather boots; conversely, most would be horrified at the thought of donning a boxy bouclé double-breasted blazer more suitable for a chief executive than a 22-year-old assistant, even if it is toughed up with metal trim. Once in a while, Andrea’s clothes are right, but they lose their chic edge with one hat, a pair of gloves or a necklace too many. In one scene, the assistant piles on the Chanel accoutrement: double-C pearl chains, a tweed cap, a frisbee bag with an embossed “5” and silver heels to accent a perfectly fine sweater-shirt-pants getup. And it all begs the question: How does one afford all of this on an assistant’s salary? We know she’s not going to the sample sales because she’s too busy picking up her boss’ lunch at Smith & Wollensky or fetching a pile of Hermès scarves uptown. Andrea ends on a high note, though. After dumping the fashion gig, she interviews for a job at a gritty, ink-stained daily newspaper in a shrunken brown distressed leather jacket, turtleneck and jeans tucked into boots. Just what a smart, cool girl might actually wear.
Beyond the costumes, “The Devil” is an entertaining movie, sure to get laughs for its bitchy dialogue — such as when Emily dismissively asks a pre-Pygmalion Andrea if she has some hideous skirt convention to attend. Streep, as expected, carries the film; her crackling energy commands the screen even in her character’s most hackneyed clichéd moments — not even the most powerful editor in chief would demand to fly in a hurricane. And Streep has great timing and chemistry with Hathaway, an intriguing starlet who imbues Andrea with the right amount of confusion any hard-nosed newbie journalist might feel while detouring through the glossy pages of a high-powered fashion rag. To that end, there is a moment when the movie’s fashion makes an impact: Andrea’s inner turmoil is symbolized brilliantly in her inability to walk in heels. Whether Hathaway was acting or exposing a real character flaw to the world is anyone’s guess.