BORROWED MEMORIES: Does the fashion industry have its very own James Frey in the making? Several New Yorkers quoted by name in the proposal for an upcoming memoir insist they’ve never met the author, Emily Davies, a former fashion writer for The Times of London. The book, “How to Wear Black: Adventures on Fashion’s Front Line,” recently fetched a reported $900,000 bid at auction. Simon & Schuster’s Scribner division is set to publish the U.S. edition of the book, described as a cross between “The Devil Wears Prada” and “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” in 2007.
But while the 79-page proposal presents the book as an account of Davies’ own experiences, a closer look reveals material clearly drawn from the work of another writer. The precis of chapter 12, which describes Davies’ June 2002 trip to interview for a job at American Vogue, includes scenes of her meeting the magazine’s then-features associate Alexandra Kotur and publicists Paul Wilmot and Nadine Johnson, all three of whom advise her on how to attain a “glamour job.” “I have no idea what each day will bring,” Kotur told Davies of her own job, according to the proposal. “One day I could be in someone’s home on a photo shoot, the next night I’m talking to Minnie Driver and Sigourney Weaver.”
According to a Vogue spokesman, however, the conversation never took place. “Alexandra Kotur has never met this person,” he said Thursday. The quote appears to be taken from a 1998 article in The New York Times, “The Glamour Girl’s Guide to Life,” by Monique P. Yazigi. The encounters with Wilmot and Johnson, which Davies describes as having taken place at a party at Bungalow 8, also look to be fabricated, the quotes lifted from Yazigi’s piece. “I don’t recall meeting an Emily Davies,” said Wilmot when asked about the account. “I’ve been to Bungalow 8 once in my life.” (In a strange and self-referential twist, the quotes attributed to Wilmot in the proposal were credited in The New York Times to Charles Scribner 3rd, grandson of Scribner’s founder. And, in another signal that Davies never met Wilmot, in the proposal she describes the fair-haired publicist as being bald.) “I don’t even know who that girl is,” echoed Johnson.
Yazigi, who no longer writes for the Times, said she had also never heard of Davies or her book. “You’re kidding,” she said when told of the recontextualized quotes. Yazigi said she was particularly discomfited as she is currently preparing to shop her own book, an autobiographically inspired work of fiction based on her articles, in particular “The Glamour Girl’s Guide to Life.”
Davies, who reportedly departed The Times of London last year amid an inquiry into her expenses, responded to WWD’s questions with a statement defending her actions in the proposal. Saying it was “not intended for public consumption,” Davies claimed, in effect, that it was easier for her to give prospective publishers the flavor of her memoir by appropriating other writers’ words than by relying on her own memories. “The first thing I did when I began putting together my proposal…was to dig out a mass of notes, cuttings and stories I had assembled over the years.…Although I used these notes in the proposal, there would be no question of my using any unoriginal material in my finished book.”
A spokeswoman for Simon & Schuster did not reply to a call for comment, but Davies’ agent, Zoë Pagnamenta, said, “It is news to us. We are looking into this, as you would expect. We are taking this very seriously.”
An agent in the memoir market said it was by no means standard practice for memoirists to borrow the work of other writers, uncredited, in their proposals. The agent predicted that Simon & Schuster, having watched Random House take a drubbing in the press for publishing Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” would drop the book: “People are just so on-edge about this kind of stuff now.”
— Jeff Bercovici
ISAAC ALL THE TIME: He’s got an affordable housewares line, like Martha Stewart. He’s got a talk show, like Oprah Winfrey. So why shouldn’t Isaac Mizrahi have his own magazine, too?
Apparently he’s been asking himself that same question. Mizrahi has started work on the prototype for a lifestyle magazine that will bear his brand and, he hopes, provide content for a new Web site, also in development. “Maybe the magazine will go somewhere, but at the moment it’s a prototype, a content vehicle,” he said, adding that he would like to have a completed issue by July. For the moment, he is pursuing the project on his own, without the involvement of a publishing company.
Somewhat unusually, Mizrahi is treating the magazine primarily as a tool to test the viability of his online concept. “The reason I am doing it is because it’s a crying shame that of all people, I don’t have a Web site yet, in all these years,” he said. “What I need, more than anything, is content. I think it’s better to first have a hard copy. If I can actually look at a magazine and turn the pages, then it can be a Web site.”
Working with Mizrahi on the project is designer Peter Buchanan Smith, creative director of Paper, and writer Erika Kawalek, who is serving as the prototype’s editor. Buchanan Smith wouldn’t say exactly what type of magazine it will be, but he did say it won’t be a fashion magazine, per se. “I think a lot of material is going to be very unexpected in the traditional fashion sense,” he said. It also won’t be a cult-of-personality title, he added. “Isaac will be featured, but I don’t think it’ll be in any way, shape or form like Oprah or Martha or anything like that.”