The Real Woman Behind “The Devil Wears Prada”

Weisberger was truly an interactive speaker as she shared her life story with students in Hayden 100 on Sept. 17. Photo by Lauren Lamatina
Weisberger was truly an interactive speaker as she shared her life story with students in Hayden 100 on Sept. 17. Photo by Lauren Lamatina

“I said to myself, go ahead. Take a chance. Hire the smart, fat girl.”

Fashion lovers and non-lovers alike will recognize this quote as one of the infamous lines delivered by Meryl Streep in the 2006 hit, The Devil Wears Prada. As many may know, the chic film is based off of a novel of the same name, and the woman behind the book, author Lauren Weisberger, has a story all her own that is just as fascinating. Students were lucky enough to hear this story first-hand last Tuesday at the second talk in MC’s Women’s Lecture Series.

Weisberger began her talk with this line: “The first thing everyone wants to know is how much of The Devil Wears Prada is true.” The reason this is a popular query is because The Devil Wears Prada is somewhat based off of a true story.

Years ago, when Weisberger first graduated from Cornell University with a BA in English, she decided to take a trip backpacking through Europe, living off of “Nutella and Coca-Cola Light for weeks at a time,” she described in her own words. Afterwards, she returned to the U.S. and started applying to magazines in New York City, as she had aspirations of being a writer.

With the help of a very clever cover letter, Weisberger landed an interview at Vogue, though it wasn’t her top choice by a longshot (fashion was not her forte). After a series of short interviews she ended up as Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour. “One minute I was wearing Berkenstocks and a backpack and the next minute I was working at Vogue,” she said in her speech.

“A lot of that year was a blur,” she continued. “I faxed, I filed, I fetched until I thought my feet would fall off. I hunted down every imaginable article of clothing, jewelry, and dinner reservation. I booked hotel rooms and private jets, I spoke to Oscar de la Renta more often than my own mother, and I spent more company money on Starbucks than most Americans make in a year.”

Weisberger never got to write (or have a social life) throughout that year, and eventually she got up the courage to quit. During her second job at Departures magazine, she took a creative writing class on her own time. Her work in the class, inspired by her own experiences, ended up developing into a story about a young woman getting her first job at a high fashion magazine with a…difficult boss.

When she showed her teacher, he told her that she might have the makings of a book, so she brought her pieces to a publisher and the rest is history.

Weisberger went on to talk about getting published, the amazing book sales, finding out it was being made into a movie, the film’s dream cast, her other books and much more. Still, her talk didn’t just center on the glamour of The Devil Wears Prada. Weisberger made sure to impart her wisdom on the college student audience, and made quite an impact.

“Her talk definitely gave me a lot to think about,” sophomore Christine Nolan said. “I always feel so worried about knowing exactly what I have to do when planning for the future. She eased the stress and reminded me to just enjoy the moment I’m in. She is definitely my new role model.”

Throughout her lecture Weisberger spoke candidly about not knowing what she wanted to do when she got out of college and how it was the one time her life she was able to take the biggest risks.

“When you’re young and you’re just out of school and you’re starting out, the stakes aren’t quite so high,” she said in an interview with The Quadrangle. “Most people are responsible for just themselves and they can do something a little riskier, a little more daring, a little bit crazier and you know, if it doesn’t work out you’ll learn from it and if it does, that’s all the better. It’s definitely the time in your life to go for it.”

“Her story was just incredibly inspirational,” fellow sophomore Victoria Massari said. “She made me feel safe in knowing that it is ok if you are unsure of what you want to do with your life at this point in time. Your college years may be the last chance you have to be free of major responsibilities, such as the ones you take on when you begin your career or start a family, so make each day count.”

Still, students weren’t the only ones Weisberger affected. During the Q&A session after her talk, engineering Professor Ann Marie Flynn was quick to raise her hand and speak.

“I don’t even know you and I’m so proud of you,” she said to Weisberger with tears rolling down her face. “You told your story with such integrity, with such truth…I am so proud of what you brought to them [the students].”

She even continued to share her own personal experiences with the audience.

“It’s okay to not know what you want to do for the whole rest of your life,” she added with an impassioned tone. “I did the same thing as you [Weisberger]…I quit my job as an engineer and we both [my roommate and I] worked at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan and it was the best time of our lives. And then we hitch-hiked through Europe…twice. And what did we miss? Absolutely nothing.”