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Fashionista is a fairly recent addition to the language, a
mildly condescending term applied to those thought to be slaves to fashion as well as to
those who inhabit the world of commercial high fashion. The Devil Wears Prada,
based on the novel of the same name by Lauren Weisberger, introduces a young fashion
innocent, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), into the environment of a top fashion magazine,
"Runway," (read Vogue), providing a satirical look at a tough,
knife-in-the-back, ego-riddled industry and the temptations it offers.
Despite being ridiculed for her lack of fashion sense, Sachs, an aspiring journalist, is hired by editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), a demanding, dictatorial, overbearing tyrant who treats her employees as her personal go-fers. Sachs is befriended by Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Priestly's right-hand man, who becomes a mentor and guides her into designer clothes, complete with the required stiletto heels, and even getting her dress size down a cut. Designer names fly about: Mark Jacobs, Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik. (Isn't there something vaguely obscene about shoes that sell for over $1,000?)
For contrast, Priestly's other assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), is totally committed to the fashion world. Sachs' boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier), an aspiring chef, feels her slipping away into a world of different values. As she navigates the brittle world of fashion, Sachs must choose between the allure of glamour, fame and high style, and her differently grounded ambitions in journalism.
Streep once again turns in an impeccable performance, delivering the vituperative nastiness of an overpowering executive, allowing just enough vulnerabiltiy to show through to keep her human, and looking smashing throughout, as is obviously required under the circumstances. Hathaway finds the right balance as a young idealist who teeters into the position of hard-edged careerist in an industry ruled as much by fantasy as reality, one that in its blown up sense of self-importance must inculcate its own skewed sense of values into its practitioners to assure loyalty.
Director David Frankel keeps the plot moving while giving the Sachs character space to develop and leaving room for the telling detail. New York is the prime location (with an excursion to Paris, of course) and the designers and director succeed in creating a meaningful sense of place.
But it is the fashionista ethic, as embodied in the Priestly character that keeps The Devil Wears Prada fascinating -- like turning over a rock and watching the worms crawling about underneath. "Nobody can do what I do," Preistly asserts with pronounced hubris, "Everybody wants to be us." And she believes it.
- Arthur Lazere