The biggest fashion film of 2006, The Devil Wears Prada, portrays an icy fashion world where the decision-makers at the top are perfectly groomed, super-svelte fashion femmes, clad head-to-foot in Chanel, with the power to make or break a designer’s career. At the head of this cutthroat world is the cold but calm Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), surrounded by sycophantic staff and desperate-to-please designers. Recruiting for a second assistant, Miranda is confronted with the ambitious, steely but seriously lacking-in-style, Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) – a budding graduate journalist who naively thinks a term at Runway will pave the way for a career in news reporting.
The plot, though predictable in its girl-with-integrity-crosses-into-the-dark-world-of-fashion-loses-friends-boyfriend-ditches-materialistic –job-then-wins-them-all-back-scoring-honest-dream-role-on-more-serious-title set up highlights some of the blatant truths associated with the fatal combination: women, ambition and shoes to die for.
Despite her delusion that by persevering with the PA job at Runway she will land herself a serious reporting role, we like the impressionable Andy for her weakness at falling for the job that comes with free Jimmy Choos as opposed to one where you actually have to buy your own. We all think (and hope) that after her failure at meeting Miranda’s impossibly capricious requests she’ll walk out the door and move onto the next job, but instead she cries to the art director who consoles her with lashings of designer clothes.
Shedding her scruffy sweater and itchy skirt for couture tailoring and pair of Chanel boots, she immediately attains the respect of everyone in the office, particularly super-bitch Emily, Miranda’s first assistant. Andy’s power dressing transformation gives her the confidence to “succeed” – much in the same way we all feel wonderful when debuting a gorgeous new bag or pricey pair of boots.
Seduced by the only men that matter in this film (Karl Lagerfield, Balenciaga et al – product placement, anyone?), Andy briefly exchanges her dependable boyfriend for suave writer, Christian, much in the same way she swapped her cosy jumper for a sleek tailored shirt – and so her demise into this cutthroat world of cliché begins. Not only does she sleep with the man at the top, she stabs fellow assistant Emily in the back poaching her place at Paris Fashion Week, snubs her loyal but unfashionable friends and turns into the aforesaid perfectly groomed skeletal fashionista, devoid of feeling but incredibly hot with added sass.
She starts to equate her success with clothes, accessories and shrinking statistics. As art director, Nigel (Stanley Tucci) toasts his promotion, the new Andrea celebrates her new, Size 4 figure, lending her more respect from her colleagues and significantly widening her options at Runway (well, she’ll be able to fit into more free clothes).
An empowering, feminist presentation of women this film is not, a realistic presentation of the fashion world led by the style media, perhaps. The women in this film are ambitious, willing to claw their way to the top - the mighty Miranda battles to keep her position at the peak of the Runway Empire, cheating Nigel out of his promotion. Yet we are gently reassured throughout that it’s not all killer heels, lavish handbags and bitchy back-stabbing – even Miranda has a bad day when she breaks under the pressure of an oncoming divorce and let’s not forget she rather oddly hired an assistant who had never even read the magazine before – hardly the professional traits of an Editor-in-Chief - but this is movie world, not the real world and it does make for delicious viewing, especially for ladies who love fashion and adore a good bitch.