Glossy mag editors look in the mirror

... Not literally, on this occasion - but to compare their lives with the Meryl Streep creation at a screening of The Devil Wears Prada. Dawn Alford joined the gang
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The Independent Online

The invitation was too good to refuse. Not because it was a preview of one of the year's most eagerly awaited films - more because of the chance to watch Britain's magazine editors watching a film about a magazine editor: a bit like watching Backdraft in a room full of firemen, or Shampoo with a salon full of hairdressers. Would we laugh, dismiss it as far-fetched or even recognise elements of ourselves in the characters? More importantly, what would we wear?

The Devil Wears Prada stars Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the editor of the fictional US fashion bible, Runway. It is a slick take on the 2003 bestseller by Lauren Weisberger, who denies basing the character on her former boss, US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. The author, however, worked as Wintour's PA - so you work it out.

Anne Hathaway is Andy the "smart fat girl" (she's a mere size six) who lands the job as Miranda's junior assistant. She is told that if she can survive Miranda for a year, she'll get any job in journalism she wants. Andy is transformed from frump to fashionista and soon learns how to deal with the demands of her boss and the humiliation of having Miranda's coat and bag thrown in her face every morning. The film, set in New York and Paris is funny, glamorous and shows how a bad-hair day can ruin a career.

The screening for the British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME) was fashionably three months in advance of the UK release date and organised by Jane Bruton, editor of Grazia and Celia Duncan, the chairwoman of the BSME. Tickets sold out quicker than you could say "makeover".

The venue for the screening was the very chic red-leather-seated private room at the Soho Hotel. It was 90F outside but the room was full of London's coolest editors - sipping chilled Chablis. Yes there was lots of Prada, plenty of Jimmy Choos and the distinct whiff of an early-evening blow-dry - but there was also not the slightest hint of ego and self-importance. A similar screening in New York would have been very different. Our editors brought their PAs with them to the screening. In New York those PAs would have spent the time collecting dry-cleaning, tidying desks or arranging the limo home.

Duncan, the editor of Cosmo Girl! told me before the screening: "I loved the book and can't wait to see the film. Yes I am wearing Prada tonight. My skirt actually. I dug it out especially.

"Tickets for tonight sold out overnight. In fact it was the first event where editors have expressly asked me to put it on."

So was it a hit? The audience was certainly enthralled and there were lots of laughs. Everyone agreed they were hooked from the first glance of Streep's designer stilettos, and I was hard pressed to find any editor afterwards who had not enjoyed it. Bruton said: "I think it will be a huge hit. Meryl Streep is brilliant. My daily life couldn't be more different - I don't have a PA for starters. I think watching it in a room full of editors gave the film an extra dimension - I spent just as much time listening out for the audience's reaction as I did watching the film."

Sara Cremer, the editor of Eve said: "I've only had one female editor, Jo Elvin, who thankfully is nothing like Miranda. US editors live in a whole different universe to most of us. When we go to the New York shows the US editors swoop out into their waiting air-conditioned cars - the British editors all share a taxi. And I could try throwing my coat and handbag at our editorial assistant in the morning but I think she'd throw them back.

"It's a fun film but it does perpetuate the annoying myth that to get ahead in women's magazines you have to be an evil witch who would sell her granny for a promotion. It's very, very exaggerated but the one thing I have to admit did ring a bell is the phrase: 'Can it really be that hard...?' as in, 'Can it really be that hard for that writer to find 20 children all born to the same sperm donor, who are all ginger, under five, oh and can their mums all be ex-models?'."

Kerry Smith, the editor of High Life magazine, said: "One of my first jobs was as a PA to the editor on Marie Claire so I loved this film. My experience was not as extreme as in the film but my extra curricular duties ranged from house or dog or cat-sitting to chatting up potential boyfriends for one editor. The film was a bit like looking in the mirror - Anne Hathaway's character's boyfriend accuses her of becoming shallow, and I split up with my boyfriend at the time amid similar allegations. Now I'm an editor myself I wouldn't dream of behaving like such a diva - although I wouldn't mind a few more designer gifts - and a limo would be great too. I don't think loving gorgeous shoes means that you stop caring about the bigger picture in life."

Sue Peart, the editor of You magazine says she believes Streep's character to be a hybrid of many editors. "Where I think the film really works is that everyone sees something of editors they've worked for in her. After that screening, I heard people say: 'It's Beatrix Miller! No, it's Liz Tilberis!' But Miranda isn't just a caricature - you see she has emotions when her marriage breaks down, but she also recognises, as all of us do, that whatever is going on in your personal life, you have to pull yourself together and get on with the job.

"Her primary relationship is with the magazine, and people expect her to look and behave in a certain way. As an ambassador for her magazine, you couldn't fault her. The real star of the show, however, was Meryl Streep's hair, which I think deserves an Oscar."

Suzanne Imre, the editor of Livingetc said: "Obviously the film and characters were exaggerated for the big screen but there were nuggets of truth in there - we just don't wear such fabulous clothes and I've never discovered a fashion cupboard quite like the one in the film. Watching the features meetings and product-selection meetings in the office was very amusing, and the frenetic pace of life felt quite realistic, but in my experience there is real camaraderie on magazines - and plenty of opportunities to have fun.

Bruton added: "I loved the film and I laughed all the way through. I think it was pretty realistic as far as New York goes and I've also been in American magazine offices which are completely different to ours - much more formal, much more uptight. Assistants to assistants even have their own offices. Grazia is so different - it's lively, loud and open-plan. I don't even have an office. I loved the character of Miranda, though of course I'm nothing like her. But I do have the same Fendi Spy bag."

Elsa McAlonan, the editor of Woman's Own, said that, unlike Miranda, she'd never been sent a gift of Prada or Valentino. In fact that day she and her staff had received a present - a big box of Christmas puddings. Her verdict on the film was: "So beautifully shot and going to be a big hit. British editors are nothing like Miranda - we just don't take ourselves that seriously."

As for me, I've worked in newspapers for most of my life so magazines still seem glamorous to me. And I'm lucky: I have an excellent PA who seems happy to work with me. Maybe I'm not setting the proper example, though. After all, I've left my dry-cleaning at home and made her a coffee and toast this morning.

Dawn Alford is the editor of Tesco Magazine. The Devil Wears Prada opens on 20 October