Lauren Weisberger (Mike Cohen/PA)
Lauren Weisberger (Mike Cohen/PA)

The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger on lockdown, competitive parents and not actually being a fashionista

The novelist talks about the lasting legacy of her debut book, the musical involving Sir Elton John and why fashion leaves her cold.

Hannah Stephenson
Tuesday 03 August 2021 08:30

Bestselling author Lauren Weisberger is reflecting on her life since her debut novel The Devil Wears Prada was published 18 years ago, spawning the hit film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.

Loosely based on her 10-month stint at American Vogue magazine as an assistant to editor-in-chief Anna Wintour Weisberger was 25 when it was published and not in her wildest dreams could have imagined the success it would achieve.

“It’s still incredible to me how all that went down, and even when I was going through it, I had no perspective on how wild and unusual a ride that was. It was my first book. I didn’t know any different.

“It’s so cool that it still feels relevant, it still holds up. And now they’re making this play of it.”

She’s talking about the musical adaptation, in which Sir Elton John has been involved – Prada in yet another guise.

“Elton John has already written all of the music, which is wild,” she enthuses. The premiere, postponed due to the pandemic, is set to open in Chicago in July 2022, later transferring to New York.

The 44-year-old author met Sir Elton and his husband David Furnish during the planning stages, she says.

“He’s incredible. I was invited to his hotel suite in the city [New York] and we went for tea. They were so welcoming, and Elton just had the most incredible things to say about the book and the movie, and how excited he was to be working on the project.

“I was so star-struck and so nervous at the beginning. It was just me – I was terrified! But they couldn’t have been lovelier. We talked about books, movies and shows. We talked a bit about fashion – he knows everyone, he’s seen everything.”

Despite having written numerous novels since Prada, as well as its sequel, Revenge Wears Prada, the first book remains her most successful. It became an instant New York Times bestseller, sold four million copies and was translated into 40 languages. Will there be more Prada books?

“I don’t know. Never say never, but I don’t have one planned at this moment.”

Ironically, given that her original novel success is based on the fashion industry, she’s not actually interested in fashion, and doesn’t have a wardrobe full of designer clothes.

“I do love shopping and clothes, but the designer aspect of it is not what does it for me. I’m more a quantity versus quality girl. I’m not super-fascinated by the industry insider stuff any more.”

A variety of novels have followed with various backdrops – tennis, the New York public relations world, the horrors of turning 30 – while her latest, Where The Grass Is Green, was completed during lockdown, at her home in Connecticut where she lives with her husband, playwright and screenwriter Mike Cohen and their two children, aged 10 and nine.

“It was very difficult having space or time to write, trying to keep some sort of creative focus in the midst of horrible darkness, especially for what I was aiming to be a beach read. But nothing was light and nothing was fun. Every time you turned on the news, you wanted to jump off a bridge.”

Having her children at home also provided a distraction to her work schedule, she adds, as homeschooling took over, although she admits her husband did the bulk of that, as she finds her children’s maths hard enough to understand herself, let alone teach.

The story revolves around two sisters, Skye and Peyton, one a successful TV news anchor, whose glamorous lifestyle is upturned when her husband is arrested for a college admissions scandal in which he allegedly tried to buy their daughter Max’s place in Princeton.

Her polar opposite sister, Skye, is happily married and raising her adopted daughter in a suburban town called Paradise, occupied by fashionable yoga types, but soon finds that her life is also affected by the ripple effect of the scandal.

“Overall, the book is a ‘sisters’ book, which is something I’ve wanted to write for a long time,” says Weisberger, “but specifically about the college admissions scandal which, when it happened, I found absolutely fascinating.

“We all know it’s wrong when you pose your child on a rowing machine and take pictures of them, applying them to college as rowers when they’ve never rowed in their lives. This is not okay. It’s illegal, unethical and immoral. It’s black and white.

“But there are so many shades of grey that happen and I was interested in exploring that. What happens when you have characters who are faced with some of these decisions, like the ability and privilege to give their kids every advantage, and where do they draw the line?”

Her own children are a few years away from college, but they live in a town where many parents are obsessed with competitive schools and college choices, and willing to give their children every possible advantage.

“There will be private squash coaching, tutors for every subject, SATs prep for everything. We’re surrounded by that kind of lunacy and I think it’s fascinating and not only specific to suburbs of New York City. That is the suburban way of bringing up children now, certainly in this country.”

She has chosen not to send her son or daughter to private school – they go to the state school in town.

Lauren Weisberger (Mike Cohen/PA)

“That was important to me. I was a product of public schools, my husband was a product of public schools and both of our mothers were public high school teachers for 30 years.”

She lives in a privileged, affluent area, but hothousing is not confined to the middle classes and it’s not always the mothers who are pushing every extracurricular activity on to their offspring, she observes.

“Kids are scheduled to within an inch of their lives,” she says flatly.

“The mothers are in the trenches day after day, hyper involved with schools and the PTA, but if you could see the fathers and the sports coaching, it’s something I can’t wrap my head around.”

Indeed, in the book, two fathers have a fist fight at a school football tournament – and Weisberger says this is not totally fiction. Then there is the fictional ambitious TV anchorwoman. Where does she come from?

“I do have friends who are anchors on news shows, which is something I’m fascinated with, particularly with women. I can’t fathom what it’s like. I still get nervous on a Zoom call,” Weisberger offers.

Like Prada, this book touches on how looks do matter, only this time it’s on the world of TV, and the quest for eternal youth.

The relationship between Skye and Peyton is based largely on Weisberger’s relationship with her younger sister, Dana, a marriage and family therapist. They are extremely close and live near to each other and their children are also close.

“The way they communicate is identical to the way that Dana and I speak to each other – brutal, no-holds-barred, no filter. We tell it how it is.”

Her book tour is going to be virtual, to her chagrin, and she can’t wait to meet her fans in person.

“You work alone for two years in a room. The travel [for tours] is hell, but to be in a book store or a room with readers who have thoughts and feelings about your books, is something I miss a lot.”

Where The Grass Is Green by Lauren Weisberger is published by HarperCollins on August 5, priced £12.99 in hardback