I’ve just watched ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ for the umpteenth time tonight. I love it when I find films or TV series that I just want to watch over and over again. What I find fascinating is that every time I watch I pick up on something I didn’t notice the first time or something that didn’t seem significant before stands out. I also find that the first time I watch something I tend to focus more on the plot because I don’t know the story. But afterwards, because I know the story and what’s going to happen, I can actually appreciate more the writing and the characters and the backgrounds and so on.
For those of you who haven’t seen the Devil Wears Prada (why not?), Andrea (played by Anne Hathaway, the best thing about the film) has recently graduated from journalism school. Her dream is to write serious journalism like the New Yorker or for a newspaper. But she decides to apply for and take a job at Runway magazine, the top fashion magazine, even though she has no interest or knowledge in fashion because it would look good on her CV. Apparently both Runway and the editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) have a fair amount of kudos not only in fashion but also journalism. After a shaky start, she actually begins to succeed to the point that she is invited to join Miranda at Paris Fashion Week. The problem is that her success seems to be at the expense of who she is.
There are many themes that come up in this film but what I saw tonight was – appropriately for a film about a fashion magazine – what the French philosopher Catherine Malabou called le voir venir. Malabou translates it as ‘To see (what is) coming’, that moment where you stop, look back from where you have come and look forward and anticipate where you are going and decide what to do. It reflects, again appropriately for a fashion magazine, the plasticity of the Hegelian dialectic between resistance and change. (Plastic being something that can be moulded and then, once moulded, resists deformation, with an explosive element).
When Andrea first starts at Runway, she makes it pretty clear she is just there to get the experience before moving on, that it’s not what she’s into and so on. But she works hard. She holds onto her sense of fashion and she pokes fun at the ‘Runway girls’ with her friends. Then, after a particularly harsh telling off, she thinks it so unfair. It is brought to her attention that actually she hasn’t trying that hard at all…she’s not really adapting to the work environment, so why should the work environment adapt to her. At that moment, she experiences le voir venir. She decides to drop her sense of fashion and seeks help. She looks back and looks forward and decides to jump. However, that moment of le voir venir was like an explosion, it didn’t just push her a little forward, it pushed a lot. And continually there is tension between the ‘old Andrea’ and ‘new Andrea’. Indeed, there were lots of moments of le voir venir.
But as she seems to be leaving her old friends behind and making new ones, she still resists losing her values. As Miranda shows more and more faith in her, she shows loyalty to Miranda. So, when she finds out from Christian Thomson, her favourite writer with whom she has just slept with, about a move to push Miranda out of Runway, she is frantically trying to warn her of what’s happening. She is then absolutely devastated when Miranda resolves the situation and protects Miranda’s career by what she considers an act of disloyalty to the creative director of Runway, Nigel. But this is what succeeding in fashion and fashion journalism is all about…continually adapting and moving forward even if it means leaving behind those to whom you are connected. (Indeed, the whole fashion industry is about what’s new not what’s old hat, so to speak.) And that is Andrea’s final moment of le voir venir in the film. But this time, Andrea resists the forward momentum in her career and turns her back on a career at Runway. In essence, she turns back from becoming more like Miranda.
At the end of the film, it appears as if Andrea has gone back completely to how she was at the start of the film. But I think that the reason why she was able to go as far as she did at Runway was because she was interested in a career in serious journalism; she was ambitious. Miranda makes the point early on that girls who knew a lot more about fashion, thinner and better dressed, gave up a lot sooner. I think this was, for those girls, about fashion rather than about publishing. For Andrea, where she came from provided the reason for going forward. She had her resume of student journalism and was heading to serious journalism. Runway was not just a blip as the editor at the New York Mirror suggested at the end, even though Andrea tried to play down her time there. It was always part of her plan. She did what she needed to do to get the experience and when she felt she had gone far enough, she left. I think this was why Miranda took her on in the first place: because she saw someone with a sense of ambition who she knew would try hard, as opposed to the usual assistants who were just about the fashion. This is why Miranda says she sees much of herself in Andrea. Of course Andrea disagrees, but Miranda was talking about her ambition and she was right; Andrea was ambitious enough to get ahead at the expense of Emily who was far more into Paris Fashion Week. So yes, on the one hand, Andrea did change and move forward at Runway; On the other hand, she resisted change and held onto her dreams and her ambition.