I watched The Devil Wears Prada last Saturday. I’d seen the film on “dibidi” but I still wanted to watch it on the big screen just so I could further gawk at the fabulous garb worn by its characters. Based on Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel, the film features Meryl Streep as Runway magazine’s editrix-in-chief Miranda Priestley and Anne Hathaway as Andrea Sach, Priestley’s personal assistant, a job a million girls would kill for.
The film is a lot different from the novel although it still stayed true to the spirit of the story. Interestingly, it’s actually Miranda that one could sympathize with while at the same time realizing that a big part of the character is sadly contemptible. Streep cleverly reimagined the character from the book’s Anna Wintour-inspired fashion editor to a breathy American career-obsessed boss whose own manner of putting someone in her proper place can be reduced into two words: That’s all! Well, that and staring you down should you happen to be wearing grandma’s unfashionable blue sweater.
With all the trappings of glamour, it’s easy to fall in love–or at least believe in the idea of being in-love–with Andrea’s job. Being dolled up is a requirement and budget is never an issue: one could always run to the magazine’s “closet”, every fashionista’s haven of mouthwatering clothes, shoes and bags showcase. Andrea’s story has many parallels in real-world careers: fresh grads forsaking their dream professions for first jobs that while pay well, hardly provide them the intellectual challenge for which they toiled through four years of college. There are jobs and there are jobs that one takes to pay the rent.
Even while reading the book, which seems to me less glamorous than the movie version, I can’t help telling myself that I just might kill for Andy’s job. While her work is less journalism and more of fasion, it is still publishing (which I think deserves emphasis in journalism schools even just as an elective–not all journalism graduates want to be reporters although they still want to be involved in publishing). My first job was with a women’s magazine. Unlike Andy, we were required to wear “smart casual” which was actually a pairing of slacks and a top that was anything that was not a T-shirt. No rubber shoes allowed. What meager, below-minimum-wage salary I earned on my first two months had to be spent on following the company’s dress code. We didn’t have clothing allowance.
Unlike Andy, who runs errands for Miranda in a town car, gets invited to parties just for being Miranda’s gatekeeper and gets to keep her fashion stash, I and my friend and colleague, Tina, had to pick up clothes, shoes and accessories from stores in Makati all the way from Cubao. Back then, traffic jam along EDSA was at its worst since the MRT was still being constructed. We were not allowed to take cabs unless the worth of the merchandise which we had to use for fashion shoots was more than the combined salary of the staff. Otherwise, we had to take those clunky tin cans on wheels parading as buses to and from the stores while lugging bagfuls of clothes and shoes.
To drive home the point that we, the EAs, were at the bottom of the foodchain, not even the security guards would offer assistance to help us carry the stuff from the gates to our second-floor office, which was a good walking distance away in the first place. Tina reached her boiling point when she had to open the heavy sliding iron gates by herself while carrying SIX huge Louis Vuitton suitcases as the guards were idly watching by. The slightest tear on any of the suitcases would cost her four months of pay. I failed to replace a price tag on an 800-peso (roughly $20 back then) dress once and I received an earful from a stores manager like I should pay for the crime with my life. I wanted to scream that my ukay finds look so much better than her rags, but of course I shouldn’t. On an occasion that I could not replace a typewriter’s (!!!) ribbon because the purchasing department couldn’t give me the supply, the editor berated me in front of my colleagues supposedly for not taking her seriously. Her secretary who witnessed it later gave me her extra ribbon for which she still owns a portion of my soul.
Oh yes, computer-to-employee ratio was 4:1 and internet access required a password that could only be supplied by the EIC, the managing editor, and the chief artist. Nobody did the WWW thing unless it was absolutely necessary. We had to work for 6 days a week and had to stay on beyond the required eight hours during fashion shoots. On out-of-town assignments, I had to buy supplies and pack everything that was needed for the shoot until midnight and be back at work by 4:30 AM. I had to pawn my own life for the security of the model, especially if she was some upcoming mestiza teenage starlet whose mom was ten million times nicer than the spawn.
After four months at the magazine, we both knew that it was not the job we would kill for, but that it could just kill us. And we were simply too young and way too virginal to die. Thank God, the title folded up in less than a year and in spite of being out of job for a month, we were happy to not return to the publishing house that still asked us to work as account managers. I believe life’s so much different in fashion magazines nowadays. Our lives are so much different nowadays.
And so back to the book and movie, I can’t help but wonder what all the whining is about. There are tough jobs and there are those that suck absolutely. If this were in real life, Andrea just might have finished her one-year tenure instead of telling Miranda to naff off, the latter’s seeing a bit of herself in the assistant, notwithstanding. At least she gets to keep the shoes.