We live in an age where we have the opportunity to get an inside look in the careers and people's lives via social media, reality TV or directly from the person themself! Growing up, we enjoyed reading Vogue as a means to be transported to high style, fabulous designers, locations and more. As we grew up, we realized that this signified the best of the best regardless of what edition we happened to be flipping through.
French Vogue represents one of the most iconic titles and has had a number of notables helm this cover. We had the opportunity to chat with Joan Juliet Buck, who shares her time at Vogue (1994 - 2001); growing up in a family whose connections to those in film; art and literature is astounding and how she navigated her world is a page turner. Readers see how she befriended Karl Lagerfeld; her love affair with Donald Sutherland; her connection to Anjelica Huston; and more interactions that are effortlessly shared in 'Price of Illusion.' As a writer for a number of prestigious titles (Vanity Fair, American Vogue, Travel + Leisure, The Los Angeles Times and Conde Nast Traveler), feature editor at British Vogue, Editor in Chief of French Vogue her memoir navigates her journey via frank honesty about her world, her participation in it and how she was able to step back and take the life she truly wanted is one that is refreshing!
ATHLEISURE MAG: What is the meaning behind the 'Price of Illusion?'
JOAN JULIET BUCK: It's sort of well, now you know because you read the book.
AM: Yes, so what made you decide to write the book and to make it so personal.
JJB: Well the only way to write is to do so completely honestly. I'm not interested in writing fiction. I think that the most important thing for me was to sit down and write. The original manuscript was a lot longer. I think I had 20 edits to get it down as I was numbering them. I kept thinking that I was finished and done, but I edited a lot. It took me about 2 years to write the first 1,050 pages and then it took me 4 years to sculpt the story out of it.
The thing that became more and more important was this guardian angel that I read about when I was 7 years old. The guardian angel says to the little girl, "Don't go playing with the pretty people of the gorgeous garden. The pretty children wearing the beautiful clothes in the beautiful garden - don't go." Of course what the guardian angel doesn't say is that if you go, you will pay the price of illusion.
Of course, I went into the pretty garden with all of the pretty children and the beautiful clothes and flowers. Just like in the dream in the book that I read at 7 years old, let's just say it wasn't for me.
AM: Do you feel that maybe because of your upbringing of growing up around Peter O'Toole, John Huston and Anjelica Huston that it became a natural inclination to go into this garden because you were born into that world?
JJB: Of course. I was and that is what I considered natural. But one way to reclaim it would have been to become an actress, but my father (Jules Buck, an American film producer) said don't become one. So I thought I would become a writer and of course, I went towards beautiful magazines. Then I chose the beautiful world. I first went to Conde Nast magazine for Glamour at the age of 19 and then Vogue when I was 23. I couldn't leave - it was a beautiful garden and I couldn't leave. I thought it was my reproduction of what I grew up in - you're exactly right - you got it completely!
AM: Obviously, we work in the magazine industry and we were struck by how you integrated the state of the magazine world at that time with the consolidations in titles, the merge to going online and how you dealt with creating great content with such lower budgets. What do you think of the state of the fashion magazine business which is still battling these issues now?
JJB: They're in a very difficult state. There are certain magazines that manage to be surprising and glamorous. W and Harper's Bazaar both manage. But so many of the other magazines have gone so mainstream. The way we managed in French Vogue, as you saw is that for example, the model Caroline Murphy was AMAZING. She would work for our shitty prices, we would have to borrow horrible places in the country where people were practically in sleeping bags and she wouldn't care! She was really a trooper. But these days, the people who still work with Vogue or used to work for me say, "they used to put me on a plane to do an interview and now it's all on the phone!"
AM: Would you ever see yourself going back to working as an Editor in Chief or starting your own publication?
JJB: No - I think you have to be young and full of energy. I realized a lot of stuff about myself in life and then again when I wrote the book. I'm one of those people who need a lot of sleep. I can't function on 6 hours. It's really grueling and a hard job.
AM: I had to laugh as we don't get a lot of sleep around here so your point is very valid!
JJB: It's true - but you're having fun though right?
AM: We love our readers, sharing the athleisure culture and being able to share the voices in our community. Everyday is different than the next which keeps it interesting. If you're not passionate and in in tune with what you're doing, it can really suck you dry!
JJB: That is so true and the difference for being a writer as I had always been and then being a boss - which I had never been, was so different. The days were fuller with events that had to do with other people and it didn't exhaust me in the same way that writing does as you're birthing something. It's almost a physical feeling. When going to events, I felt punch drunk from small talk.
AM: Were you concerned when you were writing this book that you had to go back and let people know that they were being included in this book as you include a number of people such as Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Mario Testino.
JJB: No because I had done enough reportage on my own life by keeping a diary that I didn't feel that I needed to speak to anyone about what had happened because I knew very well. It was all in my diary. Are you asking if I needed to ask permission?
AM: Well yes, I know a number of the people that you're talking about in the book and I think that you're spot on. But there's always what you know that happened and what people like to revise in their heads and I just wondered if in that process that you were concerned that there would be a letter or email from someone who may have had an issue.
JJB: You're always concerned. I was concerned with certain friends who looked in the index and saw that they weren't in it. But that's ok and we had a conversation about it. Remember, I didn't belong to anything when I wrote this book. I didn't owe anyone anything and I didn't have any allegiance. I was gone. That's a fantastic freedom.
AM: I think that's what really draws you to this book because of the frankness and honesty. When you're in the industry, there are politics and things to consider so it would be tough to write something of this nature while navigating those associations.
JJB: You can't write honestly if you're protecting something. I was in a very privileged position. I decided to make my exile from Vogue a privilege instead of a drawback.
AM: What are some of the things that you liked while you were at French Vogue Paris and duties that you had to do as a part of your job that you may not have enjoyed?
JJB: Well, let me see - you know this very well, but to be the person whose decision is final. I had that when I was there and when I went back to American Vogue and my decision wasn't final - I could provide my opinion, but I had to go ahead with it. Just being the decision maker was great. Watching people spark to an idea and watching how this thing would be like firecrackers - that was very energizing. It would also make me wistful because they would go off to do the photoshoot or reporting and I would be sitting behind the desk and then going to a cocktail party. I don't drink, I hate going to cocktail parties as I don't like standing. I don't mind walking, but I don't like standing around and I really don't like small talk. It was all kind of a nightmare. I also liked having the access! I loved going to museum shows before they even opened. It was nice to buy my clothes at wholesale prices, but it was weird as you would order 6 months in advance at the showroom and it felt more like business than shopping.
I didn't like having people do things that they didn't want to do. If they didn't want to do it, I could usually see why and it made me say things to get them to do it - which I didn't want to do - I'm lousy at manipulating people. The schedule - the fashion shows - putting on your costume and the marathon of shows! I need my sleep and I need my food! It felt like torture.
AM: After going through all of this, how essential is balance to you?
JJB: It's everything!
AM: How do you envision success?
JJB: Well that's interesting. Because for me success is being able to write what I want to write and not having to do things that I don't want to do. That's the number one. It would be nice if success came with an enormous amount of money to reward me for my efforts.
There is a line from Gertrude Stein who says, "I write for myself and for strangers." The success of the book - right now what I'm feeling for the first time in my life is because I wrote honestly and didn't write - so many strangers are reacting to this book with a full heart. In the fashion world, you don't see a full heart. I'm seeing that. The communication and atomization of everything from letters, Instagram etc and there are all these hashtags from strangers who are reading it.
They have opened their heart to the story that I told which is extraordinary. In a world of magazines, you don't think that that is possible. In magazines people react because they want something from you.
AM: If this became a movie who would play you and your parents?
AM: Yes we're obsessed with the show!
JJB: Of course you have! I think Tatiana Maslany is it. She is an extraordinary actress and like me, she can look like a whole bunch of different people. It's not consistent and one of the interesting things that I found doing this book because I was excavating - I played all these different parts and role. So I think Tatiana's talent to look like so many different people and she's not really pretty but she can be - that is so me! For the young me, it's Hailee Seinfeld.
AM: Good choice - she's fantastic!
JJB: Didn't you love her in The Age of 17? Hailee looks so much like Tatiana so it's perfect! For my parents, I keep thinking of Michael Stuhlbarg for my father. For Uncle Don, definitely Mark Ruffalo.
That's who he looks like and the feeling - slightly rumpled, sloppy but with a really big heart! For mom, Natalie Portman!
AM: When you were talking about your mother from her style, jewelry, and movement - she seemed to have such an ethereal air. That's a perfect casting choice!
JJB: Mom was so classy and the absolute embodiment of grace, beauty, charm, and style. Not quite me!
AM: We were so blown away about the book as there are so many layers that intersect!
JJB: The thing is, this book is not about fashion, Hollywood - they're in there. But this book is about people who are obsessed with such a beauty and things being wonderful. Everybody has that.
AM: Yes and historically, there are events that you mention that are mirrored today in terms of terrorism/bombings - that these things unfortunately still happen but that life also has to continue on with our personal chaos along with the global one. The weaving of these elements is what makes it so intriguing.
JJB: I love it and am thrilled that you felt so connected to it!