Lauren Weisberger: 'Emily is my favourite character, she is both likeable and truthful ... that's really appealing'
As The Devil Wears Prada celebrates its 15th birthday, author Lauren Weisberger talks to Hannah Stephenson about bringing back its acerbic heroine Emily Charlton
It's 15 years since The Devil Wears Prada was published, introducing us to ice queen Runway fashion editor Miranda Priestly and her assistants Andy Sachs and Emily Charlton, played in the 2006 film by Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt. "It feels so strange. It's similar to having a child. The time flies and it feels at the same time like it was yesterday and like it's been decades," says novelist Lauren Weisberger, whose hit book was loosely based on her own 10-month stint as assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour.
While she continues to write novels, there's also The Devil Wears Prada stage musical in the pipeline, with a soundtrack by Sir Elton John, while Emily Blunt said recently she'd be up for doing a sequel if the opportunity arose. Fifteen years on, Prada is still turning heads.
The 41-year-old bestselling writer admits her blockbuster debut, which became an instant New York Times bestseller, sold four million copies and was translated into 40 languages, was a tough act to follow.
Her second novel, Everyone Worth Knowing, received mixed reviews and subsequent books, while also bestsellers, didn't create the massive buzz Prada generated.
"I remember the second novel was incredibly trying. I was very stressed out about that, but I have an amazingly supportive publishing team, husband and friends," notes Weisberger. And she recognises that the huge success of any debut novel is a rare thing.
"Every writer goes through self-doubt, but I think I also had an understanding of what a unique and rare occurrence this was with Prada. I hadn't necessarily expected that it would ever be a book, never mind a bestseller and then a movie. I was very young and very naive, but I did recognise that this was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
"I don't think I put undue pressure on myself, that I, or anyone else, was expecting me to replicate it with each book."
She brought back her Prada protagonists in 2013 with Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns - and now Emily Charlton is back in her latest novel, The Wives.
Now 36, and an image consultant to the rich and famous, Emily's still as acerbic as ever. But when an ambitious senator frames and publicly dumps his wife, who happens to be Emily's supermodel friend, Karolina, Emily leaves the city for the suburbs of Greenwich, intent on saving her friend's reputation, with the help of a corporate lawyer pal who is now a stay-at-home mum.
"It was so much fun bringing Emily back again," Weisberger says. "She's probably my favourite character. She has no filter. She says what she thinks and there's something really appealing about that. Very few people do that and, when they do, people don't like them very much, but she manages to be both likeable and truthful."
It's a funny, feisty story, which bangs the drum for female solidarity at a time when the #MeToo campaign is still very much in the public consciousness.
Indeed, there is reference to #MeToo in the novel, when Miranda Priestly is trying to lure Emily back to Runway.
"The timing is always perfect for a story about strong women who are dedicated to one another, not just their relationships, families or careers.
"It was the first time I'd written about women really taking care of each other and being loyal to one another and banding together to take revenge on a man who's behaved badly."
The Wives was inspired by her own move from New York to small-town Connecticut with her family, playwright and screenwriter husband Mike Cohen, and their two children, aged six and seven.
"We had been living in the city for years and thought we would never leave. Then, the second kid came along - and we fled. But I was nervous about moving to the suburbs after so many years in the city," she admits. "I subscribed to the stereotypes that we all have of the suburbs, mostly negative.
"There's this preconceived notion that the suburbs is where fun goes to die, that it's going to be dull, there's not going to be any culture, or exciting restaurants and no interesting people.
"I was surprised to find really interesting, engaged people and a small contingent of complete crazies, who did the most outrageous things I just felt I had a whole new world to satirise."
She found a contingent of women in her well-to-do suburb with a lot of time and money - and unconventional practices.
"There were some outrageous, over-the-top parties and I write all about it in the book. I've heard stories about crazy designer plastic surgeries - a lot of this I've heard first-hand. I was shocked. Like Emily, I thought I'd been in the city a long time and had seen it all."
She admits there has been interest from filmmakers in the new book, but is remaining tight-lipped about it for now.
"If it were up to me, Emily Blunt would play Emily again - that would be my choice in a heartbeat. She was brilliant."
Weisberger seems to be making things work. She's never regretted swapping the city for the suburbs.
"There's so much more space and sunshine and it's much easier living and much more family-orientated.
"It wasn't a hard transition," she reflects. "In the city, we had two adults, two children, two dogs and a two-bedroomed apartment. Now, we have an actual house."
Work-life balance is a theme she continues to explore.
"I'm incredibly lucky to have a flexible career, I'm lucky enough to have help and it's still difficult.
"I still feel as though I'm not giving 100% to my work or 100% to my children.
"I feel guilty quite often, which is common among both working and non-working mums."
In the US, the book has a different title, When Life Gives You Lululemons, but she says none of her friends are in it.
"It's an amalgamation of different characters and different anecdotes. People will read it and realise that these are things that could happen," says Weisberger. "Antics go on in so many places."
- The Wives by Lauren Weisberger is published by HarperCollins, priced £12.99