Toronto, May 1, 2017 – New on our must-read fashion list is Joan Juliet Buck’s memoir, The Price of Illusion (Atria Books; $30). The former Paris Vogue Editor (1994-2001) and contributing editor to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Traveler, and The New Yorker shares with us stories from her six decades spent in London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan, and Paris. Daughter of famous film producer Jules Buck, she lived a life surrounded by Hollywood celebrities such as John Huston, Peter O’Toole, Lauren Bacall, Federico Fellini and many more.
In 1994, Joan became the first and only American woman ever to fill the coveted position of Editor-in-Chief of Paris Vogue, making her a force in the fashion world. In the book, Joan talks about her experience of success and chronicles her quest to discover the difference between glitter and gold, fantasy and reality, and what merely looks like happiness from the thing itself.
Joan’s journey is presented in beautiful and at times heartbreaking prose, taking the reader through the parties and the fashion, the celebrities and creative geniuses as well as love, loss, and the loneliness of getting everything you thought you wanted and finding it’s not what you need. While her story is unique, her journey toward self-discovery is refreshing and universal.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Joan and ask her a few questions.
Interview: Joan Juliet Buck, Editor Paris Vogue (1994-2001)
It’s All Style To Me: The main theme in your memoir, The Price of Illusion, is the cost of playing the game, faking it to make it, keeping up appearances and other cliches that ultimately speak to Hollywood and the fashion industry. In an interview with Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Bach talks about his relationship with Axl Rose (Guns N Roses) and how he complains about the music industry. Bach explains that after hours of politely listening to his rant on the phone, he would respond with, “But dude, you wanted to rock.” Is it not fair to say the same to you?
Joan Juliet Buck: [Laughs] I didn’t set out to be an editor. What I set out to do, because I came from movies, my father made movies everybody around me made movies when I was a kid and was really talented, was to stay near to that. There’s only two ways to stay near to that – you either become a groupie or become an arts journalist. I decided to become an arts journalist, a features writer and I wrote about talented people for the glossy magazines. That way I kept the access to the talented famous people, the kind I knew growing up and I didn’t have to put myself on the line or prove my worth. I could just write about them.
IASTM: But it didn’t shock you, the shallowness and phoniness of Hollywood?
JJB: It didn’t, but also it wasn’t really Hollywood, because my parents left Hollywood when I was three. So it was really exiled movie people in Europe.
IASTM: Thanks to McCarthyism?
JJB: Well yes, my parents weren’t communists, but they were liberals and the atmosphere in Hollywood turned really shitty for liberals or for everybody trying to make a movie.
IASTM: Sounds a lot like what’s happening today, but in reverse. Anyone conservative or right-wing is ostracized and any movie without a liberal agenda is off the table.
JJB: Well I don’t think the movies when my parents left Hollywood were pushing a liberal agenda, they were just pushing a non-agenda. Trying to be not controversial. The committee my father was on was the committee for the first amendment. Everyone has a right to their beliefs and the right to express their beliefs. So that’s a liberal point of view. The first amendment, yes Ann Coulter should have the right to speak at Berkeley. That’s the first amendment.
IASTM: The 1990s was an incredible time to be in fashion. Not only was it a reactionary decade coming out of the excess of the 1980s, but many saw it as the end of an era. Particularly when we speak of technological advancements such as digital photography that affected the editing and publishing world, followed in recent years by the advent of social networks and social media.
JJB: It was a big change for the photographers to go from film to digital. When I arrived [at Paris Vogue] in 1994, I had not worked in an office for 17 years. I was a writer and a movie critic who got this job because I spoke perfect French. So I arrived and they’re all very nervous because they are beginning to do the layouts digitally on Macs and there’s only one guy who knows how to use a Mac.
For the photographers, there was a great photographer called Guy Bourdin and I was his stylist when I was 22. I remember with Guy and the camera and sending the film to the lab and waiting a day and a half to get the film back and the whole physical thing of the film and the time it took and how complicated and lengthy it was. That of course disappeared. The first people to start using digital photography were the runway photographers. They would explain how it was great and much easier, but of course it meant that you got so many more photographs that weren’t very good. Suddenly everyone was covering everything and at that point, I was gone by 2001, phones didn’t take pictures. The audience in the shows had digital cameras and they’d be taking pictures too. Digital cameras didn’t really ‘happen’ until the 2000s.
IASTM: You had the stress not only of your job as Editor at Vogue Paris, but were also dealing with this quantum technological shift.
JJB: Nobody quite knew and then I started in 2000, I took over the Air France magazine called Air France Madame as well as Vogue and I also started the French Vogue website. [Publisher] Condé Nast wanted every magazine to have a website by March. That was really interesting because what do you do with, you know, all those questions like what do you do with a website? My first idea was, great all those clothes that we call into the office that don’t make it into the magazine we can put online.
IASTM So you’re kind of a technological pioneer as the first to venture into this technological workspace for fashion.
JJB: Not really because style.com was starting in America. Every Condé Nast magazine was trying to put themselves online and I wasn’t the first because I stole my web editor from Elle.com [laughs] and she was there already.
IASTM: Your book speaks of the evolution of Vogue Paris from a magazine with a circulation of barely 60,000 that pushed the concept of women as objects an instrument of subordination to bring the magazine to a new audience of readers. It was obviously a success with your first issue breaking records.
JJB: Sales went up 40%.
IASTM: That’s right. Did it stay the course, not financially, but with respect to women and objectification. Are we moving forward or going backwards?
JJB: I’ve moved forward because I haven’t looked at it in years. I have no idea. My favourite magazine is Adam Moss’, New York Magazine. It comes out every two weeks and online as The Cut. Do you ever look at it?
IASTM: The Cut? Yes, I do. I find it very current, very here and now.
JJB: That’s the point of a magazine!
IASTM: There are just so many magazines nowadays.
JJB: What do you read?
IASTM: There are a few publications that I follow including 10 Men, LOVE, Fantastic Man, Style.com back when it was around, Vogue, British GQ and a few others.
JJB: I’ve written for Fantastic Man.
IASTM: Conflict, negotiation, getting your vision across – you’ve faced some challenges pushing some risqué concepts. At times perhaps, putting your reputation or career on the line. What advice would you give to today’s aspiring art directors and editors in dealing with creative differences?
JJB: Putting my career on the line for an idea. Which one would that have been? I’m trying to think.
IASTM: Well you pushed for Thierry Mugler to approve a photo of a horse with a giant erection.
JJB: I didn’t have to push it, it was just a funny thing that happened. I asked my boss, the chairman of the company, is it cool to run a picture of a horse with a hard-on? He said, “Well it’s fine by me, just get Thierry Mugler to sign off on it.” As I said in the book, it was only a horse, but it was still a hard-on. I took the picture to Mugler who looked at the picture and wrote OK all over it, but he didn’t look at the horse’s dick. Because he wasn’t paying attention.
I’m a writer, I’m not good at office politics or conflict resolution. I think that if that something is a really good idea, everyone will see that it’s a good idea. People disagree, they just don’t have to go along with that idea.
IASTM: Sticking to your guns is a big part of being a successful editor right?
JJB: Well, a big part of being an editor is seeing what it is that the staff and collaborators are really enthusiastic about. Not making them do their homework, but making them do the stuff they’re really enthusiastic about and finding that place where the stuff you want to do and the stuff they want to do meet. That would be the conflict resolution.
IASTM: For me, fashion was never the same again after that Kanye West & Kim Kardashian American Vogue cover. Then came the parade of ‘it-girls’, daughters and sons of famous people taking the place of professional models. It felt like the world of tabloid and fashion had merged with sophistication and elegance becoming a casualty. What are your thoughts?
JJB: In not quite seven years at Paris Vogue, that’s ten issues a year let’s call it 70 issues, I had two actresses on the cover. For me, celebrity does not belong on the cover of a fashion magazine.
IASTM: Amen to that.
JJB: Period. Fashion belongs on the cover of a fashion magazine. Celebrities and fashion, it’s not the same thing. The problem is if celebrities become a part of fashion, they will go out of fashion much faster.