Read These Books if You Wanna Be the Next Anna Wintour
You’ve seen “The Devil Wears Prada,” you read Vogue front-to-back every month, and your obsession with fashion, beauty, celebs and a tasteful sprinkling of “serious issues” knows no bounds.
If you’re so obsessed with this stuff that you run out of blog posts and articles by the end of each day, this list of tomes by and about the best female editors in history is for you.
As an editor myself, these are also the books I reach for when I’m trying to remember what exactly is the point of writing yet another review of a liquid lipstick. Because the people are clamoring for it, dammit, and they have been since the beginning of time!
Or at least, they have been since roughly the middle of the last century. Thanks, postwar consumerism! And a special shoutout to our pals in the advertising industry for keeping all the lights on. Anyway, here are my fave books by and about female magazine editors. Enjoy!
1. “How to Murder Your Life” by Cat Marnell
If you don’t already know who Cat Marnell is, you’re slacking. She started as a card-carrying Conde Nastie working as a beauty editor at Lucky. She then wrote for xoJane and Vice, and now she’s promoting this just-released memoir.
So what makes her different from every other media babe? The fact that she was hiding (well, sometimes hiding, sometimes not) a drug addiction throughout her time at Conde and xoJane, with intermittent rehab stints punctuating her media career.
She’s also freaking hilarious and an incredible writer. Like, her essay on Whitney Houston’s death went viral and she managed to turn a review of a juice cleanse into must-read material. She’s also gifted at shit-stirring; people were very mad when she wrote this ode to Plan B on xoJane.
Her book is a gift for both wannabe mag hags and current/recovering Adderall enthusiasts. Plus, it’s full of super insidery stuff about everyone from Courtney Love to Nev Schulman of “Catfish.” Random, I know, but very Cat Marnell.
If you’re a fashion bb, I know New York Magazine’s fashion vertical, The Cut, is on your daily rotation. Well, back when The Cut first started in the 2000s, most of their daily stories were written by Amy Odell, a witty and cool af writer who just so happens to now be the online editor of Cosmopolitan.
Amy says fashion writing wasn’t a goal of hers per se but she ended up doing it, and thank god she did. She always casts a sidelong glance at the industry, which is great because fashion’s pretty ripe for mockery. Amy’s not mean or snarky — but she’ll definitely make you think.
3. “D.V.” by Diana Vreeland
Before there was Anna Wintour, Diana Vreeland was the reigning queen of American fashion mags.
Diana was a big effing deal in the fashion world from the 1930s all the way to the 1970s. She was a great writer in addition to having an eye for fashion, which makes this memoir totally worth checking out. Come for the incredible fashion and decor tips and stay for the stories of fashion when it was still upper-crusty af. No streetwear or athleisure in DV’s era, that’s for sure.
4. “Always Pack a Party Dress” by Amanda Brooks
This might be a controversial pick; The Cut once semi-eviscerated it with a review entitled “How to Live According to One Very Rich Pretty Person.”
But hey, very rich pretty people know how the hell to live, right? This book can be a teensy bit grating at times because of the author’s insistence that she’s Just Like You when she’s demonstrably not. But still, there are way worse people to take advice from.
I first started following Amanda Brooks when I picked up her book “I <3 Your Style,” which rescued me from some highly un-chic times in college. Her writing is easy and buoyant, and it transports you into her glam world of high-profile fashion jobs and randomly clubbing with Mick Jagger even though he’s way too old for you.
She’s one of Anna Wintour’s faves, and even her daughter’s been featured in Teen Vogue. Plus, she pulled the ultimate power move when she left it all behind to slosh around in wellies on a farm in the UK, where she lives now. All in all, her books will give you some great insight into what it’s like to be the kind of person who gets profiled for Vogue.
5. “The Price of Illusion: A Memoir” by Joan Juliet Buck
Joan Juliet Buck is the first and only American ever to helm French Vogue as editor-in-chief — that should be all you need to know to run and pick up this book.
Her name pops up in in the memoirs of like every cool person from the 20th century. She’s lived in pretty much every fashion capital, and also dabbled in Hollywood as her dad was a famous movie producer back in the day. Her book also covers the betrayal that can come along with working in the fashion and media worlds, which is a bummer, but def juicy and good to know.
At the end of the day, “The Price of Illusion” is all about separating fantasy from reality. This is not exactly any fashion aspirant’s forte, so you should do yourself a favor and study up by reading this book.
6. “Free Gift with Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup” by Jean Godfrey-June
This book is name-checked by Cat Marnell in her own memoir, so you know I had to check it out as soon as I finished Cat’s. It starts out slow, I guess because suburban 80s childhoods are pretty boring.
But then it gets jui-cy. Jean worked at Elle in the early 90s (I think? she’s weirdly vague about timelines) under Gilles Bensimon, alongside Real Housewife of New York City Kelly Killoren-Bensimon. She spills about what psychos they and the other higher-ups at Elle were, but she doesn’t refer to them by name — she gives them all cutesy nicknames like Playboy and Eminence Grise. I just figured out who all the real people were through the magic of Google, and I encourage you to do the same.
Jean Godfrey-June is actually a beauty editor, which makes this book not just a primer on the weird world of magazines but also the cosmetics and skincare industry. She believes most beauty products rely on the good ol’-fashioned placebo effect, but that products containing retinol and alpha-hydroxy acid are the real deal. She also shares details on the glam, expense-accounted life of a big-time editor, while admitting she’s not that glam by nature.
7. “Front Row: Anna Wintour: What Lies Beneath the Chic Exterior of Vogue’s Editor in Chief” by Jerry Oppenheimer
I have to confess I haven’t read this one yet.
I’m saving it for when I’m sitting on the beach on vacation next week thinking of new ways to “shatter a few lives on the way to the top” like Anna, as one book reviewer put it on this book’s Amazon page. Goals, can’t wait!
8. “Grace: A Memoir” by Grace Coddington
If you’ve seen the Vogue documentary “The September Issue,” or if you’re just a fashion nerd, you already know who Grace Coddington is. But did you know that before she was a Vogue editor, she was a super swank model in the 60s who palled around with all the coolest people in London?
Her memoir is written in this super-dreamy tone that totally matches up to the whimsical visual style she shows off in Vogue shoots, like the time she and Annie Leibovitz turned Natalia Vodianova and a host of fashion designers into the cast of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Her memoir also spills (classily) about the glory days of fashion mags, when they had budgets to send whole crews of cool kids to far-flung lands, just to shoot photos of capes or something.
Just don’t expect any goss about Anna Wintour. Grace is 100% complimentary of her work-bestie.
9. “The Devil Wears Prada” by Lauren Weisberger
This is where to go if you want the (technically fictional) dirt on Anna and the upper echelons of the women’s media industry
It’s a novel, but the evil boss character is pretty clearly based on Anna Wintour herself — author Lauren Weisberger was a Vogue assistant, so it’s clear that’s where she’s drawing her experience from.
But if you’re a true magazine devotee, you’ll find yourself wanting to slap some sense into the book’s protagonist. She works at a Vogue-like dream publication and all she does is whine about how hard it is. Duh, of course it’s hard. When you have the job a million girls would kill for, you have to earn it.
In “How to Murder Your Life,” Cat Marnell points out that the main character in “Prada” fails because she simply doesn’t know her role. And Cat’s right. Journalism, like so many other industries, is hierarchical. You don’t question your higher-ups. You do what they say.
And if you’re not into that, good luck succeeding in any industry. Maybe you could try being an influencer?