The latest TV genre, the fashion reality show, is an accident waiting to happen; just ask Anna Wintour and Carine Roitfeld.
Running in Heels teeters towards unreality
There's a new show on American TV that has made an unlikely star of an old colleague of mine. It's a sort of Devil Wears Prada meets The Apprentice featuring daft interns running in heels around the office of Marie Claire magazine. Running in Heels, as it's aptly called, has prompted some controversy. Not because it puts silly in-house antics under the spotlight, such as the ferocious label rivalry that consumes every fashion department, but because the British editor, Joanna Coles, with whom I once worked at British Vogue, is accused of poaching the Project Runway judge Nina Garcia to her magazine to liven things up for the camera.
Not content with being at the hub of possibly the most exclusive and cliquey industry on the planet, now even bona fide fashionistas want a slice of fame. Lauren Bacall once said that "stardom isn't a profession; it's an accident". In which case the latest TV genre, the fashion reality show, is an accident waiting to happen. Consider what happened recently to the two brightest stars in the fashion firmament, Anna Wintour and Carine Roitfeld. Ever since they allowed cameras into their office for a warts-and-all documentary (with hair and make-up on standby throughout, natch), they have become household names. This would have been unthinkable five years ago when the fashion industry was tight-lipped and secretive about its goings on.
Wintour came out as a parody of herself. An icy, hard-working, humourless woman leading an intensely privileged life. A film character if ever there was one. Watching this made me forget every single bad thing I've ever complained about during 20 years working in fashion. Talk about clever editing. It all looked so incredibly glamorous. Roitfeld looked incredibly stylish, and when she opened her mouth to speak, the combination of silky French accent and incredible clothes - are we supposed to believe she comes to work every day looking like a cover of her own French Vogue? - did more for the fashion industry in 15 minutes than anyone has done in several decades.
Once upon a time, the most stylishly dressed of the fashion pack were the hangers-on who had more time to doll up for parties. They were non-pedigrees who could bring humour, intelligent talk (and Marlboro Lites) to tired magazine staff who had spent the day at their desks. I've just re-read the Rupert Everett memoir Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, which is still the closest fly-on-the-wall account of the fashion industry I've ever read.
Written in a charming, very funny style, it is wickedly astute about the goings-on in this and the equally dotty acting world. His tales of everyone from Yves Saint Laurent and Madonna to Tom Ford are most interesting when the subject veers away from high heels and frocks, towards real-life issues: family, love, loneliness. Whereas once Everett might have been considered the star of a gathering, these days he's overshadowed by designers who once could pass unnoticed on the red carpet.
Stella McCartney once looked me straight in the eye during an interview and said: "I always wanted to be a fashion designer but not a famous fashion designer." She complained about having to be two people. Playing the role of Stella the superstar designer is imperative to allow her to live her childhood dream. The dreadful Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's fashion-bonkers stylist creation, is funny but we all know in reality his character wouldn't last a day in the back-stabbing clothing world. Who would employ a fool? Certainly not someone as astute as Karl Lagerfeld or Miuccia Prada.
My theory is the closer you get to the epicentre of fashion the more down to earth everyone is. Suzy Menkes, a Cambridge graduate and the fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune for 20 years, wrote recently: "Fashion journalists?dreary. Fashion, on the other hand, is great!" From what I've seen of Running in Heels, it's a classic case of staged reality. Everyone looks airbrushed. It's the Dallas and Dynasty version of a magazine and makes for compulsive viewing. So, hip, hip hooray for Coles, who is destined for TV stardom. No one is more proud of her than her publisher. US Marie Claire, once considered dullsville, is rocketing in circulation.