When you wear something, do you have the power to influence someone else to wear it or incorporate it into their style? That’s what the Editor in Chief of Vogue does.
“Choosing what went in the magazine, it was to reflect…the way things were in fashion, in culture, and in what the French called ‘the art of living.’ We were very into the art of living,” recalled Joan Juliet Buck, the first and only American to be Editor in Chief of French Vogue from 1994-2001.
As a daughter of Jules Buck, an American film producer, her childhood was a whirlwind of famous faces: John Huston, Peter O’Toole, Lauren Bacall, Federico Fellini and many more; ever-changing home addresses: London, Paris, Cannes, Los Angeles; and the unspoken lesson that appearances mattered more than reality.
Her job gave her the means to recreate for her aging father, now a widower, the life he’d enjoyed during his high-flying years – a splendid illusion of glamor and luxury. But such illusions cannot be sustained indefinitely, and they always come at a cost.
Joan Juliet Buck With Anjelica Huston, wearing Christmas scarves and all the wrappings, St. Clerans 1963.
In THE PRICE OF ILLUSION (Atria Books; $30.00; March 7, 2017), Buck offers up her memoir: recounting six decades spent in the creative hearts of London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan, Paris, and more. The cues she had gleaned early in life from her family were about how things looked and where they came from.
The key to success was the perception of success and the only trick to transformation was believing you were what you wanted to be. But when her fantasy life at Vogue came to an end, she had to find out who she was after all those years of make-believe. Now Buck chronicles her quest to discover the difference between glitter and gold, fantasy and reality, and what merely looks like happiness from the thing itself.
In light of her recently published memoir, Windy City Cosmo reached out to Buck about her life at French Vogue, how she defines style, and how she selected the cover girl.
Windy City Cosmo: How did you reshape French Vogue?
Buck: I took out the adjectives. I tripled the volume of text. I made it more imaginative and especially more playful.
Windy City Cosmo: In managing a widely-read publication, how did you choose who to put on the cover and what stories to cover?
Buck: In not quite seven years, I had two actresses on the cover and each time I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I decided I would only put models on the cover because women buy magazines to find out what they should want to look like. They want to see models. They don’t want to see movie actresses promoting a movie. So I chose the covers according to what the fashion at that moment was and I chose the models according to the message we were trying to get across. Because actresses don’t really want to become who you really want for that moment, they want to stay themselves except prettier.
Windy City Cosmo: How did you maintain composure when staff or business partners tried to undermine you?
Buck: I maintained composure because I had no idea what was going on (she chuckles). I just didn’t know. I wasn’t used to office politics. So I wasn’t very good at interpreting certain things.
Windy City Cosmo: What are some of your best planning strategies for a timely, edited publication?
Buck: All monthly publications work three to four months ahead. So the hardest work was to take a second look at the fashion shows with actually projecting photos on the wall so that everyone could look at what we had just seen. We could look at it again and we could figure out and edit what we’d seen from the shows into a coherent narrative about what things were actually going to look like. And once we had the fashion figured out, everything came from that. The coverage of – you know if there were movies or plays or exhibitions that had to do with a general feeling that was coming off of the fashion shows that was the direction we’d go in.
Portrait for Talk magazine by Jean-Baptiste Mondino 1999
Windy City Cosmo: How do you define success?
Buck: Feeling good about what you’re doing.
Windy City Cosmo: How do you make business relationships?
Buck: It was usually done through sympathy. I work much more on sympathy than I do on strategy. And what I discovered for myself and I’m sure this doesn’t hold true for other people and I wish it did is that an empty, manipulative strategy was always a disaster for me. Things only worked at Paris Vogue if I felt a true enthusiasm for a designer, a perfume, a situation, an event, a place. And then everyone could get behind if. But if I was only pretending to like something because it was political the thing would just be a disaster.
Windy City Cosmo: What is style to you?
Buck: I think style – personal style comes from the things that you as a person prefer to see, prefer to smell, hear, feel and when you surround yourself with the things that you prefer, you are considered to have style. If you dress according to what you really like, you have style. So it shapes – your own preferences shape your style and your style shapes other people’s perception of you.
Joan Juliet Buck with Manolo Blanik and Paloma Picasso posing on the balcony of Roebuck House, London 1978
Windy City Cosmo: How did you find true happiness instead of focusing on the coveted?
Buck: By taking a step back and only going towards those things that I am in sympathy with – the things that really make me feel good as opposed to the things that are supposed to make me feel good.
Buying a new handbag only makes me feel good for about 4 days. But living somewhere beautiful makes me feel good all the time. Writing as honestly and as truly as I can no matter how hard it gives me enormous satisfaction. Writing something that I don’t believe withers my soul.