Wonderfully witty, stylish beyond, and so sad that it will bring tears to your eyes... This is The Price of Illusion in a nutshell, written by Joan Juliet Buck, who was once called 'a femme du monde if ever there was one' by writer Dodie Kazanjian. A must-read for everyone, really.
Her items on Hollywood actresses were never as fascinating as her articles on her relationships, her family or her fashion life. Her essay on sexuality and relationships after 50 held some universal truth that I absorbed deeply at the time it was published, when my first marriage failed; her words on grieving her parents almost brought tears to my eyes. She wrote about hats and her youth so irresistibly, with such a deft hand, that you felt drawn into her world. I, too, wanted to sit at the Café Flore with foreign lovers, smoking and drinking red wine, clutching my coat closed at the throat with pale, pale hands.
All her essays - no matter if they were about chile peppers, hats or face creams - hinted at a rich, complex life, and I wanted more.
The 'more' ended up being her new book, The Price of Illusion, the fabulous account of her life, her work as the editor of Vogue Paris, her love affairs and her family, and it is funny, heartbreakingly sad and brutally honest at the same time. No small feat.
Her punchlines have all the nonchalance and elegance that she epitomizes herself ('There was a winter garden where plants went to die.' ), her descriptions of rooms and objects give insight into her tastes and whims, and will make you crave Jacob Epstein drawings, Baccarat wineglasses and Art Deco chaise longues, wedge-heeled sandals worn with masculine gabardine pants by Yves Saint Laurent, Guerlain´s "Extrait de Pot-Pourri aux Algues Marine".
There is the story of the death of her foster-mother, Ricki Huston, and her own mother, Joyce Buck, that will make you weep; there is the love-story with Donald Sutherland that left her with a wardrobe full of purple, mauve and crushed rose that will pierce your heart.
There is the summer she spent at a house on the French Atlantic coast that Nicole Wisniak, the editor of Egoiste Magazine, had rented and filled with her friends, women with broken hearts who dissected their pain at all hours of the day in all corners of the house, to the alarm of Nicole´s husband, another Philippe. He´d walk into a room, catch our anxious whispers, and back out in horror. They were the most elegant heartbreaks in the world.
Acute observations about style and fashion that render keen wit to seemingly trifles, like this one about said holidays:
The American notion of a lifestyle where gorgeous people lolled about wearing branded goods had no purchase on Nicole and Inès, for whom old sweaters, lace negligées, and espadrilles were more desirable than the latest thing.
I laughed out loud at the description of her dinner with Helmut Newton, shortly after she became Editor in Chief of Vogue Paris; he insisted on water and salad, as Vogue obviously couldn´t afford his rates and he wouldn´t want to be responsible for its bankruptcy.
The story of her apartement at the Rue Jacob made me long for perfectly cubed rooms in romantic, historic buildings; it made me chuckle when the owners asked her to keep the more corpulent guests on the periphery of the salon because of its fragile floor, which made her ask Gianfranco Ferré to stay at the window and look out for guests; and it made my skin crawl when it came to the ghost haunting it. I urge you to watch the rendition of her performance at The Players Club where she tells the more light-hearted version of this story, if only to hear her velvety voice with the slightest rasp for yourself. Weep with me for an actress career manqué.
There is Thierry Mugler and a horses hard-on; there are Karls quips, tragic deaths and wonderfully decorated rooms. This is a book where heartache is always around the corner, rendered with panache and allure, by a woman with a taste for style, dangerous love affairs and pornography.
The only misgivings I have concern her deduction of her being a dealer of dreams at Vogue. Joan Juliet Buck has the power to make you dream, her words can conjure a different reality. And that, it seems to me, is a real gift: To make people dream. There is substance to style, after all, and Joan Juliet Buck is the living proof.
Go on, buy the book, hell, buy one copy to underline all those words you will want to re-read - again and again - , and one to remain pristine. You will adore it.