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Moral Tales from the World of Chic

Joan Juliet Buck


Last Updated: 05/15/2017 8:44 am

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That didn't stop her from going to Cottonwood, on Vogue's dime. One of the funniest and most endearing passages of The Price of Illusion takes place at the rehab, where instead of protesting that she doesn't need to be there—and blood tests absolutely confirm she doesn't—she decides to make the best of the situation.

"When I was told, 'You have to take a sabbatical,' I thought, Okay, it's over.

Here was her chance to get back to writing. "I thought, 'Shit, I've got to write again. But what am I going to write about?' For me the experience of being the editor in chief of Paris Vogue hadn't been an experience. There had been no real moment, there had been no true connection at any point. There would be these moments of effervescence during the meetings where I would get people to make the ideas come together, and that was fabulous. But that was from a small part of my brain. It wasn't engaging all of me. And none of it had felt real."

When she realized Cottonwood was a rehab, rather than a spa, she actually became excited. "I thought, I'm going to go somewhere I would never go." She would have access to another world, a new world, where she could have real experiences, with other people who were also having real experiences. "Everyone in Paris was on tranquilizers or drunk. I thought, Nobody there is going to be drunk or high, and I can cry."

In a Twelve Step meeting there, she hears a woman, a poodle groomer, share her story about cocaine addiction and suddenly identifies. "She was talking about me," Buck writes. "Me and Vogue. The spell of Vogue... This woman and her coke were me and Vogue, me buying the clothes, buying the parties and the famous names and the access to everything that glittered and shone and was superior and wonderful, and it cost me so much that I didn't have time to write anything except more pieces about the clothes and the glamour and the parties and the famous names and everything that glittered and shone and was superior and wonderful..."

  • Franco Vogt

She jumps up and yells, "That's me! You're me!" to the applause of everyone in the room. Translation: Hi, I'm Joan, and I'm an illusion addict.

After rehab, Buck began dabbling in acting. In 2009, she landed a small role in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia, playing Madame Elisabeth Brassart, head of the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. She also was able to reconstruct something of a career freelancing for magazines. But then, in 2011, came shipwreck number two.

American Vogue assigned her a profile of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad. Buck didn't really want to do it. "I hate writing profiles," she says. "How do you impose a narrative on someone else's life?" But she needed the work. "And I thought, if Vogue wants this profile, there must be a reason."

The result was essentially a puff piece highlighting Asma al-Assad's flair for style and her work with the Louvre to curate museums in Syria, and painting her husband, Bashar al-Assad, the son of a dictator, as a potential reformer.

Cue the Assad regime's warfare against its own people just weeks after the profile ran. Vogue took no responsibility for the series of editorial choices that led to the creation and publication of that piece. Instead, the magazine hung Buck out to dry, canceling her longstanding freelance contract, and deleting the piece from the archives on its website. "No one would touch me after that," Buck recalls.

In a way, although it hurt, Buck saw it as a blessing. Now she could step away from the superficial profile writing she hated. Now she could really write. She landed a contract for her memoir and set to work.

"I crawled into the book," she recalls, "and I allowed my nostalgia and my love and my longing to rebuild everything that was lost, and to spend time in my mind with the people I had loved. It was a refuge. I got to hide and remake all that."

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