Joan Buck: The Price of Illusion
Written by Adriana Kidon
In her memoir, The Price of Illusion, Joan Juliet Buck tells the story of her journey from an upbringing in her family’s gaudy palace of fame and luxury to the ultra chic offices of Paris Vogue, where she acted as editor-in-chief and remains the only American ever to have edited Vogue Paris. Upon reflection on her seven-year career there, Buck said, “I was addicted to Vogue! I had become a dealer in that illusion, so as to afford the life around me. Vogue is a potent drug that women get lost in. Vogue is more than a magazine. We are making the most potent substance there is: the dream.” Her clever and eloquent writing style in the memoir serves to create a compelling story that reflects on her search to differentiate between make-believe and truth, fame and authenticity, and illusion and reality.
As she recollects on her childhood, visits to her home from acclaimed actors and musicians were not uncommon. In the memoir, she writes about famous houseguests including Peter O’Toole and Lionel Bart. “A sudden effervescence sent the atoms into a faster spin, each atom found its golden mate, and glory rained down. The dark green living room of the little mews house became a blazing foundry of success. The place burst with superlatives.” Buck was clearly no stranger to fame. When first hired by Vogue, she was told she would meet icons in the fashion world such as Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, but she had known them for many years already.
Despite her aim to revolutionize Vogue Paris as editor-in-chief, her career at the magazine was cut short when Condé Nast CEO Jonathan Newhouse—her boss—ended her tenure and "sent [her] to rehab…for a drug problem she did not have," according to a recent interview with the New York Times. Buck waited eleven years to attempt a second foray into the world of Vogue, this time back in the States. But her career as a contributing writer at the American magazine was also short-lived: editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was quick to dismiss Buck after a flurry of controversy arose over her profile on Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, which Vogue entitled "A Rose in the Desert," which was published in unfortunate proximity to the beginning of the Assad regime's massive human rights violations only weeks later.
An outcast in the magazine world, Buck had to figure out who she was without Vogue. She had achieved everything she ever wanted on her professional path, only to have it suddenly taken away. She had to define herself outside of the world of make-believe she grew up and worked in. Written after these series of events, The Price of Illusion not only shares Joan’s stories of defeat, but also the loneliness and heartbreak she overcame while on her pursuit of self-rediscovery and soul-searching. When asked by Vanity Fair why she decided to write a memoir, she responded by saying, “I needed to assemble all these strange, wonderful, and horrible things that had happened in my life. And figure out what the map was of where I’d been.”
To accompany the memoir, Isabel Coixet, Spanish director and close friend of Buck’s, created a short but moving film featuring Joan herself. Coixet is known as one of the most prolific directors of Spain, having directed twelve feature-length films in addition to numerous documentaries, shorts, and commercials in her career. Her films contain recurring themes of “emotions, feelings, and existential conflict” coupled with her distinct visual aesthetic, which contrasts starkly with traditional Spanish cinema. Spanish director Álex de la Iglesi credits Coixet's advertising background with making her work so unique. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “Few people work as carefully as she does on the color and composition of every shot.” This combination of theme and style, in addition to the many roles she plays in creating her films (she directs, writes, produces, and acts), secures the filmmaker’s status as a “multifaceted auteur” and “one of the foremost representatives of the new generation of women filmmakers.”
Coixet's film on Buck's life, which couples with The Price of Illusion, was shot on a lake in Les Cols, Northern Spain. Buck looks out over the water and verbally reflects on the arduous and emotional process that producing a memoir requires. “You can’t write from any place but the most private place,” she says. In the film, Buck thinks back to her early years. She describes her father, American film producer Jules Buck, as manic-depressive, and her mother, ex-model and ex-actress Joyce Gates, as a beautiful statue. “We lived in a pink marble palace, which made me think that I was a princess, even though the pink marble palace was rented by my grandparents, which meant it wasn’t even our home.” In this film, Buck is able to retrospectively unearth purpose and meaning in her memoir. “The thing that The Price of Illusion gave me was the knowledge that I have the right to tell my story… When you come from a background of illusion, of movies, of rented palaces and you go into fashion and magazine, which are more illusions, what is real? How do you identify reality? How do you make things real? How do you keep things real? How can you tell what’s real in your life? And that was my mission in doing The Price of Illusion.”