Devil Wears Prada, The (2006): David Frankel’s Stylish, Entertaining Comedy

Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, which spent six months on The New York Times bestseller list and was translated into 27 languages, David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada offers an inside, vastly entertaining and vicious look at the new fashion world.

In this black comedy, multiple Oscar winner Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the reigning queen of fashion whose whims can start and end careers. Finding a good assistant who can live up to Mirandas high expectations is a near impossible task. That changes when the smart, unfashionable Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, walks into her office.

Career women vs. men

Director Frankel who explored the vagaries of fashion and celebrity in the landmark series Sex in the City and Entourage, says that instead of making the obvious choice to demonize Miranda, he preferred to explore Mirandas relentless pursuit of excellence in a serious way, he says. And how many sacrifices she must make to excel. There are lots of famous women who are successful on the level of Miranda Priestly, and it is very easy to criticize them because they put their work first, Frankel continues. Men are rarely criticized for that.

Meryl Streep

Streeps Miranda, Frankel points out, skates the edge between the comically mean and the genuinely sad. A key part of Meryls incredible talent is the ability to blend comedy and drama, he says. She can find whats funny in the real so that it never feels forced.

Streep plunged headlong into all the accoutrements that surround Miranda. When we first met her I gave her a huge three-ringed binder full of research regarding the movie and fashion, recalls producer Wendy Finerman. It included fashion industry facts, figures, and photos, and I thought, Oh God, shes going to laugh at me. But instead she said, Thats fantastic! Do you have any more She read everything she could get her hands on. It was just amazing.

Anne Hathaway

Hathaway, the breakout star of The Princess Diaries, who had a key role in Brokeback Mountain, portrays Andy, a journalism student who believes she can change the world after leaving the comforts of Northwestern University and landing in the big city. Andy, says Frankel, is on a journey that we all take when we get our first jobs and discover what the real world is like. Were faced with ethical and moral choices that we never considered, and we learn about ourselves.

In the distorted aesthetics of the New York fashion scene, a size 6 like Andy stands out. She is a beautiful girl who is not model-thin, which is an important distinction for this character, says Frankel. Anne is funny and will do things in a way that not a lot of actors could do, Finerman adds, and every time she does so, it is fresh and new. She finds the funny and never holds back.

New York, New York

A film about fashion and publishing could be shot nowhere but New York itself, the beating heart of the high fashion and publishing industries. New York is the fashion capital of the world, Frankel says. There isnt a city that is more fun or sexier than New York. You cant take a step without finding a great location. There is a history, a depth, a twinkliness.

For Andys story to be real, you need the real world, says Frankel. Youve got to be fighting on the subway and going across town while everybody else is going in the other direction. Then there is New Yorks romance and youthfulness; there are so many young people seeing the city for the first time, waiting to experience the world as an adult.

Andy is one of these young people, seeking to begin her life as an adult in the Big Apple. Andy is full of excitement when she first moves to New York, Frankel says. She must quickly learn the citys ins and outs in order to complete seemingly impossible tasks for Miranda. Any visitor to New York remembers the first time discovering the city. Like Miranda, New York is intimidating and it requires time and effort to understand how to function there.

Contrasting worlds

Production designer Jess Gonchor created two contrasting worlds: Andy and Nates simple home, and the ever-fabulous but treacherous orbit of Miranda Priestly. Runways offices had to express Mirandas taste and insistence upon elegance and perfection. The offices had to be very feminine and homey, and have a light color palette.

Streep and Gonchor together selected the artwork showcased in Mirandas offices. It was important to show photographs that Miranda had collected and great works of art because shes all about the pursuit of excellence, no matter the cost, Frankel says.

Universal interest in fashion

The Devil Wears Prada comes at a time of heightened interest in the runway scene. Fashion is a universal interest now, says Frankel. The new collections from Paris are seen on the Internet within hours of their unveiling. Then theyre copied and knocked off around the world. Fashion, elaborates Frankel, is a constant pursuit for reinvention. Its both whats so great and whats so awful about fashion. For fashion to succeed, it has to make all of us feel that everything we have and wear is inadequate.

Costume design

For the film to create a realistic portrait of todays fashion giants, the costumes had to be authentic. The way I made sure that we got the fashion right was to hire Patricia Field as our costume designer, Frankel says. Field, an Emmy winner for her work on Sex and the City, created a style for Streeps Miranda Priestly, as well as for Anne Hathaways characters transformation into a fashionista, and the look of the omnipresent Clackers.

Mirandas look had to stand on its own; no one else could look like her. Meryl Streep herself influenced aspects of Mirandas wardrobe. Field set out to dress the leading fashion editor of the world to create Mirandas look with Meryl. My job was to make Meryl look as absolutely beautiful as I could. Not to dictate fashion, but to have people say, Wow, Meryl Streep!

Legendary designer Valentino designed a dress Miranda wears at a ritzy charity ball. Valentino created this dress for Meryl and in the end, it was the dress that she looked sexiest in, Frankel states. Its very simple and shows her beautiful shoulders, her porcelain skin, and her curves. Valentino also makes his acting debut in the film. Im such a great admirer of Ms. Streep, he says. Just to have a little cameo with her, for me, is a great honor.

Frankel first collaborated with Field on the feature film Miami Rhapsody, where her creative talent made a lasting impression on the director. Pat had Sarah Jessica Parker wear certain things and Id say, What is that Then two years later it would be everywhere. So I learned to trust her instincts. Pat is brilliant at seeing into the future of fashion, anticipating and making trends.

David Frankel’s Career

David Frankel most recently directed the critically acclaimed HBO series Entourage, for which he was nominated for an Emmy in 2005. Previously for HBO, he directed the hit show Sex and the City, and Band of Brothers, which won six Emmys, including Best Director. He also directed The Pennsylvania Miners Story for ABC.

A comedy writer and director who paid his dues writing and producing TV sitcoms before making his feature film directorial debut with “Miami Rhapsody” (1995), which featured Sarah Jessica Parker as a woman who doesn’t believe that any relationship or marriage can ever really work.

The son of Max Frankel, former executive editor and later columnist for The New York Times, Frankel toyed with becoming a political humorist. After graduation from Harvard, his first professional assignment was an article for Esquire about John McEnroe, the tennis star against whom Frankel had competed when they were in high school.

Frankel began writing for TV, breaking in with “The Ellen Burstyn Show, a short-lived ABC sitcom in 1986. Teaming with Norman Steinberg, he wrote, directed and was co-executive producer of the CBS sitcom “Doctor, Doctor” (1989-91). Starring Matt Frewer, the show revolved around an earnest but eccentric physician and earned critical applause even if a larger audience never found the show. In 1991, Frankel and Steinberg created “Teech, a short-lived CBS sitcom starring Phill Lewis as a music teacher. The following year, Frankel created, wrote and directed the critically well-received “Grapevine” (CBS), about relationships. (Reportedly one of the main characters, a Miami sportscaster, was based on Frankel’s brother Jon).

With Steinberg, Frankel made the leap to the big screen in 1990 with “Funny About Love, which featured Gene Wilder as a cartoonist who wants to be a father. He went on to write “Nervous Ticks” (1993), about the life of a luggage handler at an airport. “Miami Rhapsody, which Frankel wrote, produced and directed, was made for a budget of $6 million. Its 1995 release was greeted warmly by critics. Frankel was back to TV for a spell in 1996, writing the busted pilot for an ABC sitcom starring Bebe Neuwirth called “Dear Diary, which was later released as a short film and earned the Oscar as Best Live Action Short.