“Sympathy for the Devil”

Bill King’s group shot (click image for larger view) of all Bazaar’s young single editors as part of the March 1976 issue. Photo includes a young Anna Wintour and Marilyn Kirschner.

Well I finally saw “The Devil Wears Prada” over the weekend and I thought it was delightful and very entertaining. In a nutshell, my overall impression (keeping in mind all the controversy and discussion regarding Patricia Field’s wardrobe choices for the lead characters) was that she fared better than I was led to believe. Get a life guys! It’s not a documentary, but a movie. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but one person’s interpretation. And you know what? In the end, it almost didn’t matter how Meryl Streep was outfitted, which designers she wore, what labels were present. She is such an amazing actress, she would have been convincing in her portrayal of Amanda Priestly, ‘The Boss from Hell’, even if she had worn that proverbial paper bag over her head.

As I bemusedly watched, laughing along, identifying with many of the characters and remembering many instances in my past experiences that paralleled what was on the screen, I couldn’t help but think about something else. While much of the movie rang true, and while I certainly crossed paths with many loathsome, mean creatures, luckily for me, I never worked for any of them. In fact, my experiences have been quite the opposite.

While I’m hardly suggesting that devil – like bosses don’t exist (based on my own personal, very lucky and positive experiences), I would like to think that the true leaders are so comfortable in their positions and in their own skins, and so confident (like the late Carrie Donovan), that they are more inclined to be wonderful mentors and nurturers to young underlings, as opposed to trying to make their lives miserable, and would willingly encourage and give credit where credit is due.

I remember when I was a fashion assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, there came a point fairly early on that simply being an assistant began to wear thin. I recall how I began to question whether or not being a fashion editor was even what I wanted (so why was I there?). I even began to think perhaps I should look for something else and contemplated going to Law School (honest!). But that changed when the Senior Fashion Editor at the time, the late, larger than life Carrie Donovan https://lookonline.com/carriedonovan.html, (who was as far from a ‘devil’ as one could be, and quite frankly, she was my ‘angel’), started taking notice of me and gradually gave me ‘projects’. I began to cover the market and low and behold, was promoted to an assistant fashion editor and then a full fledged fashion editor.

Another fond memory was the time Carrie Donovan had the idea of the late legendary photographer, Bill King, taking a group shot of all Bazaar’s young single editors as part of the March 1976 issue whose theme was ‘America’s Single Women’. She was proud to be ‘mother hen’ to this attractive, talented, group who she felt was worthy of the spotlight. (See top photo)

And to this day, I will never forget the way Carrie Donovan credited me with ‘discovering’ the late Perry Ellis and bringing this talented man who became her great friend, to her attention in the late 70’s. And she did so in a most public way, in front of an auditorium packed with the fashion world’s biggest names. When Perry passed away at the age of 46 in 1986, there was a highly public and well attended memorial service held at the Ethical Culture School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. EVERYBODY was there (store presidents, fashion designers, magazine editors and publishers). Carrie Donovan was one of the first speakers and when she addressed the packed crowd, she recalled how it was “a young editor at the time…Marilyn Kirschner, who kept coming in to my office and telling me I had to see his wonderful clothes”…It was an out of body experience and something I will never forget. Of course, I will never forget Carrie Donovan, because without her support, encouragement, and her confidence, I’m sure I never would have endured and become a fashion editor.

So, to answer my rhetoric question: is it necessary for someone at the top of their field (like an editor in chief) to be bitchy, mean spirited, insulting, unrealistic, and intimidating? Does that come with the territory? Hardly. Coincidentally, in WWD this past Friday, June 30th, within their ‘Media/Advertising’ section, they asked a select group of high profile editors-in-chief “What They Are Reading” this summer. The answer I got most of a kick out of (because of all the recent publicity afforded to the ‘Boss from Hell’), was Seventeen’s editor-in-chief, Atoosa Rubinstein who admitted it was “The Power of Nice – How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness” by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. Hmm maybe this book should be required reading by those at the top!

Oh, and speaking of ‘the boss from Hell’….did you know that “80% of employees who quit their jobs do so because of problems with their bosses?” (I bet you did!) So says management researcher Chandra Louise, as reported in a recent edition of AM New York (www.amny.com). In fact, according to Karen Salmansohn, the paper’s ‘One-Minute’ Career Therapist’, who wrote a book, “Gut: How to Think from Your Middle to Get to the Top”, due out in September, there are 5 key things to keep in mind if you want to be a great boss: 1- Be fun; 2- Be approachable and warm; 3- Be open to new ideas; 4- Show appreciation; 5- Trust your gut instinct.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Marilyn,

    I like your spirit even more than I enjoyed the movie! I’m sure that there are individuals who are fortunate enough to have you as a mentor and I would like to be one of those persons. I am a fine art painter who appreciate the mutual muse relationship between art and fashion. I would be honored to have your counsel as a mentor. How can I reach you?

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