Like a tin of caviar or a strand of heirloom pearls, Joan Juliet Buck's memoir, The Price of Illusion, satisfies the appetite for luxury. The former Vogue Paris editor is an American who spoke fluent French by age 4. Her father, Jules, was a savvy movie producer who brought Peter O'Toole the starring role in Lawrence of Arabia. Her mother, Joyce, was a starlet who dazzled all she met with her beauty and style. The family's sumptuous apartments in France and England often overflowed with film and fashion royalty. But it didn't last. Jules's Midas touch began to fail him spectacularly. His erratic behavior, later diagnosed as bipolar disorder, led him to near bankruptcy. In her 30s, Buck relocated to New York City, and her parents to a rental in L.A.
In the years that followed, Buck glided from Manhattan to Paris as a writer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, "trapped in an ecology of splendor." As she elsewhere reflects, "surface became everything, surface became my substance," an apt description of an existence as empty as it was shiny. Even so, when Buck was offered the job of editor in chief of French Vogue, she considered the position a dream fulfilled.
For a while, the swirl of runway shows, Concorde flights and designers currying favor masked the hollowness beneath, until a Machiavellian plot to oust her from her role—something straight out of The Devil Wears Prada by way of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest—provides a life-changing jolt, and moves the memoir from glitter to grim reality and poignant introspection. As she finally relinquishes "the last piece of stardust," the moral of Buck's story becomes this: "Love is possible only when you stop pretending."