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Joan Juliet Buck

by Joseph Montebello

For a time—from 1994 to 2001 to be exact—Joan Juliet Buck was one of the most prominent magazine editors in the world. As the first and only American woman to be named editor-in chief of Paris Vogue, she changed the course of the fashion magazine.

No editor has had the courage to tell what her life was really like, but Buck, who will sign her book, The Price of Illusion, at Litchfield’s Oliver Wolcott Library August 3rd, does. At the peak of her career she was fired—more than fired actually. It was decided that she had a drug addiction, for which she needed to attend rehab. Some of her colleagues had reported to her boss at Condé Nast that they had seen syringes in Buck's bag and assumed she was on drugs. They were actually vials of seawater she carried in her bag to balance her electrolytes. But they ignored the truth.

In a sense, she was addicted to the glamor, the clothes, the professional persona that had defined her for so long. Buck reveals life behind the cloak of high fashion and the whirlwind years of being famous for being famous in her best-selling memoir.

Beginning with her early years as the daughter of an actress mother and a larger-than-life Hollywood producer father, Buck recalls her childhood in Hollywood with her best friend, Anjelica Huston, and being engulfed in a world inhabited by such stellar names as Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Peter O’Toole (discovered by her father Jules) and John Huston, who was her godfather.

Buck grew up in a world of illusion, living in such far-flung places as Los Angeles, Cannes, Paris, London and New York. There was always an aura of the surreal and Buck explains how it followed her throughout her career. When the surreal becomes the reality, then one is truly living an illusion, but it never occurred to Buck, as she attained fame and fortune, that at some point it might all fall apart.

Buck presents her life as an observer looking back and discovering all the things that were wrong with it: the clothes, the celebrities, hobnobbing with Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld, front row seats at every major fashion show, the endless parties, the masses of couture clothes that filled countless closets. She had it all and presumably loved every minute of it, and then it wasn’t there anymore.

We tend to think of addiction as a habit or dependency on a drug or alcohol or even sex. In Buck’s case, it wasn’t until her stay at Cottonwood, the rehab facility she was forced to enter, that she realized her life in fashion had become her addiction.

“Something inside me clicked,” Buck writes. “All those clothes, all those outfits, all those pretty things to make life beautiful, weren’t they drugs?” To a degree, they were. They allowed her to live in a rarefied world where everything was attainable and available. It was a hard lesson to learn, but Buck moved on from those years into the next phase of her life. And while some of the glamor and attention has returned, due to the success of her book and the friendships she has maintained, she is in a new place in her life.

Buck has sold or given away many of the possessions from the Vogue years. She lives modestly in an apartment in Rhinebeck and rents office space in Rhinecliff’s Morton Memorial Library where she does her writing.

“I have discovered that the slowness and quiet is my real pace,” Buck explains.

In addition to her years at Paris Vogue, Buck has been a film critic, a novelist and a contributor to Harper’s Bazaar. And she has taken up acting again. Those of you who saw Julie & Julia will remember her as the imperious Madame Brassart. She has also appeared on the stage in Hudson and at La MaMa in New York.

She is still a glamorous presence, just as chic albeit simpler. She has learned to appreciate the present and the moment.

“New friends have appeared and with them new forms of friendship. My presence was no longer the promise of attention from Vogue; my presence was simply being a person. I don’t have to practice long exercises to be in the moment. I know that the moment is all there is, and I’d better make it good,” she wrote.

Buck’s Litchfield appearance will be held Thursday evening August 3rd at 7PM. For more information call 860-567-8030 or visit