It’s late on a weekday morning in Greenwich, Conn. Anyone who is familiar with these surroundings will know what to expect: The streets and sidewalks are quiet, the Le Pain Quotidien and SoulCycle are buzzing. In the back garden of the local boutique hotel a crowd is gathering — they’re here to see Lauren Weisberger, author of a dizzying number of best-selling novels, including and perhaps most famously, The Devil Wears Prada. The former Vogue assistant is here to discuss and sign copies of her latest crowd-pleasing tome, When Life Gives You Lululemons.
In some ways this day is exactly what the Greenwich (make that all of Connecticut, or rather the whole of the suburban Tri-State area) stereotype calls for: The crowd is entirely made up of well-dressed, well-coiffed women smack dab in the middle of beautifully upscale surroundings — if you’re walking from the train station (and if you’re an outsider, you’re probably walking from the train station), you’ll pass an outpost of the Junior League.
In other ways it’s surprising: None of the women are overly coiffed, no one looks overtly wealthy, and no one is bragging about their children’s prep school. This juxtaposition, of the expected and the unexpected, is ripped straight from the pages of Weisberger’s new book.
When Life Gives You Lululemons follows a group of women who have found themselves accidental allies in Greenwich — one is a former partner at a law firm turned full-time-mother who has recently decamped to the suburbs; one is a former supermodel and wife of a high-powered senator who was wrongly accused of a DUI (and, as such, banished from her D.C. community) who is hiding out; and the third is the Hollywood image consultant who has been hired by her attorney friend to defuse the PR crisis. Oh, and that publicist is Emily Charlton, the former first assistant to Miranda Priestly and breakout star of The Devil Wears Prada.
Weisberger decided to write this story, first and foremost, because of her own transition from downtown Manhattan to Connecticut — her family left for greener pastures (figuratively, in the form of a sought-after public school system, and literally in the form of grass) and she discovered that the more homogenous community and traditional (read: old-fashioned) social structure were a big adjustment.
“I wanted to satirize the suburbs,” she tells EW of the subject matter. “I had lived here for four years, I had my anecdotes, and I was ready to write that story.”
Weisberger also held a latent curiosity about the whereabouts of Emily Charlton, no doubt shared by her readers. Not only is Emily Blunt’s onscreen portrayal of the character a fan favorite, but the first sequel, Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns, followed only Andi Sachs.
“I’d always been kind of curious about where Emily went, and I thought she was the perfect character to give us a lens [on the suburbs],” says Weisberger. “She’s the last person who would ever expect to find anything redeeming going on here.”
And that she did find — as the book delves into the personal lives of its three main characters (Karolina, the former supermodel, discovers that her estranged husband is much more sinister than she thought; Miriam, the former lawyer, struggles with her new mom-centric identity; Emily becomes increasingly disturbed by just how long she’s staying in Greenwich and how comfortable she is with it all), they reveal themselves to be much more complicated than they all thought. But first Lululemons deals in the absurdities of its setting, because it is a beach read, after all.
The fictional Greenwich residents embody the one percent in so many ways: There are mansions, each bigger and more luxurious than the last; there are children’s birthday parties that cost more than the average wedding, there are bizarrely foreign social traditions (like the sip-n’-see, an elaborate party in which a newborn baby is presented to the world), and there is every form of plastic surgery that modern medicine can accommodate. These are better left to be discovered by the reader, but we’ll just leave you with this phrase: bespoke vagina fittings. It’s only natural to assume that these came straight from the author’s very vivid imagination, but that’s not exactly the case.
“I use a lot of real people for inspiration in my books, but I change personal details,” Weisberger explained. “But I would not say that the stories are greatly exaggerated — a lot of the stuff in this book, the over-the-top parties and the behavior, that I have definitely seen in real life.”
That includes Emily Charlton herself. The enviably stylish former Runway girl made waves in the first book (and the onscreen adaptation) for her biting, acidic tongue and she hasn’t toned down at all by the time of Lululemons. That inspiration isn’t pulled from anyone in Connecticut, but rather Weisberger’s own family.
“I love Emily’s mouth and I love that she gives voice to everything I think and don’t say,” the author explains. “I’ve never told anyone this before, but I do pull a lot of Emily from my relationship with my sister — I can be a complete bitch with her and that’s just how we talk to each other. And it’s lovely. Emily talks to everyone the way Dana and I talk to each other.”
That formula works, because When Life Gives You Lululemons quickly became a best-seller — it’s not wholly surprising, as all of Weisberger’s novels have hit the New York Times best-seller list and Prada spent a year there. Back in Greenwich (the real-life version, not the fictional version), it’s clear that women are enamored with these beach reads. The day’s moderator refers to their surroundings as a “hub of female power,” which is an empowering re-framing of the traditional social structure that Weisberger referred to.
The author — who insists that however recognizable her name might be these days, does not live anywhere near a public life — notes that while her novels often stand out for their acerbic humor, it’s the bond of female friendship that her readers most want to talk about.
“At heart I’m trying to create female characters that readers can relate to and see themselves in,” she says. “Even if you’re not married, or you don’t have kids, you can read this story about three women who do and take something away from it. That’s what I’m hoping for, at least.”