Get behind me, Satan

Meryl Streep brings back some painful memories.

Last night I watched The Devil Wears Prada. I was expecting to be entertained with a light-hearted film and, indeed, I was - but what I was not expecting was that it would transport me back nearly 15 years to my own start in the world of fashion "journalism". At some points I almost began hyperventilating at the memories.

My boss was not an editor-in-chief, as Meryl Streep's character is in the film, but a fashion editor. However, the way she acted was very grande dame. From even before I officially took up my post, I was getting phone calls asking me to ring Italy to call in some Italian designer's wares. But the fun really began when I was on the payroll proper. I started work when she told me to, finished when she said I could. When she was in New York or Milan for the shows (I only went to Paris with her) I had to sit by the phone at work in case she rang. I would take her copy to the foreign editor who would, quite rightly, in the light of serious world news, not care one jot how many layers John Galliano had entrapped his models in that season. I was not allowed to go to the loo because it was not permissible to miss her call. I drank very little.

Once, in a scene that I would not have believed had I not witnessed it myself, she asked me to call in everything pink for a pink story. I would have to lay everything out and she would walk up and down and scrutinise it. I would have no idea if I had failed or succeeded until the end. The silence was gut-churning. I duly called in every shade of pink to be found in the northern hemisphere and spent most of the night laying it out for her on racks. She came in the next day. "What's this?" she spat. "Our pink story?" I ventured. "I asked for blue, not pink!" No matter that she was wrong and I was right, the whole process had to be repeated.

She would often draw a pair of shoes, or a dress - entirely from her imagination - and say, "Find me this." And I had to. The more obscure the things I found, the more insane her demands became. However, my contacts book was growing and I had developed an ability to track things down that I used extensively in other jobs. Perhaps she almost did me a favour.

To fail would mean being called to sit next to her while she would, in the same low, passive-aggressive voice that Meryl Streep's character used to such great effect in the film, tell me how very much I had disappointed her. Eventually, one day, I found the strength to resign - that day's dawn shone especially brightly. I ran out of the office on my last day afraid, excited, and almost whole again. Happy days.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 30 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan: The Taliban takeover