Born in 1948, she is the only child of Jules Buck (1917–2001), an American film producer, who moved his family to Europe in 1952 in reaction to the political repression in the United States at the time. Her mother, Joyce Ruth Getz (aka Joyce Gates, died 1996), was a child model and actress, and interior designer. Buck served in the Signal Corps with John Huston, during the war, and he subsequently served as a cameraman for the latter. Huston was the best man at her parents' 1945 wedding, and she learned to cook from Ricki Huston. As a teenager she met Tom Wolfe and became the subject of his piece, “The Life and Hard Times of a Teenage London Society Girl," which he republished in The Pump House Gang.
Her first language is French and she identifies as Jewish.
Buck dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College to work at Glamour magazine as a book reviewer in 1968. She became the London correspondent of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, then the features editor of British Vogue at the age of 23, then a correspondent for Women's Wear Daily in London and Rome. Buck was an associate editor of the London Observer. From 1975 to 1976 she lived in Los Angeles to work on a novel.
A contributing editor to American Vogue from 1980 and also Vanity Fair, she also published profiles and essays in The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Los Angeles Times Book Review.
As movie critic for American Vogue from 1990 to 1994, she served on the New York Film Festival selection committee the year its program included Chen Kaige's Farewell, My Concubine, Jane Campion's The Piano, and Robert Altman's Short Cuts. From 1994 to 2001 she was editor-in-chief of French Vogue, where she doubled the magazine's circulation and produced thematic year-end issues on cinema, art, music, sex, theater, and quantum physics.
She was TV critic for US Vogue from 2003 to 2011, also profiling cover subjects such as Marion Cotillard, Carey Mulligan, Natalie Portman, and Gisele Bündchen. She also penned profiles on the playwright Tom Stoppard and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy for the magazine. For Vanity Fair, she profiled people like Bernard-Henri Lévy and Mike Nichols. For the New Yorker her subjects included the actor Daniel Day-Lewis, chronicler of Russian émigrés in Paris Nina Berberova, and Princess Diana's relics post-death.
She has appeared in numerous documentaries, among them James Kent's Fashion Victim, the Killing of Gianni Versace, Mark Kidel's Paris Whorehouse and Architecture of the Imagination. Buck narrated James Crump's 2007 documentary Black, White + Gray, about art collector Sam Wagstaff and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
In the early 2010s, she wrote for T magazine, The New York Times's fashion magazine, W, and The Daily Beast, among others, and was the consulting editor to Dasha Zhukova's Garage magazine which The New York Times called "one of the most intriguing magazines to come along in years." Her humorous cultural pieces for T included subjects like the culture of high-end bedding and the cross-country tour of The Moth storytelling series, in which she participated in 2009 and 2012. For W she covered photographer Taryn Simon, the history of the social scene in Palm Springs, and the contemporary femme fatale.
Since 2015, she has written for Harper's Bazaar. Her topics have included Patti Smith, the art of the retort, the mother she chose, dressing one's age, and her friendship with Leonard Cohen.
She released a memoir entitled The Price of Illusion via Atria Books in March 2017. She appeared on Sandra Bernhard's radio show on Sirius XM in early March.
She became the features editor of British Vogue at the age of 23, then a correspondent for Women's Wear Daily in London and Rome. She was an associate editor of the London Observer between the times she worked for Women's Wear Daily and her work for Vogue and Vanity Fair in New York City.
She was French Vogue's editor in chief from 1994 to 2001. The New York Times described her selection as indication that Condé Nast intended to "modernize the magazine and expand its scope" from its circulation of 80,000. Her first September cover was "La Femme Française," and she had a quantum physics-themed issue.
Looking back she described what she envisioned for her employees then, "I wanted the magazine to be fun. I wanted everyone who worked on the magazine to go toward what they liked. Again, it’s that distinction between what you should do and what’s expected, and what you feel, what you want." In the Price of Illusion, she talks about wanting to upend French cliches such as black sweaters and Helmut Newton-referencing shoots "French women know how to dress when they’re having sex. They need to know how to dress when they’re not having sex." Penelope Green of The New York Times wrote that Buck "upended what had been the magazine’s rather staid coverage."
She began studying acting in 2002, and appears in a supporting role in Nora Ephron's 2009 movie Julie & Julia as Madame Elisabeth Brassart, head of the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. She wrote about the experience of auditioning for Ephron after the latter died in June 2012.
In 2009, she appeared in an action theater piece during Performa09 at New York City's White Slab Palace. Curated by Michael Portnoy and Sarina Basta, Buck and another actor held a conversation guided by a third actor's random flashing of prompt cards.
In 2010, Buck played Mrs. Prest in an adaptation of The Aspern Papers, a Henry James novella, directed by first-time filmmaker Mariana Hellmund. She played Marguerite Duras in Irina Brook's La Vie Materielle that spring and again in 2013 at La MaMa E.T.C. theater in New York City alongside Deadwood's Nicole Ansari
In May 2012, she appeared with comedian Eugene Mirman, performers Ira Glass, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Amber Tamblyn in a night of interpretations of the Joan of Arc narrative at the Littlefield, a Brooklyn performance space. In 2015, Buck appeared in the Supergirl episode "Red Faced," playing Katherine Grant, the mother of CatCo founder Cat Grant.
In February 2017, she appeared in a production of 18th-century playwright Pierre de Marivaux's The Constant Players at the Henry Clay Frick House in New York, directed by Mériam Korichi. The next month she was in a Columbia Stages production of Isak Dinesen's Babette's Feast in the East Village, adapted and directed by Pálína Jónsdóttir.
As a child, Buck was cast as a Scots waif in the Walt Disney film Greyfriars Bobby.
Buck's novels about multicultural expatriates are The Only Place To Be published by Random House in 1982 and Daughter Of The Swan published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1987. She was one of a long line of writers commissioned to adapt D. M. Thomas's novel The White Hotel. Her version was singled out by Thomas as "faithful and intelligent" among versions that included ones by the writer himself and Dennis Potter but the film has never been made.
In 2009, the story "The Ghost Of The Rue Jacob" was a big hit at The Moth. In February 2012, Buck went on "The Unchained Tour" through Georgia with George Green, founder of The Moth.
In 2017, she published her memoir of her life in Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, New York, London and Santa Fe from the '60s through the '90s. It was reviewed favorably by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, People, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, among other places, and was an Oprah pick. Covered by both the London Times and the Guardian, her book was described by Publisher's Weekly as "lapidary." Thessaly La Force wrote that Buck's life is "worth recollection," and that the book describes "pretty fantastic love affairs and plenty of gossip," but remains critical of her decision to write the Alma al-Assad story. Bill Cary, on the other hand, wrote, "The book is just like Buck in person – warm, funny, smart, generous, stylish and full of wonderfully detailed stories about herself and the people who have walked – and run – through her life. The writing is wise and incisive, quick-witted and intimate." Garance Doré also liked the book saying "it took me through a whirlwind of memories and on a trip inside the mind and emotions of a woman I identify with a lot. Independent, fragile, modern, artistic, sentimental… And most of all, authentic." Carmela Ciuraru of USA Today wrote "the author is an appealing protagonist who never takes herself too seriously, nor those around her. And even while savoring her success, Buck recognized its corrosive effects: 'A froth of luxury coated everything, and the demands of inanimate objects began to eat my soul.' In the end, she recalls, 'Vogue was my poison.'”
It was excerpted in New York magazine in February 2017.
In its March 2011 issue, Vogue published Buck's profile on Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, describing her as "glamorous, young and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies." The piece caused a furor within the East Coast US media sphere as news of al-Assad's violent repression of his people in mid-March began to sink in. In April, former Atlantic writer-editor Max Fisher attacked it in as an ill-timed "puff piece." The Washington Post's Paul Farhi wrote, "It may have been the worst-timed, and most tin-eared, magazine article in decades." “Apparently Vogue missed the trend: Dictators are out this season,” wrote Bari Weiss and David Feith in The Wall Street Journal. “It seems that Ms. Buck's aim was more public relations spin than reportage.”
Although the magazine had admitted it had taken "more than a year" to cultivate, in May 2011 the article was removed from its website. The New York Times subsequently reported that the Assad "family paid the Washington public relations firm Brown Lloyd James $5,000 a month to act as a liaison between Vogue and the first lady, according to the firm." Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin observed, "It was the Washington liberal foreign policy community that, for years, had fancied Bashar al-Assad as a constructive player in the Middle East," specifically naming President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Quoting Lee Smith, Rubin pointed out that John Kerry, Teresa Heinz, and James A. Baker, among others, courted Assad in an attempt to sway him from Iran. "American liberals and Republican realpolitikers were every bit as sycophantic and deluded as Buck," she wrote. Following the controversy, Buck's contract with Vogue was not renewed.
Buck subsequently described her encounter with the Assads in fuller scope in Newsweek, saying that she had not wanted to write the story. The follow-up also generated controversy. In The Guardian, Homa Khaleeli wrote "It's hard to tell if Buck asked Asma—or Bashar whom she also met—any real questions at all." In Maclean's, Canadian socialite Barbara Amiel pointed out that at the time Buck wrote the original article, Syria was already on the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Gawker republished Buck's Vogue article in September 2013.
In 2012, PJ Media accorded the article top honors in its first Walter Duranty Awards competition. Six years after it was published, Buck recalled that she was "tainted, like a leper" and that “There was so much opprobrium sticking to me. I was so flayed. My life as I knew it had vanished." Will Pavia of the London Times later wrote that the magazine "left Buck twisting in the wind.... It’s hard not to think that Wintour contributed to Buck’s woes." Carmela Ciuraru of USA Today wrote, "the event proves humiliating, even maddening. Her identity is shaken to the core. Yet by the end ... Buck emerges triumphant — perhaps relieved to be in exile."
In 1977, Buck married John Heilpern, an English journalist and writer; they divorced in the 1980s. She currently lives in Rhinebeck, New York, keeping a part of her 7,000-volume library in storage in Poughkeepsie.The Only Place to Be, New York: Random House, 1982
Daughter Of The Swan, New York: Weidenfeld, 1987
The Price of Illusion, New York: Altria Books, 2017