For 25 years Anna Wintour defined chic as fashion maven and editor-in-chief of Vogue (U.S.) magazine. Soon however, Ms. Wintour will take her trademark bob, chunky Georgian rainbow necklaces, vintage Chanel sunglasses (that she dons like one would optical eyewear), and devilishly versatile nude Manolo Blahnik shoes, and climb a few stories up the ranks of New York-based publishing empire and media brand, Condé Nast. Recently named Artistic Director (the first of its kind) Anna Wintour’s move into the executive branch marks a change in direction and attitude for this historically ‘grey suit’ business.
While her new assignment has caused some confusion amongst insiders and outsiders alike, as new trends in vogue tend to, it seems that she’ll be acting governess (in addition to her current position at Vogue) to the eighteen consumer magazines plus twenty-seven websites that Condé Nast publishes; from the fashion-clad glossies (Allure, Glamour, GQ, Teen Vogue), to the literati choices (The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired). Ms Wintour thus solidifies her status as not just “the most powerful woman in fashion,” as the media hacks have been shouting of late, but in magazine publishing too. Charles H. Townsend, chief executive officer of Condé Nast, went as far as acknowledging in The New York Times that he would go great distances to keep Ms. Wintour in the Condé Nast nest. And with good reason too.
Ms. Wintour wields unequivocal influence over the fashion industry through her powerful connections. From avant-garde couturiers such as Karl Lagerfeld from the house of Chanel, practically besties; to famed gown tailors Valentino and Oscar de la Renta, “I personally would not put this one in the show,” she bluntly tells the latter designer in “The September Issue,” a documentary yours truly highly recommends; and finally to prominent younger designers with fresh conceptions of contemporary style, noticeably Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, Proenza Schouler, and many other emerging names. This satin list would not be complete without mentioning her gal pals, the Italian seamstress queen Miuccia Prada, and the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Diane von Fürstenberg. Though her connections don’t just end here; in fact, this is where it begins.
Ms. Wintour’s influence and sense of style extends far into the upper hierarchies of boardrooms. She helped countless CEOs of fashion houses (high and low brand names without discrimination) anoint new creative directors when a position needed filling: Marc Jacobs to Louis Vuitton; Alexander Wang to Balenciaga; Raf Simons to Dior; and Riccardo Tisci to Givenchy. The list of talents that Ms. Wintour has advocated (with brutality, some might say) goes beyond the ritzy stretch of Fifth Avenue. Most of her astute picks are now institutions, if not legends: Michael Kors, Thom Browne, Tom Ford, John Galliano, and Marc Jacobs, just to drop but a few names.
Her cultivating an army of fashion makers and retail conglomerates (Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Macy’s) benefits Vogue magazine financially and aesthetically. However, without doubt her enthusiasm for matchmaking and driving the trends runs beyond her contracted editorial commitments, which are, lest we forget, her real bread and butter.
Born and raised in the London circuit, Ms. Wintour’s immersion into fashion journalism started with an editorial assistant position at Harper’s Bazaar UK. Soon after, she crossed the Atlantic to work at Bazaar’s American version in New York City, closer to Vogue’s head office – her predetermined workplace. After ricocheting between publications (and countries), she finally landed the top Vogue job in America; the year was 1988.
The timing was crucial. For the past years, Vogue had become a static poster piece: the printing was slavishly stylised, the shoots formulaic, and the jejune articles bloated. Ms. Wintour’s first act as editor-in-chief was to revamp the magazine’s image; one cover was all it took. The cover starred a fresh-faced Israeli model laughing, eyes closed, with tousled hair, walking about and enjoying the Sun. This look was so unseen of at the time, that the magazine’s printers sent the cover back, thinking that a clerical error had been made.
Many years on, Ms. Wintour’s ambition remains as sharp as a Christian Louboutin stiletto. In addition to prolonging Vogue’s stature as the fashion bible, she put together her own stimulus package in 2009 under the name of Fashion’s Night Out (now a global initiative) to revitalize the ailing retail industry. A prolific fundraiser, Ms. Wintour went on to raise $40 million for President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.
This ultimately led to speculation (media frenzy, really) that Ms. Wintour was courting the political world for an ambassadorship, preferably to England or France. Those rumors died all at once when Condé Nast sent out a Times exclusive communiqué in late March, to announce that Ms. Wintour would be cementing her relations with the publishing house this coming Summer (Northern Hemisphere), when her re-positioning is set to take place.
It’s fair to assert that her new appointment merely confirms what she’s been doing for the past two decades: a counselor to those who seek it. And if the glowing testimonials are any indication, this Vogue editor’s new podium signals the next stage in what has been a remarkable career. At 63 years old, she’s just entered her prime; fashionably late obviously means timeless for Ms. Wintour.