Anna Wintour is the Editor-in-chief of American Vogue and the artistic director of Condé Nast, she is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in fashion. She is the ultimate tastemaker and her opinion alone can either make or break a fashion show. She knows instantly what works and what doesn’t, which is no doubt why her personal wardrobe is always on-point. If you like a classic style which is both timeless and on-trend, Anna Wintour is your perfect fashion editor muse. To channel her style invest in signature shades, a pair of classic nude heels, pencil skirts in jersey fabric, and a trench coat with a twist.
Anna Wintour was born in London, England, on November 3, 1949. Wintour is the daughter of Charles Vere Wintour, who twice served as editor of London’s Evening Standard newspaper. She dropped out of North London Collegiate in 1966 and four years later became a fashion assistant for Harper’s & Queen magazine. After working as a fashion editor for a series of New York magazines, she served as editor (1986) of British Vogue and as editor (1987) of House & Garden, which she controversially relaunched in the United States as HG.
In 1988 Wintour replaced Grace Mirabella as editor in chief at American Vogue. The move came three years after the American launch of the French magazine Elle, which consistently threatened to reduce Vogue’s circulation and advertising revenue. In explaining her publishing philosophy of democratic fashion fantasy, Wintour remarked, “Mass with class—that’s my mantra.” Her Vogue covers began featuring prominent women (including actresses Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie and politician Hillary Clinton) rather than exclusively using models.
Under Wintour’s direction, Condé Nast Publications—Vogue’s parent company—launched several spin-offs, most notably Teen Vogue (1993). Meanwhile, Wintour orchestrated a spate of high-profile philanthropic Vogue associations, including the transformation of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Ball fund-raising gala (of which she served as cochair) from an elite gathering of Manhattan socialites into an internationally chronicled celebrity-dominated red-carpet event known as the “East Coast’s answer to the Oscars.”
Wintour was instrumental in bolstering the careers of numerous prominent fashion professionals, including the 1990s generation of supermodels, gifted fashion photographer Herb Ritts, and several important designers. Deploying her influence and clout, she secured financial backing for John Galliano’s fledgling eponymous Paris fashion house, a move that helped in his elevation in 1997 to designer in chief at Christian Dior. Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs also benefited from Wintour’s patronage. In 2003 she and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) jointly inaugurated the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which offered financial support and business mentoring to the “next generation” of American fashion designers. After an introduction by Wintour in 2007, the menswear designer Thom Browne successfully launched his collection into 90 Brooks Brothers stores.
In addition to such achievements, Wintour was also known for her imperious demeanour, which was heightened by her propensity to sport dark sunglasses. The Devil Wears Prada(2004), the best-selling novel by Lauren Weisberger that in 2006 was adapted into a popular film starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, is an account of the comic travails of one of the personal assistants of the fictional fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly. The Priestly character was widely believed to have been a caricature of Wintour, for whom Weisberger once worked. In 2009 Wintour appeared in The September Issue: Anna Wintour & the Making of Vogue, a documentary film about the creation of the September 2007 issue of the magazine.
Wintour was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2008 and advanced to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2017. In a move that reflected her wide-ranging influence, in 2013 Wintour became artistic director at Condé Nast.
Wintour is often described as emotionally distant by those who have come to know her well, even her close friends. “At some stage in her career, Anna Wintour stopped being Anna Wintour and became ‘Anna Wintour,’ at which point, like wings of a stately home, she closed off large sections of her personality to the public,” wrote The Guardian. “I think she enjoys not being completely approachable. Just her office is very intimidating. You have to walk about a mile into the office before you get to her desk and I’m sure it’s intentional,” Coddington says. “I don’t find her to be accessible to people she doesn’t need to be accessible to,” agrees Vogue publisher Tom Florio.
She has said she admired her father Charles, known as “Chilly Charlie” for being “inscrutable.” Former coworkers told Oppenheimer of a similar aloofness on her part. But she is also known for volatile outbursts of displeasure, and the widely used “Nuclear Wintour” sobriquet is a result of both. She dislikes it enough to have asked The New York Times not to use it. “There are times I get quite angry,” she admitted in The September Issue.
“I think she has been very rude to a lot of people in the past, on her way up – very terse,” a friend told the Observer. “She doesn’t do small talk. She is never going to be friends with her assistant.” A former assistant said, “You definitely did not ride the elevator with her.” Unwritten rules imposed by Wintour at the Vogue offices forbid junior staff from initiating conversation with her; an editor who greeted her on the elevator was reprimanded by one of Wintour’s assistants. A visiting reporter saw a junior staff member appear visibly panicked when she realised she would have to be in the elevator with Wintour. Once a junior editor saw her trip in the hallway, walked past without offering assistance, and was later told she “did absolutely the right thing.”
Even friends admit to some trepidation in her presence. “Anna happens to be a friend of mine,” says Barbara Amiel, “a fact which is of absolutely no help in coping with the cold panic that grips me whenever we meet.” “I know when to stop pushing her,” says Coddington. “She doesn’t know when to stop pushing me.”
She has often been described as a perfectionist who routinely makes impossible, arbitrary demands of subordinates: “kitchen scissors at work,” in the words of one commentator. She once made a junior staffer look through a photographer’s trash to find a picture he had refused to give her. In a deleted scene from The September Issue, she complains about the “horrible white plastic buckets” of ice behind the bars at the CFDA’s 7th on Sale AIDS benefit and moves them out of sight. “The notion that Anna would want something done ‘now’ and not ‘shortly’ is accurate,” Amiel says of The Devil Wears Prada. “Anna wants what she wants right away.” A longtime assistant says, “She throws you in the water and you’ll either sink or swim.”
Peter Braunstein, the former Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) media reporter, later convicted of sexually assaulting a coworker, allegedly planned to kill Wintour because of perceived slights. After receiving only one ticket to the 2002 Vogue Fashion Awards, which he perceived as a snub, he became so angry that WWD fired him. At his 2007 trial, prosecutors introduced as evidence a journal he kept on his computer in which he stated his intention to kill her. In it he wrote, “She just never talked to peons like us” to justify his intended actions.
On one occasion, she has had to pay for her treatment of employees. In 2004, a court ruled that she and Shaffer were to pay $104,403, and Wintour herself an additional $32,639, to settle a lawsuit brought against them by the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board. They had failed to pay the $140,000 judgement it incurred on behalf of a former employee injured on the job, who did not have the necessary insurance coverage.
In the 2000s, her relationship with Bryan was credited with softening her personality at work. “Even when she’s in a bad mood, she has a different posture,” someone described as a “Wintour watcher” told the New York Observer. “The consensus is that she’s so much more mellow and easier to work for …”
Defences of Wintour have often come from others. Amanda Fortini at Slate said she was comfortable with Wintour’s elitism since that was intrinsic to fashion. Emma Brockes sees this in Wintour herself: “[Her] unwavering ability to look as if she lives within the pages of her magazine has a sort of honesty to it, proof that, whatever one thinks about it, the lifestyle peddled by Vogue is at least physically possible.” “Print publications have to be as luxurious an experience as possible,” Wintour explained in 2015. “You have to feel it coming off the page. You have to see photographs and pieces that you couldn’t possibly see anywhere else.”
Some friends see her purported coldness as just traditional British reserve, or shyness. Brockes says it may be mutual, “partly a reflection of how awkward people are with her, particularly women, who get preemptively chippy when faced with the prospect of meeting Fashion Incarnate.” Wintour describes herself as shy, and Harry Connick Jr., who escorted her and Bee to shows in 2007, agrees. When Morley Safer asked her about complaints about her personality, she said, “I have so many people here, Morley, that have worked with me for 15, 20 years, and, you know, if I’m such a bitch, they must really be a glutton for punishment because they’re still here… If one comes across sometimes as being cold or brusque, it’s simply because I’m striving for the best.”
She has made similar statements in defence of her reported refusal to hire fat people. “It’s important to me that the people that are working here, particularly in the fashion department,” she says, “will present themselves in a way that makes sense to the outside world that they work at Vogue.”
Her defenders have called criticism sexist. “Powerful women in the media always get inspected more thoroughly than their male counterparts,” said The New York Times in a piece about Wintour shortly after The Devil Wears Prada‘s release. When she took over at Vogue, gossip columnist Liz Smith reported rumours she had gotten the job through an affair with Si Newhouse. A reportedly furious Wintour made her anger the subject of one of her first staff meetings. She still complained about it when accepting a media award in 2002.
She has been called a feminist whose changes to Vogue have reflected, acknowledged, and reinforced advances in the status of women. Wintour, unlike Vreeland, …shifted Vogue‘s focus from the cult of beauty to the cult of the creation of beauty. To her, the focus on celebrities is a welcome development as it means women are making the cover of Vogue at least in part for what they have accomplished, not just how they look.
Complaints about her role as fashion eminence grise are dismissed by those familiar with how she actually exercises it. “She’s honest. She tells you what she thinks. Yes is yes and no is no,” according to Karl Lagerfeld. “She’s not too pushy”, agrees François-Henri Pinault, chief executive officer of PPR, Gucci‘s parent company. “She lets you know it’s not a problem if you can’t do something she wants.” Defenders also point out she continued supporting Gucci despite her strong belief PPR should not have let Tom Ford go. Designers such as Alice Roi and Isabel Toledo have flourished without indulging Wintour or Vogue. Her willingness to throw her weight around has helped keep Vogue independent despite its heavy reliance on advertising dollars. Wintour was the only fashion editor who refused to follow an Armani ultimatum to feature more of its clothes in the magazine’s editorial pages, although she has also admitted if she has to choose between two dresses, one by an advertiser and the other not, she will choose the former every time. “Commercial is not a dirty word to me.”
Wintour herself, when asked about it, dismisses the notion that she has all the power attributed to her. “I don’t think of myself as a powerful person,” she told Forbes in 2011, when it named her 69th on its list of the world’s hundred most powerful women. “You know, what does it mean? It means you get a better seat in a restaurant or tickets to a screening or whatever it may be. But it is a wonderful opportunity to be able to help others, and for that I’m extremely grateful.”
In response to criticisms like Beene’s, she has defended the democratisation of what were once exclusive luxury brands. “It means more people are going to get better fashion,” she told Dana Thomas. “And the more people who can have fashion, the better.”