What does it say that being quietly professional and uninterested in celebrity makes someone a fascinating curiosity?
You know the old saw about how "you should only have your name in the newspaper twice: when you're married and when you die" (or is it "when you're born?" And why would that be in the paper?) It's an anachronism now, but we were reminded of it by the terrific profile of Alexandra Kotur, Vogue's style director, in the Observer. Kotur is described as "in an impeccably ironed white blouse, dark slacks, flats and no makeup, a thoughtful little smile on her pale face, her coif parted precisely down the middle and neatly pulled back." She is meticulous, competent, polite, private and self-effacing. Having worked her way through the ranks over thirteen years ("it's O.K. to be an assistant. Sometimes people come out of school right now and they immediately want a job doing something. And there's nothing wrong with just listening and learning and watching"), she's now one of Anna Wintour's right-hand women, leading her boss to say "I don't mean (she's) old-fashioned in any way, but she is a sweetly old-fashioned, correct Vogue editor."
"Old-fashioned" is a concept that comes up more than once in the piece - "the enigmatic Ms. Kotur seems to hail from a lost time when people who worked on a magazine had little interest in seeing their own names in boldface." Have we gotten to a point where disinclination for the limelight has become a cause celebre in itself? Certainly, to the reader, there's something awfully appealing about the description of Ms. Kotur's disinclination to be interviewed (it took, the author explains, "a year of courtship") and disinterest in trends, and her evident grace and politesse capture as all Plum Sykes' preening and Andre Leon Tally's name-dropping fail to at this point. Which is not to say Kotur toils in obscurity; she's a resular on the social circuit and best-dressed lists. But where she could be a public figure, she chooses not to, and that's what's different. Access is no longer a big deal; we take it as our right. This is not to say that we'd want our Beautiful People retreating; we love to marvel far too much, and anyway, what would they do?
But it's an obvious irony that the people who make the best role models, like Ms. Kotur, are often not the ones seeking the public eye. And Ms. Kotur's interest in teaching and mentoring is in some ways unfashionable; pedagogical relationships, after all, carry an implication of seniority that's at odds with irresponsible glamor. The modern world, with its manifold media and ever-increasing number of opportunities for exposure, seems complicated, but the formula's as stark as ever: act ridiculous, and you'll get noticed, and the notice won't all be kind. Act dignified, and the price is dignified obscurity. The difference now is that the latter is considered a fate worse than death; once upon a time, it was the signal hope of a life well-lived.
The Viscountess of Vogue [NY Observer]