Vogue Really Wants Clinton To Care About Clothes

After a false start during her presidential campaign, Vogue finally got its interview and accompanying Annie Leibovitz shoot with Hillary Clinton. And, praise God, Clinton is no longer denying her femininity, as Anna Wintour accused her of doing last year.

Two years ago, before the Iowa primaries, the Clinton campaign earned Wintour's wrath by abruptly backing out of an interview and accompanying Annie Leibovitz shoot, despite a previously warm relationship dating back to Clinton's 1998 cover during the Lewinsky scandal. By the time Clinton became a candidate, though, a Vogue rep said, "We were told by Ms. Clinton's camp that they were concerned if Clinton appeared in Vogue that she would appear too feminine." Wintour struck back in her editor's letter, writing,

"The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying...This is America, not Saudi Arabia. It's also 2008: Margaret Thatcher may have looked terrific in a blue power suit, but that was 20 years ago. I do think Americans have moved on from the power-suit mentality, which served as a bridge for a generation of women to reach boardrooms filled with men. Political campaigns that do not recognize this are making a serious misjudgment."

Now that Clinton is Obama's Secretary of State, Vogue has clearly made amends. It hasn't won every battle: there Clinton is in the December 2009 issue, in a blue power suit. Still, you have admire the mighty effort Vogue's Jonathan Van Meter shows in wedging in the fashion credits — in his opener, no less.

It is a dreary morning in early October in Washington, D.C., and perhaps because Hillary Rodham Clinton is wearing a black Oscar de la Renta suit on such a colorless day, she seems somber. I had trailed her for nearly two weeks this summer in Africa and then again in New York during the United Nations General Assembly, and I had grown accustomed to seeing her in the vivid suits she favors. Africa is nothing if not colorful, and so not only did bright red or teal or periwinkle seem situation-appropriate, but her clothes somehow matched her demeanor, which was almost uniformly cheerful. Sometimes the color/mood connection was made overt: One morning, as her motorcade arrived at the U.N. for a panel on violence against women and girls, she stepped out of a shiny black luxury sedan in a red suit and was met by Esther Bremmer, her Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, also wearing red. "Good morning, Esther," said Clinton. "I see you got the color memo."

Africa! It's colorful!

The next paragraph indicates that Clinton "looks tired and cranky" while not wearing makeup, but transforms once her deputy chief of staff hands her a compact to apply "mascara, lipstick, blush, and a little powder." The world will have to wait to find out exactly what brand of mascara Clinton uses. Maybe they don't advertise?

Yes, Vogue is a fashion magazine. But hasn't it occurred to its editors that fashion simply doesn't matter that much to Hillary Clinton, and to stop trying to force the issue? Van Meter also asks Secretary Clinton about Michelle Obama's support of young designers. "She can carry it off and she enjoys it, so more power to her," Clinton responds. It's a graceful answer that also indicates that she does not give a shit.

Incidentally, it's not at all clear that Clinton dropped out of her campaign-era Vogue shoot just because she was afraid of wearing a dress. After all, the economy was already beginning to crater, and elitism could easily have been a more damning charge than femininity. And as Julia Reed, the now-former Vogue reporter who'd been putting in time on that story, told me last year, the reasons the Clinton campaign gave her for backing out operated under two slightly different assumptions, at least one of which turned out to be false:

"Reed said she was told, 'We already have the women's vote in the bag,' and that [Howard] Wolfson said, " 'We thought we were going to be in a bigger dogfight. We don't need you anymore.' This was right before Iowa. What an idiot!"

So many missed opportunities.

Her Brilliant Career [Vogue]

Earlier: Vogue's Anna Wintour Calls Hillary Clinton A "Mannish" Coward

Related: Sharp Words [WWD Memo Pad]
If Only Hillary Had Done Vogue [WWD Memo Pad]