"It's a validation that you're a real woman," Oprah once famously said of being Vogue's cover-model. So we can only imagine how more real she'll feel as the co-chair of fashion's biggest night, tonight's Met Costume Institute Gala.
Of course, this is not Winfrey's first experience with her co-chair, Vogue editor Anna Winour. You'll recall that when Oprah first appeared on Vogue's May cover in 1998, Wintour, as revealed to 60 Minutes last year, "gently suggested" that the queen of all media "lose a little bit of weight before she appeared in the magazine." And she did. Said Wintour, "She was a trooper. She totally welcomed the idea. She went on a very stringent diet. It was one of our most successful covers ever."
It's no shocker, then, that the brain trust behind the Met gala — what the New York Post terms "a hotbed of cutting-edge fashion" - should choose to replicate this success. In a time when the fashion industry has been under attack for bad messages and elitist mores, it can't hurt to have the people's favorite ambassador headlining its biggest event. In past years, co-hosts have ranged from Kate Moss ("The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion") to Sienna Miller ("Anglomania") to Cate Blanchett ("Poiret, King of Fashion.") While all of these are unquestionably big names with cross-media appeal, they're also fashionistas. Oprah is a departure. The theme for tomorrow's gala is "American Women: Fashioning a National Identity," so the choice was, arguably, a grave one: Oprah is meant to implicitly embody this identity (well, along with the non-American Wintour) and that's not a coincidence. The Met describes this year's exhibit thusly:
It will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from 1890 to 1940 and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. "Gibson Girls," "Bohemians," and "Screen Sirens," among others, helped lay the foundation for today's American woman.
In Oprah, perennially and publicly weight-obsessed, could Wintour have found a more obvious answer to charges of her industry's homogeneity?
Of course, this isn't bad PR for Oprah, either: Let us not forget that she's still refusing to comment on the allegations of teen almost-prostitution, mystery fathers, evil besties and beleaguered staff circulating since the release of Kitty Kelly's unauthorized biography. What could be further from that muck — and its accusations of an exaggeratedly hardscrabble past — than presenting Oprah in her current and most glorious incarnation, inviolate, absolute and at the pinnacle of social and aesthetic success?
But to the many who follow Oprah's dictates — not just Liz Lemon and Robyn Okrant — it's got to be a confusing message. While Oprah's appeal has always been largely aspirational — she's a regular person made wildly, extravagently, epically good - it's also always hinged on staying grounded and, not incidentally, on building women's self-image. Eagerly accepting the figurehead post at such an unambiguously high-fashion-oriented event might, in some people's eyes, serve to democratize the event — but perhaps at the cost of Oprah's everywoman cred. Whether's it's a win-win or lose-lose? move, it's certainly calculated business as usual. I guess we'll have to see next year's pick to really know Anna's larger motivations, but I have my suspicions.
The Day Anna Wintour Told Oprah Winfrey To Lose Weight [People]
Is Oprah Really A Style Icon? [New York Post]