Buried in the standard fare of WSJ.'s profile of Anna Wintour — "She's been editor of the American edition of Vogue since 1988, and by now it has become commonplace to call her the most powerful woman in fashion" is the line that tells you everything you already didn't need to know — come a few little reflective gems, some from Wintour herself and some from her powerful friends and associates.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg: "Even a guy like me, who can barely match my tie to my shirt, knows that fashion means dollars to New York City. Besides, behind all Anna's grace and poise is some pretty tough resolve. She's not a person you want to say no to."
The September Issue director R.J. Cutler: "Well, you can make a film in Hollywood without Steven Spielberg's blessing, and you can publish software in Silicon Valley without Bill Gates's blessing, but it's pretty clear to me you can't succeed in the fashion industry without Anna Wintour's blessing." (Possible counter-examples: Zero Maria Cornejo, Isabel Toledo, and...?)
Also, last year Anna Wintour wanted to float a hot-air balloon inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the Met Costume Institute fundraiser she organizes. "When we first saw it, we go, 'Never! We can't have gas in the museum!'" says Met president Emily Rafferty. But: "Anna's changed our attitude — she's brought us to new levels of thinking of what we can do, but without ever losing sight that we're working in a museum context here." Wintour has, on at least one occasion — the 2009 Costume Institute show "The Model As Muse" — walked through a Met show before it opened to the public, making decisions about the presentation of the exhibit, demanding, for example, different painted backgrounds, quite as though she were a curator. Wintour's event has raised around $75 million for the museum over ten years: She pays the piper, so she calls the museological tune.
And then there's this rare admission of regret from Wintour: "I'm not terribly proud of putting the Spice Girls on the cover." Which is funny, at least to me, because I think I still have that issue — the January, 1998, issue, to be precise. It was the first copy of American Vogue I ever bought! I was a die-hard 12-year-old Spice Girls superfangirl who welcomed a trip to visit family in the U.S. mainly for the superior opportunities to scrounge Spice Girls clippings and arcana that it presented. (I had a scrapbook.) I didn't have $3 to my name, but my auntie took pity on me in the checkout line at Safeway anyway. Turning those pages felt magical, and deeply impressive. I'm pretty sure Wintour promised in her editor's letter that her magazine and its stylists had excavated "a softer, subtler Spice." I can still quote chunks of Jonathan Van Meter's cover story from memory. (Don't let me start. His lede was, "They're exhausted, these Spice Girls. Even the woman doing their nails thinks so." And he quoted Camille Paglia, who offered that while Madonna had made the Spice Girls possible, their project omitted "all of Madonna's Sturm und Drang. There's no subtext with the Spice Girls." No subtext. With the Spice Girls.) In the issue, there was also a story about how Donatella Versace was faring since the death of her brother, Gianni, a spread about Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher that included a really sexy black-and-white picture of Gallagher sleeping, all stubble and eyelashes and lips, and a shot of one of John Galliano's dresses from his Chinoiserie-inspired Dior couture collection. That red silk bias-cut dress remains in my mind's eye to this day.
January, 1998, was probably the historical zenith of my excitement about American Vogue. Looking at the contributors' page for that issue, many of the names are still comfortably familiar from Vogue today: Van Meter, of course, still regularly does cover-profile duty for the magazine. Ditto stylist Camilla Nickerson (four stories in the March Vogue alone), photographer Mario Testino (he shot 10 out of 12 American Vogue covers last year), and makeup artist Tom Péchaux. Judging from this issue, the same circle of people has been in charge at Vogue for nearly 15 years. Is there comparable masthead homeostasis at any other publication? No wonder Vogue so often feels stale nowadays. But that's how Anna Wintour likes it: She told WSJ., "I think we have a Vogue vocabulary, and there are certain people we like to have as the backbone of the magazine-Vogue's signposts. We try very hard to integrate the familiar signatures with people we feel are new and up-and-coming, but I would rather err on the side of being a little more familiar than being too . . . What's the right word? . . . Edgy."
Anna Wintour's Brand Anna [WSJ.]