In the ongoing effort to parse Anna Wintour's politics, Robin Givhan brings up an interesting new perspective in this deeply reported piece for Newsweek: just how do the higher-ups at Condé Nast feel about their employee's increasingly high-profile politicking? And as her political engagement grows, how will Wintour negotiate the conflicts that may arise with her role at the nonpartisan luxury bible that is Vogue?
Wintour has personally given over $96,000 to Democratic candidates and causes since 2004, but it is her involvement with the Obama campaign is by far the biggest political role she has ever taken on. Wintour is in the top tier of Obama fundraisers or "bundlers," who raise money from others by hosting events (like the $30,000-a-plate dinner with the president that Wintour recently co-hosted with Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Obama). Wintour has no qualms about leveraging her fashion industry connections to sell the tables: guests at her numerous fundraisers have included Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg, and the former Gap designer Patrick Robinson, who is something of a Wintour favorite. Those dinners have raised millions for Obama's campaign. Wintour also has asked designers — many of whom owe their careers to Wintour's early patronage, and all of whom depend in great measure on Vogue's continued coverage for their ongoing success — to volunteer their services as designers of Obama campaign merchandise. And as Marc Jacobs once said, in fashion, one simply doesn't say no to Anna Wintour.
On the record, at least, Condé Nast professes a separation of church and state:
"It doesn't involve Vogue. It doesn't involve Condé Nast. We have a very explicit understanding: I'm not going to throw the weight of Condé Nast behind any political candidate," says Charles Townsend, Condé Nast's CEO. "She doesn't guide my political preferences any more than I do hers."
Later this month, when she travels to Europe on Condé's dime to cover the collections in London, Milan, and Paris, Wintour is going to use the trip as an opportunity to do some Obama fundraising. She is hosting a $15,000-a-plate dinner in London with David Plouffe and Tom Ford, and a $10,000-a-plate dinner in Paris with Kenzo. (Romney has also raised funds overseas, most recently at a London event attended mostly by investment bankers and the financial-services sector. U.S. law prevents foreigners from donating to candidates, but U.S. citizens can contribute regardless of whether they reside in the country.)
The more Wintour fundraises, the more potential conflicts her political activity poses for Vogue. But Givhan suggests that Wintour may have one eye on the horizon: she's been at the head of the world's most influential fashion magazine for 24 years, making her already its second longest-serving editor. Rather than wait around to get fired when Condé decides she's had her day (like Diana Vreeland, Grace Mirabella, and any number of other editors who were abruptly shown the door), might Wintour be thinking of parlaying her organizational skills and political experience into some kind of job in the field? The rumor that Wintour is seeking an ambassadorship — many ambassadors are appointed from the ranks of campaign fundraisers, including the current U.S. ambassador to France — is an old one, but it comes back again in Givhan's story.
It would be hard to imagine Anna Wintour, a high-school drop-out whose French is conversational at best, leading the U.S. diplomatic corps in France. But if Wintour is devising a Plan B, she could do worse than full-time political event manager: her Met Ball fundraisers raise over $10 million for the museum annually, and her Obama work has been so successful that it's drawn the ire of Glenn Beck.