When it comes to fashion industry titans, there are few who elicit respect and notoriety to the degree of Anna Wintour. The American Vogue editor is so well-known that she has been fictionalised, parodied and propelled into icon status. But how did she become the fashion industry’s most influential and illustrious figure?
Born in London in 1949, Anna Wintour came from a media family. She attended North London Collegiate School in Stanmore, but dropped out aged 16. She soon took a job at cult 1960s’ London fashion boutique Biba, before completing a training programme at Harrods and landing a permanent role as editorial assistant at Harper’s & Queen magazine, now Harper’s Bazaar. In 1975, Wintour moved across the pond to become junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar in the US, where she stayed for several years, going on to work at other now defunct titles, including Viva and Savvy, until the early 1980s.
Following a brief stint as fashion editor at New York Magazine, Wintour was headhunted for the role of creative director at American Vogue. In 1985, she came back to the UK and was appointed editor-in-chief at British Vogue. But her brusque nature and inability to suffer fools resulted in her landing the nickname “Nuclear Wintour” in reference to the prolonged climactic cooling experienced as a result of nuclear war. Wintour returned to New York after two years at the UK publication, and after a short period at House & Garden, was appointed editor at American Vogue, succeeding Grace Mirabella.
Wintour has been credited for revolutionising the fashion industry ever since her first issue at Vogue. The casual ensemble of Guess jeans and a bejewelled Christian Lacroix jumper worn by the cover star, the Israeli model Michaela Bercu, was striking in the industry at a time when glamorous evening gowns were the norm. The image was so out of place that the printers returned the files, assuming there had been some sort of an error in the office and the cover had been a mistake! But Wintour was clearly onto something, going on to restore Vogue’s subscriber count, boost advertising and produce some of the largest magazine issues in history. The September 2012 edition, for example, ran to a staggering 914 pages. She has also been praised for pioneering the move to bring figures from outside of the fashion world onto the magazine’s pages under Wintour’s 31-year-long reign.
In a recent discussion on how social media influencers are changing the fashion industry, she described Vogue as “the biggest influencer of them all”. Though many in the industry would say the same about her. When Wintour supports someone or something, people listen, which is why Vogue has become such a cultural touchstone for people in the industry. As a trustee of the New York Metropolitan Museum, she also spearheads the annual Met Gala, which sees celebs celebrate the opening of Met’s annual costume exhibition.
Wintour’s career has not been short of controversy. In 2003, one of her former assistants, Lauren Weisberger, wrote a fictionalised account of her own time at Vogue, The Devil Wears Prada, which became an acclaimed film. Despite the fact that the character parodied stereotypes based on Wintour, she took it all in her stride, even wearing Prada to the film’s premiere in 2006.
Industry insiders have long speculated when Wintour’s reign at Vogue will come to an end, but rumours amped up last year in the wake of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s departure and the death of Conde Nast (Vogue publisher) chairman Si Newhouse. Speculations reached such heights that the publisher’s then CEO released a statement explaining she is “integral” to the company and will continue to work there “indefinitely”. Nonetheless, one presumes she will step down eventually. And when she does, her mark on the industry will continue to drive its direction for years to come. — The Independent
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