The mugshot on the Condé Nast website tells it all. Fresh-faced and glowing at 62, Anna Wintour sports a scrap of fur, tied closely round her neck. Were she not the editor of American Vogue, we would say she wears fur as if it's going out of fashion. To anti-fur campaigners it is a provocation. To most people, it looks a bit hot and stuffy. But fashion people would say it was perfectly judged, and at the same time edgy. Fashion people, you see, are different from the rest of us. And Anna Wintour is different from the rest of them.
Her father, the distinguished British journalist and broadcaster Charles Wintour, is remembered by contemporaries as "chilly". The daughter is a chip off the old block of ice. Her perfect fashion judgment is legendary. The horrors of working for her are legendary ("Miss Anna don't like fat people," one of her editors explained, describing how he'd been ordered to lose weight) and inspired a novel and a film starring Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada. Her haircut, unchanged since the age of 14, is legendary. The sunglasses (prescription lenses, and invaluable for keeping her reactions private at couture shows) are legendary. Everything about her is so extremely legendary, that when rumours begin to circulate that she is in line to be the next US Ambassador to the UK, if President Obama wins a second term, it is important to ascertain whether the legends are well-founded. Does the Empress actually have any clothes?
Part of the legend is to cast her predecessor at Vogue as timid and "beige". Wintour's first cover, on taking over, featured a model wearing cheap faded jeans with a $10,000 jewel-encrusted T-shirt. In 1988, this was considered revolutionary in the Manhattan fashion world. By then, however, British punks and Sloanes had been happily mixing up high street, vintage, couture and objets trouvés for over a decade.
Wintour recognised the circulation-boosting value of celebrity faces early on. As one colleague said, "She saw the celebrity thing coming before everyone else did." Everyone? Outside the rarefied atmosphere of high fashion, tabloid newspapers and magazines like Hello! were already catering to the public taste for celebrity when Wintour emerged in the late 1980s. Maybe fashion people are just slow on the uptake.
As an éminence grise, she makes and breaks the careers of those who produce fashion clothing. But besides advising Obama's campaign to fundraise by selling cuter tote bags than Romney's lot do, she never dips her toe into the cold and risky commercial waters in which designers swim.