Given its virulence and staying power, it’s looking like COVID-19 might do what decades of rumors, Condé Nast power plays, Page Six leaks and “The Devil Wears Prada” — the book and the movie — could not: Kill off Anna Wintour’s career.
The first sign she was newly vulnerable came in March, with the announcement that the Met Gala, which doubles as Wintour’s annual re-coronation as high fashion’s queen, would be postponed indefinitely.
Then last week, her former longtime Vogue consigliere-slash-apologist André Leon Talley did the classic double-air-kiss before plunging the knife in Wintour’s back.
“I love her,” Talley told People magazine while promoting his campily titled memoir “The Chiffon Trenches,” out Tuesday.
“People may see my book as a vengeful, bitchy tell-all. It is not.”
Oh, but it is.
“Ruthless,” “incapable of human kindness” and “immune to anyone other than the powerful and famous people who populate the pages of Vogue” are just three ways Talley describes her in his book.
Designer Ralph Rucci, historically excluded from Vogue, rushed to Instagram to call Wintour “satanic” and the root of “so much personal evil and destruction.”
It’s not like any of this is news. In 2009, Wintour sat for a biting “60 Minutes” profile in which journalist Morley Safer called her “Darth Vader in a frock,” wondered to her face if she was, in fact, “a bitch” and compared Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her in “Devil” as “a teddy bear” compared to the real thing.This year’s Met Gala, which doubles as Wintour’s annual re-coronation as high fashion’s queen, has been postponed indefinitely. Getty Images
Wintour did herself no favors by telling Safer what she thought of the average American fashion consumer. “I had just been on a trip to Minnesota,” she said, “where I can only kindly describe most of the people I saw as little houses.”
Talley is 6-foot-6 and has long been so obese he wears only caftans. What must he have felt when he watched that interview?
And yet, he stuck around, through a significant demotion, until Wintour ousted him in 2018.
Even back in 2009, rumors — and hopes — were swirling that Anna was on her way out, that her loftiness, her imperiousness and her excess (a $200,000 annual clothing budget provided by Condé Nast atop daily hair and makeup) had no place in recession-era America.
“Twenty years on the throne,” Safer intoned, and “her days may be numbered.”
Yet here she is, still. Even as Vogue slides ever downward in profitability and relevance — the rise of reality shows, YouTube stars and influencers has new generations looking elsewhere for fashion and beauty guidance — Wintour has clung to her considerable power, one that had her reportedly dictating which stars wore which designers’ gowns to the Met Gala (a k a “The Fashion World’s Oscars”). Anna even made Oprah lose weight before she’d put her on Vogue’s cover!
She may be a bully, but she is also an expert strategist, failing so upward at Condé that she was named the company’s creative director in 2013 and “global content advisor” for Condé’s international brands in 2019.
This, despite star editors Graydon Carter and Cindi Leive departing in 2017. That same year, Teen Vogue, Wintour’s baby, folded its print edition. The print frequency of Glamour, Allure, GQ, Architectural Digest, W, Bon Appetit and Condé Nast Traveler all shrunk. Observers noted that Wintour, approaching 70 at this point, had a penchant for remaking other titles in the image and likeness of, yes, Vogue.
But it’s only now, as this pandemic has disrupted nearly every industry on the planet, that Wintour is facing real danger. Just three months ago, her cruelty was on full display when she gathered her flock at Paris Vogue’s headquarters during that city’s fashion week as the teams from other fashion magazines headed home, fleeing coronavirus.
“The message from Anna was, ‘This is not a big deal,’ ” one staffer told The New York Times. Left unsaid but understood: None of her people, no matter how scared or vulnerable, were to ask to go home.
Wintour also, according to the Times, “made arch jokes about people who had fled,” then later told her staff to keep coming to Vogue’s downtown offices in New York until the mayor issued his shelter-in-place edict.Just three months ago, Wintour’s cruelty was on full display when she gathered her flock at Paris Vogue’s headquarters during that city’s fashion week as the teams from other fashion magazines headed home, fleeing coronavirus. EPA
Since then, Wintour has been forced to take a 20 percent pay cut off her reported $2 million annual salary and desperately reinvent herself as one who understands the masses. So here is the new COVID-ready Wintour, posting photos of herself working from home in athleisure (one category soaring in sales as luxury brands plummet). Here she is introducing “Vogue Global Conversations” (online discussions with top designers), available to the great unwashed for free. Here she is partnering with Amazon, till now frozen out by luxury brands and niche designers, in a last-ditch attempt to save her dying industry.
Ironically, the theme of this year’s Met Gala was “About Time: Fashion and Its Duration.” As Americans hunker down in sweats and slippers, realizing that comfort is the ultimate — and affordable — luxury, Wintour surely must wonder if her own time is over.