By Marin, Cheech
Newsweek , Vol. 132, No. 21
In her 10 years as editrix of the premier fashion magazine, Anna Wintour has presided over a provocative mix of 'mass and class.'
Anna wintour's first cover as editor of Vogue in November 1988 was a model in faded jeans and a $10,000 Christian Lacroix T shirt. Next month's cover girl is Hillary Clinton, in an Oscar de la Renta gown. "I think the way she's behaved this past year has been amazing," Wintour says, using a favorite approbation. "And when I saw how amazing she was looking, we asked her if she would do the cover." A mildly racy sweater shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz allows the resurgent First Lady to show that she, as one male Hillary fan says in the Vogue profile, "has got it goin' on." And the cover's shrewd timing reminds Wintour's constituents that she, at 49, is still the unimpeachable first lady of fashion.
How has she survived--Anna, not Hillary, that is? And what has she got going on behind those big dark glasses? Don't ask. At least not about what she calls the "sunglasses and stilettos" caricature. "It's very unusual for me to read something about myself that I don't feel I've read before," she warns from behind a black desk in her office on Madison Avenue.
The Wintour persona invites stereotyping--and parody, envy, innuendo, worship and fear. She has made over the old cliche of the fashion editor (Diana Vreeland with her musts and dahlings) in her own image: whippet-thin, killer heels, a manner as severe as her Louise Brooks bob. And those icy-cold shades. "Bad vision," she explains. Fashion journalist Michael Gross has another theory: "I often think she wears those sunglasses as much to protect herself as to intimidate others." Either way, they only add to the mystique.
So do tales of Wintour's chillingly efficient personal and professional style. Staffers are expected to run, not walk, when summoned--in heels, never flats. After agonizing over her interview outfit, one young job applicant was crushed by Wintour's critique: "matchy, matchy." A colleague invited to a dinner party chez Wintour recalls the hostess and her husband, a child psychiatrist, leaving their guests to eat dessert without them: "She's mastered the art of the hearty hello and the speedy goodbye." Well aware of Wintour's influence, the sources of these stories would talk only on condition of anonymity.
Her diva demeanor likely appeals to her boss, magazine mogul S. I. Newhouse, who models his glossy Conde Nast empire on the old Hollywood studio system. When she took over Vogue, circulation was 1.2 million, with about 3,300 ad pages that year. Circulation is now 1.1 million, with 2,700 ad pages. Because Conde Nast is privately held, profits are unknown, but industry sources estimate Vogue is the company's No. 2 moneymaker after Glamour. And in the face of competition from upstarts Marie-Claire and InStyle, Vogue remains the bible.
"Mass with class--that's my mantra," Wintour says, wearing a gray cashmere Valentino dress (knee-length), lizard Manolo Blahnik boots and blue-gray pearls by Janice Savitt. Her look is invariably class. Her cover choices, from the Spice Girls to Oprah Winfrey, are increasingly mass. Harper's Bazaar's Liz Tilberis says of her rival: "Bazaar is a very cutting-edge fashion magazine. Vogue is a very commercial fashion magazine." During a meeting last week, Vogue's fashion editors--mostly skinny young women in black sitting with their legs wrapped under them like pretzels--deride a $900 pair of Marc Jacobs pants. "Who's gonna pay that?" says one. Wintour, who says very little in these colloquies, nods her assent. …