What Does Anna Want Next?

By Givhan, Robin | Newsweek, September 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

What Does Anna Want Next?


Givhan, Robin, Newsweek


Byline: Robin Givhan

From celeb-filled fundraisers in Manhattan's Greenwich Village to state dinners at the White House, rumors of political aspirations for the 'Vogue' editrix are flying around town.

One evening in March, during the last Paris Pret-a-Porter Fashion Week, 11 promising American designers sipped champagne at 41 Rue du Faubourg St-Honore, the residence of the U.S. ambassador to France.

The young designers had come to Paris to participate in a showroom--a trip underwritten by U.S. sportswear mogul Tommy Hilfiger--and to present their collections to the international retailers and editors who regularly assemble in the world's fashion capital to plot what we all will wear.

The American ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, stepped forward to toast the emerging talent and pay tribute to America's $350 billion fashion industry as a cultural and financial link between nations. President Obama appointed Rivkin, who once led the Muppet empire, to his post in 2009. The ambassador was a top fundraiser for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and served as co-chair of his California finance committee. Rivkin's wife, Susan Tolson, is a slender, blonde former investment banker who swiftly elevated her personal style upon settling into her new public life in Paris, which has included a front-row seat at the Chanel show.

It was a perfectly crafted, succinctly timed evening subtly perfumed with the political. And the woman most responsible for instigating it all, who stood on the sidelines without comment, was Anna Wintour.

The self-contained Wintour is approaching her 25th year as the editor in chief of Vogue, fashion's most prestigious glossy. The "Americans in Paris" showroom is one of the many ways in which she has left her imprint on the magazine, the industry, and, by extension, the culture-at-large. While Wintour, 62, has not ignored the fanciful and rarefied aspects of frocks, more than any of her predecessors she has defined fashion as a lucrative blend of glamour, global commerce, and--most intriguingly--political power.

Since Wintour's ascendance in 1988, the magazine has maintained a circulation of approximately 1.2 million readers. And with 2011 revenue at nearly $390 million, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, it sits at the top of the fashion-glossy heap. The September 2012 issue, which celebrates the brand's 120th anniversary, is its biggest book ever, with 658 ad pages--a 14 percent increase over last year.

Wintour has the ear of the industry's top moneymen, such as Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and Francois-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of PPR, when they are looking to fill lucrative design jobs. "She's had tremendous influence in the selection of some designers," says Ralph Toledano, president of Puig fashion division, which includes Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci. "I never took my instructions from her, but that doesn't prevent me from respecting her ... She has an excellent business sense."

Wintour has welcomed big commercial brands such as J.Crew and the Gap into the Vogue fold, and those relationships have led to collaborations with designers who benefit from the publicity and, in some cases, an additional paycheck. She created an initiative with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, to support the next generation of U.S. designers. The fund was seeded in the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the fashion business was dealt a staggering economic blow that affected young designers most profoundly. Now in its ninth year, the fund has supported such rising stars as Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzarra. In 2009 Wintour launched Fashion's Night Out, a shopping bacchanal to jump-start New York's languishing $10 billion fashion industry. Lord & Taylor alone saw a 40 percent leap in sales over the previous year, and FNO now drives retail traffic in major cities around the world. …

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