“A Lukewarm Royalty with a Whip from Outer Space”

If you could ask Anna Wintour anything, what would it be?

Vogue’s current editor-in-chief – and subject of the upcoming documentary, The September Issue – has often been called the most important figure in the fashion world (when not being referred to as a “cold space alien”). In a year that has seen a huge downturn in the economy and an even huger uprising in online media, she is responsible for the monthly publication of Vogue, whose current issue is a 584-page fashion manifesto that will no doubt sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Like every issue, it is a collection of works by hundreds of editors, writers, photographers, advertisers, models, and designers. In other words: there are a hell of a lot of people who depend on Vogue, and consequently, Anna Wintour, for a job.

I surveyed some friends (and fellow Worn staffers) on what they would ask Wintour if they could. The answers were endless, subjects ranging from the relevance of fashion in today’s world, to what it’s like to be a professional woman in publishing, to the evolution of a trend, to the lack of diversity in Vogue. But rather predictably, her August 24th interview with David Letterman – her first media appearance since a 60 Minutes featurette last May – stuck mainly to the following points: Wintour’s reputation as an ice queen; Wintour as parodied by Meryl Streep in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada; and, of course, some banter promoting both the documentary and September 10th’s Fashion’s Night Out, a shopping event in New York City.

Perhaps my expectations were set too high. After all, a ten-minute interview on a late night talk show is hardly the proper platform to get into a weighty dissertation on the significance of fashion during economic turmoil. Yet even amid Letterman’s typical playful teasing I became frustrated with all the focus placed on Wintour’s reputation. There’s the question that has been raised by others a million times before but has never actually been discussed at length, at least not in the mainstream media: if Wintour were a man, would anybody actually care about how straightforward and abrasive she is with her staff?

For somebody who is so often caricatured as a “bitch” (the critics’ words, not mine), Wintour certainly didn’t come off as cold and soulless. She sat mildly slouched in her chair, hands shyly folded in her lap, joking about Letterman’s socks and laughing along when he asked if she’s ever put any of her staff members in a headlock. She was a bit quieter than some of his usual guests (actors and entertainers), but ultimately was a good sport who was not afraid to poke fun at herself. It made me wonder – if this was the real life incarnation of an icy dictator, how would the magazine even manage to get published with a passive editor in the hot seat?

-Anna Fitz

9 thoughts on ““A Lukewarm Royalty with a Whip from Outer Space”

  1. I love her strong attitude and how she know exactly what she wants but to be fair I don’t find anything but that about her inspirational. Though she’s probably not responsible for all the styling, I find the whole US Vogue so boring. The awe-worthy Vogue name is definitely not worth the American vogue imo. I just find the whole magazine and Anna Wintour so… BLAH.

    Also haha eddie.

  2. Thank you for your insight Anna!

    -and no, if a passive editor was at the helm of Vogue it would have gone out of publication years ago… Anna is the right one for the job, I don’t think anyone could do it as well (not saying US Vogue is the best msg ever.. actually its not really my cup of tea, I prefer Vogue Nippon)

  3. This was great to read, and it’s bothered me way more than once, too. It gets me how easy it is to focus on HOW Wintour does her job rather than the quality of the work itself. I respect the woman tremendously–just can’t say the same about her magazine. Roitfeld’s Vogue, on the other hand…

  4. When you go on one of these late-night shows you’re pretty much expected to keep things light and silly, so she just seemed to be following the format on that (as opposed to genuinely showing some lighthearted aspect of her personality or something). And I must admit, I found her attempts at humour sort of awkward and lame. Mostly she just looked out of her element, like an alien who’s trying her careful best to imitate the way humans interact (the insane amount of botox doesn’t help on this front). And, actually, I’m fine with that — her thing IS being the cold space alien, and that’s what I expect of her. I don’t need her to try to endear herself to me by impersonating something cuddly, even if that’s what the Letterman audience or the public wants to see. Which all ties in to what you’re saying — in the end, the focus seems to be sooo much (like Chantal said) on the WAY she does her job (how she behaves, whether we “like” her), rather than on whatever results she achieves. Nice job on getting us to think about this, Anna!

  5. Agreed with Kate and Chantal in terms of the weird focus people put on her personality as opposed to what sort of work she produces. I have no need to like or dislike this woman (although I admit I’m amused by the fact she doesn’t seem to care what people think). And of course she won’t be a Superbitch on Letterman – to what end? There would be no need to behave with an interviewer as therre would at the helm of a huge organization. If Wintour is a a bitch, her bitchiness is clearly situation appropriate… Which means she is not insane. Good enough for me.

    If, however, I were to engage in conjecture, I would say this: Her interview appearance gave me the impression of a woman who is not at all demonstrative and slightly socially awkward – the combination of which could read as Ice Queen to those who would wish the world populated by game show hosts and Sesame Street characters. As a girl whose shyness has been translated to “bitch” more often than I care to think about, I’m sympathetic. And Kate’s description, “…an alien who’s trying her careful best to imitate the way humans interact”, is apt and, if anything, humanizing.

    Either way, it simply comes down to whether I like the mag or not. To date, I have yet to find another publication heavy enough (in spring and fall) to keep my enormous cat from lifting the lid and drinking out of the toilet. Sold.

  6. ack, that interview disappointed me so much. she tried to do her best with getting interviewed by letterman and i applaud her for that. i just don’t get how people find it so funny that the interviewer knows nothing about his guests and has shown little interest in making any effort of doing research about the guests.

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