Around-the-clock dark glasses, perfectly coiffured bob and renowned icy presence seem to define the Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue. Anna Wintour is one of the most influential people in fashion, with her magazine, despite only having a 1.2 million circulation per month compared to, for example, In Style’s 1.7 million, is still the anchor of the fashion world.
As for Wintour and her supposed steely presence, her character has been, up until recently, somewhat of an enigma. The entire formation of her persona as being the stereotypical fashion-bitch editor has been mostly based upon Chinese whispers floating around the industry.
In 2006, the ice queen’s persona was introduced to the big screen when a book, written by Wintour’s former PA, The Devil Wears Prada was turned into a film. The character of Miranda Priestley exemplified all of Wintour’s supposed characteristics – cold, cut-throat, impersonal and demanding. However, these seem to be the only traits that the media has focused on. Little mention has been given to the film’s portrayal of the softer side of the Priestley/ Wintour character. The Devil Wears Prada saw Miranda Priestley show a more humane side with the breakdown of the character’s marriage and Anne Hathaway’s character Andy in the end being given a job at The New York Times based on a reference by Priestley. These characteristics are glossed over, with the focus remaining on the steely Wintour image Priestley’s character is based on.
Wintour rarely gives interviews, and doesn’t usually engage with the public more than on the level of her monthly Editor’s letters. The film The September Issue has sought to give a further insight into not just the inner workings of fashion’s most influential magazine, but also into the enigma of Wintour herself.
The Editor-in-Chief does, to a certain degree, fulfil the preconceived image the media has prescribed her. She has a constant steely glint in her eye, she cuts pages with the impeccable precision of a dictator signing death warrants, and her presence reduces her staff to scuttling wrecks.
It is, however, the few scenes with her daughter and her personal comments on her family which give a deeper insight into Wintour as a person, not just the High Priestess of fashion. Her manners soften with her daughter, who seems like a friendly, happy individual, not one who has lived for 20 or so years under an authoritarian reign of terror. Wintour also states that her siblings are “amused” by what she does. She may wield influence in the fashion industry, but it seems that next to a political writer, low-income housing co-ordinator and a lobbyer for Latin American farmers’ rights, her career seems frivolous and unimportant. It was also her father – the late Charles Wintour, former editor of the Evening Standard that decided her destiny lay in fashion. “Well you want to be editor of Vogue of course ” were his words and so according to Wintour “that was it, that was decided.” This image of a woman not fully in control of her own destiny doesn’t sit comfortably with the cold, callous, controlling persona.
Wintour’s relationship with Creative Director Grace Coddington comes under intense scrutiny in the documentary. In fact, much of the film comprises of Wintour slashing Coddington’s creativity. It seems like a tense, taunt relationship which does little to alleviate Wintour’s impersonal demeanor. However, in the final scenes of the documentary, Wintour gives credit to Coddington. “Grace is a genius. There is no one that can visualise a picture or understand the direction of fashion [better than her]. I mean she’s just remarkable.” So often does the audience see Wintour look upon Coddington’s work throughout the documentary without the slightest emotion but this is all due to getting the job done which explains much of Wintour’s work personality - a separation from her private persona.
The fact remains that if Wintour was operating in a male-dominated environment, her behaviour would be perfectly acceptable. Clear-cut, decisive action is what makes the business world go round. In a man’s world, these qualities are admirable; in a female world they cause a woman to come across as a class A bitch. Obviously, Wintour does give off a slightly frosty air, she is perhaps not the warmest of people; but surely anybody who had that much bra-less, metallic fun in the '80s can't be that frosty a person.