EXCERPTS FROM A 1989 INTERVIEW IN WHICH VOGUE’S EDITOR IN CHIEF TALKS ABOUT HER FIRST YEAR AT THE HELM.
Byline: Kevin Haynes, November 1989
When Anna Wintour conducts a tour of Vogue magazine’s offices, she’s unfailingly polite, the proper British hostess — but it’s obvious she would rather just get on with it.
Vogue’s 39-year-old editor in chief sets a blistering pace. It tends to blur the images, but that’s vintage Wintour — whether she’s editing a fashion magazine, dining at 150 Wooster or taking a brisk lap around the 13th floor of Conde Nast Publications, Vogue’s parent company, on Madison Avenue.
Wintour marches along the gray-carpeted corridors, her famous bobbed haircut bouncing in her own breeze. Her trusty sunglasses — a Wintour trademark — are nowhere in sight. But her gaunt figure is wrapped in her usual short black skirt, as well as sheer black stockings, a charcoal gray knit top and a plaid Bill Blass jacket with linebacker shoulder pads.
“As seen in Vogue,” she notes.
Wintour continues down the hall, pointing out the production department and assorted editorial offices where Vogue is planned and written every month under her scrutiny and, often, in her image.
She exchanges quick hellos with several top editors, but there is precious little chitchat. She keeps moving on, always several steps ahead.
This isn’t the dreaded lion in Wintour, it’s the greyhound — sleek, fast and forever chasing an elusive rabbit: a fresh look, the next hot designer, a high-powered job.
Wintour rounds the final corner, whisks past her office and toward the receptionist’s desk, where she all but bumps into Alexander Liberman, Conde Nast’s 77-year-old editorial director and the right-hand man of company chairman Si Newhouse.
“Hello, Alex,” she says. “I’ll be right there.”
Wintour leads the way to the nearby elevators. As if on cue, a set of doors sweeps open. The two-minute tour is officially over. Wintour smiles, says a fast, yet cordial, goodbye, shakes hands firmly and turns on her high, high heels to return to Liberman.
She doesn’t look back.
Vogue’s November issue completes Wintour’s first year at the magazine, a year of sweeping changes. Wintour’s Vogue seems more focused on offbeat downtown fashion than that of her predecessors. Grace Mirabella dressed the working woman; the late Diana Vreeland exuded extravagance. “Vreeland invented the fashion editor,” photographer Richard Avedon said at Vreeland’s memorial service Monday. “Before her, it was society ladies who put hats on other society ladies. Now it’s promotion ladies who compete with other promotion ladies.”
Clearly, Avedon’s praise of Vreeland was also a swipe at Wintour. Until Wintour came along, Avedon photographed virtually every cover of Vogue. Now, his studio portraits have been abandoned in favor of breezy outdoor shots by Patrick Demarchelier, including one of Madonna earlier this year.
“It’s been a good beginning,” Wintour says during an interview before the whirlwind tour. “We’ve made a lot of changes that have been well received.”
Fortunately for Wintour, her boss is also one of her biggest supporters.
“I think the magazine is superb,” Newhouse says. “The look is fresh, it’s full of surprise, and I think the feature content is up to date, relevant and upbeat. There’s a brightness, a sharpness, I hadn’t seen before.”
Wintour stresses the fashion “first and foremost.” She says she wanted to get away from the “very perfect” Vogue girl of the past — “the big earrings, the perfect hair.”
“I just wanted to make the look of the magazine more relaxed, the way I see women in the street,” she says.
“But that’s also been the major criticism of the new Vogue — that it has cast aside its traditional audience in favor of a much younger one.
“Sure,” replies Wintour, “but I haven’t met a woman yet who wants to look old. Have you?”
The ebony desk in Wintour’s office, positioned catty-corner to the window, suits the woman who sits behind it: cool, modern and tidy. The wall to Wintour’s right is covered with sketches and framed photographs of designers and celebrities; the one on her left features pictures of her two small children. Not family snapshots, mind you, but black and white portraits by Irving Penn.
Wintour sits up straight, folds her arms flat across the desk and crosses her legs. Let’s get going, her posture says. Shoot.
She often lives up to that demanding pose. Wintour reportedly requires that photocopied pages of the issue in progress be bound together in order and placed on her desk by 5:30 p.m. each day. If the updated dummy isn’t ready, an assistant must deliver it to her apartment that night….
Wintour offers a picture of herself as someone who splits her time between the prominent editor on the wall to the right and the mommy on the left. She prefers to downplay her own celebrity.
“You mean that I can get a good table in a restaurant?” she says with a laugh. “That’s about all. I don’t even think about it. I come in here and do my job, and then I go home and play with my kids.”
Her cool image is epitomized by her ubiquitous sunglasses. They remain on top of her desk throughout the interview, but Wintour reportedly wears them all day, even when she’s looking at slides. Some observers claim unkindly that she sports them to cover the circles under her eyes.
“Am I wearing them now?’ she asks, rolling her eyes. “I have terrible eyes and I get very bad headaches. I wear then because I get tired, that’s all.”