Anna Wintour, high priestess of fashion and the most influential editor-in-chief in the world, is a strong personality who continues to inspire generations of leaders. In this biographical article, discover the secrets and successes of this woman who is always recognizable with her black glasses and bob haircut, who has conquered the ruthless world of fashion without a degree.
Childhood and First Steps in Fashion
Predisposed to Shine
Anna Wintour was born on November 3, 1949 in London, into a wealthy and influential family. Her father, Charles Wintour, was the editor-in-chief of the famous British newspaper, the Evening Standard, while her mother, Eleanor Trego Baker, was a homemaker from a privileged background.
Inspired by Magazine Pages
Anna developed an early interest in fashion, thanks to the magazines her mother read regularly. At the age of 15, she decided to drop out of school to devote herself entirely to her passion. She started working in a luxury clothing store in London, Biba, and then obtained an internship at Harper’s Bazaar UK in 1970.
The Meteoric Rise
From New York to Conquering the World
She identified unique filming locations for renowned photographers through her network. After disagreements with a colleague, she left London for New York with her journalist partner.
In New York, she was a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar in 1975, but was fired because her shots were considered too daring. Later, she became a fashion editor for Viva, where she could finally hire an assistant and already acquired a reputation as a demanding boss.
In 1981, she was appointed editor-in-chief of the American fashion magazine New York. Anna quickly imposed her style and vision of fashion, which would become her trademark.
An Ability to Pivot and Bounce Back
In 1983, Alex Liberman, the great leader of the Condé Nast group, offered Anna Wintour the position of creative director at Vogue by doubling her salary to leave the competition. Anna accepted, becoming the first to hold this unprecedented position at Vogue. She imposed changes that would displease some.
In 1985, she took over Vogue UK when Beatrix Miller retired. Anna targeted businesswomen and working girls so associated with the 80s. She managed the magazine with an iron fist, earning her nicknames such as "Nuclear Wintour" or "The Iron Lady of Fashion" in analogy to her compatriot Margaret Thatcher.
In 1987, she returned to New York to lead the magazine House & Garden, with the aim of competing with Architectural Digest. But her too radical changes, including more fashion and people, ended up blurring the magazine’s image, which led to a significant drop in subscribers and the withdrawal of several advertisers.
Ten months after her return to Vogue, Anna became editor-in-chief, with the mission of relaunching the magazine, which was losing ground to Elle. Wintour made bold changes, particularly in terms of the magazine covers, but also by choosing to have less well-known models pose, often dressed in a chic but casual way. The November 1988 cover, featuring young Michaela Bercu in a luxurious outfit and jeans, illustrates this new editorial line well.
Anna later admitted that this photo, which sparked so much controversy, was not originally planned for the cover, but she felt that featuring this image embodied a major turning point. Her decisions, destabilizing for some, allowed her to conquer a wider and more receptive audience to her innovative proposals.
It has been reported that Anna Wintour has always wanted to control the entire visual content, despite the presence of three full-time assistants working alongside her. She is driven by an absolute devotion to her passion for fashion.
The Iron Lady of Fashion
As we have seen, Anna Wintour revolutionized the presentation of fashion in magazines. Thanks to her flair and instinct, she was able to promote and even spot many talents, both among fashion designers and models. Among the most famous are designers Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and John Galliano, as well as top models Gisele Bündchen, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell among others.
Behind the Scenes of Her Power
A Key Role in the Fashion Industry
Beyond her work at Vogue, Anna Wintour has also played an essential role in the development and support of the fashion industry in general. She is the founder of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Fund, a program that aims to support and promote young fashion talents.
The Met Gala: The Most Glamorous Night in the World
The Met Gala is one of the essential evenings of the fashion and global star system elite. It is the very place of eccentricity.
The Met Gala was launched in 1948 by American fashion icon Eleanor Lambert with the aim of raising funds for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Since 1995, this glamorous spectacle has been orchestrated by Anna Wintour herself, leveraging her status as editor-in-chief of Vogue. She embodies the event, overseeing it and selecting the guests and themes.
Each gala has been a dazzling parade of unique and increasingly eccentric outfits, some of which have remained etched in our memories. In 2019, global superstar with an avant-garde look, Lady Gaga, appeared in a succession of four breathtaking outfits. Sex symbol Rihanna made a lasting impression with a remarkable yellow dress designed by Chinese designer Guo Pei in 2015.
And how could we forget the theatrical entrance of actor Billy Porter in 2019, when he appeared carried by six robust men, dressed in a golden outfit inspired by ancient Egypt? And let’s not forget the astonishing Jared Leto in 2019, who walked around with a most surprising accessory: a replica of his own head!
Private Life and Commitments
A Discreet Woman
Despite her fame, Anna Wintour protects her private life. She was married to David Shaffer, a psychiatrist, and they had two children, Charles and Bee. They divorced in 1999. Today, she is said to be in a relationship with Shelby Bryan, a Texan businessman.
Political and Philanthropic Commitments
Anna Wintour is also known for her involvement in politics and charitable works. She supports the American Democratic Party and has supported the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. She is also involved in several charitable organizations, particularly those fighting against AIDS, such as amfAR and God’s Love We Deliver.
In Popular Culture
The Devil Wears Prada: A Caricature That Needs No Introduction
The character of Anna Wintour is now established in contemporary cultural landscape. Her power, real or overestimated, is described in the bestseller The Devil Wears Prada (2003) by Lauren Weisberger, who was allegedly Wintour’s assistant at Vogue.
In a 2006 film adaptation, also titled The Devil Wears Prada, which turned out to be a Hollywood blockbuster, Meryl Streep played the role of Miranda Priestly. This character is strongly inspired by Anna Wintour, whom the actress would only have the opportunity to meet much later. She formed a formidable duo with Anne Hathaway, who played the character of Lauren Weisberger.
While Weisberger insisted that the novel is fiction, the success of the book and the film has nevertheless anchored in the collective imagination the portrait of a formidable, even terrifying fashion editor. The allusion to Anna Wintour in this representation, although denied under the guise of fiction, establishes her legend in the public sphere.
It is crucial to note that the film, with its exceptional cast and entertaining plot, not only captivated the general audience, but also highlighted the challenges and constraints of the ruthless world of fashion, recognized as a full-fledged art, thus reinforcing the perception of Wintour as an intuitive woman.
But Also Documentaries and Exhibitions
Anna Wintour’s world has been brought to light through sometimes successful documentaries. We can mention The September Issue, which offers an in-depth look behind the scenes of the conception of the September 2007 issue of Vogue US, considered the most important of the year. Another film, The First Monday in May, reveals the preparations and details of the famous Met Gala.
Her considerable impact and influence have also been recognized and celebrated through large-scale exhibitions. Among them, the exhibition entitled Anna Wintour: The Editor’s Eye at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This exhibition pays tribute to her remarkable artistic eye, testifying to her imprint on fashion, which is part of contemporary culture.
Emblem of Girl Power and Leadership
Anna Wintour is a symbol of female power, having held high positions in a much less gender-equal era. She will forever leave her mark on the fashion industry thanks to her audacity and determination. Her support for young talent, through the CFDA Fashion Fund or by offering opportunities at Vogue, has helped launch many careers, making her a true mentor. Even if she decides to pass the torch, her legacy will also endure, as will the memory of her personality, which will inspire future leaders in the industry. With over three decades at the helm of Vogue US, Wintour remained true to her vision while adapting to the evolution of fashion, making her name a synonym for elegance, flair, temperament, and success.