#WCIW: Anna Wintour
Fashion Revolutionary. Iconic Style. Unwavering Grit.
The blunt bob. The oversized glasses. The click of the Manolo Blahnik heels on the pavement. She has been called the Dragon Lady and the Devil, but what she is, truly, is the most powerful woman in fashion. And certainly a women with grit.
Anna Wintour has been the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue for nearly 30 years, in that time completely revolutionizing magazine publishing and the fashion industry itself. But her rise to the top was anything but easy. Born on November 3rd, 1949 to Charles Wintour and Eleanor “Nonie” Trego Baker, she was one of five children. Even as a child, Wintour showed an independent spirit and was notorious at school for trying to shorten the skirts of her uniform.
Recognizing the 15-year-old Anna's interest in fashion, her father Charles, the editor of the London Evening Standard, procured her a position at the famous London boutique, Biba. The store became the go-to store for the “Swinging 60’s” set in London, and the experience there would influence Wintour for decades to come. It was while she was working there that she first cut her hair into the bob that would become her signature.
More interested in fashion and business than her studies, Anna left school and enrolled in a training program at Harrods in London, which only deepened her interest in all things style-related. At the urging of her parents, she did eventually enroll to attend fashion classes, but her formal education was short-lived.
Anna dropped out once more and began to expand her social circles. She was extremely strategic in her efforts. She became a fixture in the London club scene and frequented the regular haunts of stars like the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Uninterested in men her own age, she dated older men established in successful careers from whom she could learn. It was through one such older boyfriend, Richard Neville, that she became exposed to magazine production, as he was co-editor of the counterculture magazine Oz.
Wintour’s interest was piqued and she sought ways to combine her passion for fashion with the newfound interest in magazine publication. In 1970 she landed a position at Harpers and Queen as an editorial assistant, where she formed further connections into publishing and the fashion industry. She also built relationships with photography greats like Jim Lee and Helmut Newton. By 1975 she had leveraged these connections into a junior editor position at Harper’s Bazaar in New York.
The job, however, did not last and, in fact, began a period of upheaval in Anna’s life. After nine months editor Tony Mazzola fired her, stating that she would “never understand the American market.” Of the experience, Anna would later say, "I think everyone should be fired... I think it's character-building."
She took a job at another women's magazine, Viva, as fashion editor, but the magazine was near its end, and closed its doors in 1978. Despite two dead-ends into American fashion publication, Wintour stuck to her path and two years later won the fashion editor role at Savvy. It was there that editor Edward Kosner would mentor Wintour and would teach her the rising importance of putting celebrities on the cover of a magazine.
By 1983, after three years absorbing all the knowledge she could from her experience at Savvy, Wintour was ready to make the jump to Vogue. Recruited by the editorial director of Conde Nast, Alex Lieberman, and took the position as Creative Director after intense negotiations that ended up doubling her salary.
Wintour, now an established name and voice in the industry, was soon promoted to chief editor of British Vogue in 1985. Determined to revolutionize the publication, Wintour set about reshaping the staff roster, recruiting talented photographers, and restructuring the nearly century-old magazine from the ground up. She became infamous for her shrewd business sense, her eye for detail and the sense of urgency in her work and the work of those around her. Her perceived “temperamental and impatient nature” would earn her the nicknames “Nuclear Wintour” and “Wintour of our discontent”. And so the image of Wintour as the “Dragon lady” was born.
Unfazed by something as trivial as workplace popularity, Anna continued to climb the ladder of success. Though most in the industry knew it was only a stepping stone to the top spot in American Vogue, Wintour took the position of editor-in-chief at Home and Garden magazine in 1997, bringing her back to NYC. As if pre-ordained, just a year later she indeed became editor-in-chief at American Vogue.
Again, Wintour began to rework every part of the publication: shaking up the article structure, hiring fresh photographers, and developing a whole new style. The first issue of Vogue with Wintour at the helm debuted in November 1988 and sent shockwaves through the industry and beyond. The cover featured model Michaela Bercu, smiling, adorned in a bejeweled Christian Lacroix jacket and jeans! Never before had a couture piece been portrayed so casually. In fact, it had been a last minute decision made by Wintour when the model did not fit the matching skirt. It would, however, prove to be revolutionary move.
Anna Wintour’s career has been legendary. Her network, built from the ground up, includes the most influential photographers, actors, musicians, politicians, and writers in the world. She has launched careers, made American Vogue the “Fashion Bible” that it is today, and has never let fear, failure, or reputation hold her back.
She's used her position to revitalize the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum, and to bring attention and funding to HIV/AIDS and mental health charities. But most notably, her undeniable success has helped to pave the way for other women in business and given women permission to rise above the “Dragon lady” image to embrace their full potential.
For her role in the fashion revolution, her iconic style, and her unwavering grit, Anna Wintour is this week’s #WCIW.