Weekly reads from CJR for June 2, 2022

Haley Mlotek on Anna Wintour

For more than thirty years, Anna Wintour has been the editor in chief of Vogue, “a fixture and a force in the fashion industry who has also risen through the C-suite of Condé Nast,” Haley Mlotek writes. Now the company’s worldwide chief content officer, Wintour wields an unprecedented amount of control over magazine publishing. “Yet as her influence has grown,” Mlotek observes, “so has the imperative for substantial critique and for reckoning with what her power means.” In May, Amy Odell published Anna: The Biography, the most authoritative account to date of Wintour’s life and work. The book is notable for its degree of access—not to Wintour herself, but to friends and colleagues who were, it seems, given permission to participate. “Of course, there was never a shortage of sources with Wintour stories to tell,” Mlotek writes. “But there had been a shortage of people willing to speak without her approval.” According to R.J. Cutler, who directed a documentary about Vogue called The September Issue: “You can make a film in Hollywood without Steven Spielberg’s blessing, and you can publish software in Silicon Valley without Bill Gates’s blessing. But it’s pretty clear to me that you can’t succeed in the fashion industry without Anna Wintour’s blessing.” 

There is plenty to report: on Wintour’s childhood, media ascent, business decisions. To those who follow Wintour closely, it’s been clear for a long time that her vision of fashion often means whiteness; the offices of Vogue have not always been inclusive. Dodai Stewart tells Mlotek that, “as a Black woman who adores fashion,” she has felt slighted by the magazine. Edmund Lee, who reported for the New York Times on Wintour’s leadership, granted anonymity to his sources—a recognition of the threat of retribution. “You could, in effect, disappear from the world of fashion,” he said. Mlotek wonders to what extent Wintour’s persona is inflated by coverage of her: “How much of her power is in her hands, and how much is in our heads?” —Betsy Morais, managing editor


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