On Tuesday night I went with a very fashionable friend to see Anna Wintour, long time editor-in-chief of American Vogue, be interviewed at the 92nd Street Y by Jonathan Tisch. For those of you who may not follow fashion, Wintour is quite a character in the fashion world, and was the real life inspiration behind Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in the movie The Devil Wears Prada.
She, like many high profile female head honchos, has the reputation for being tough, demanding, unreasonable, and unlovable. She doesn't usually grant many requests from the media (perhaps owing to the fact that she controls her own very powerful media platform), so tickets to this interview went fast, and it was a full house.
The house included two fervent PETA protesters who were sitting but feet away from us in the balcony. They stood up, unfurled their banner, and began to shout in earnest about how Wintour has animals skinned alive for fur, until a security team rushed through the doors and whisked them away. A few sycophants tried to drown out the protesters with their own proclamations of undying love and loyalty for the editor. It was quite a show, and it seemed our tickets had just paid for themselves in entertainment, regardless of how the interview went. We felt a bit like extras in The Devil Wears Prada.
Anna picked up right where she left off once the hubbub died down, as if she had just paused for Tisch to sneeze. She acknowledged that everyone has a right to their own opinion, and on the topic of fur, hers is that Vogue reports on the fashion industry, and as long as fur is a part of it, Vogue will report on fur.
It was then that I began wondering if Wintour would ever turn her face to the crowd, or if we would be looking at the left side of her blonde wall of hair for the entire hour. She sat cross legged, leaning forward into the microphone, and did not once turn to the audience to smile, get a reaction, or preen. (Very different from Martha Stewart, who I suppose is conditioned by her daily television show to make every appearance a performance, even if it is a painfully wooden one.)
It is at this point that I must refer you to a visual aid, if you are not familiar with Wintour's iconic bob.
It is always the same shape, color, and length. Never a split bang, never a flyaway. I had actually asked my friend over dinner beforehand if she thought it could be a wig, because her hair is so perfect and full. We thought not, but whatever it is, that baby is impressive. It is the iron curtain of hairdos, used by Wintour to shield herself from prying eyes, or maybe to conceal a pair large, Dopey-like ears?
We learned some interesting tidbits about Wintour and how she works. She didn't go to college. Her personal fashion icons growing up were Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. She always trusts her gut to make decisions, and doesn't believe in market research. Her criteria for a new hire is someone she would want to spend time with, someone with personality (Andre Leon Talley, anyone?), someone who is unafraid to disagree with her. She has tremendous respect for the fashion industry and its ability to work in unison to achieve a goal, and has spearheaded several projects that prove this conviction: 7th on Sale, a benefit for HIV/AIDS, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which fosters promising up-and-coming American designers, and the Met Costume Institute Gala, which is pretty much the best party ticket in New York.
She was extremely poised and well spoken, giving generous, straightforward answers to Tisch's questions. You must know how happy this made me after the Martha incident -- I wasn't expecting much. Wintour continues her mini media blitz this Sunday, when 60 Minutes airs a bio piece on her. All this has me wondering: what's her agenda? Am I so alienated from the high fashion industry that I don't realize it's dying in this recession and needs Wintour to go out there and drum up some sales and enthusiasm? Doubtful. I may be cheap, but I can still recognize Thakoon when I see him on the subway. Would that really do the trick anyway? A Wintour press tour is not putting spending money back into people's pockets.