A Dame On The Cover

In André Leon Talley’s soon to be released autobiography, he said he is “too old, too overweight, too uncool” to continue to be worthy of Anna Wintour’s friendship and professional appointment. Will British Vogue’s latest cover make the feared supremo look worse, and American Vogue out of touch?


Judi Dench Vogue May 2020

British Vogue has proudly announced their oldest cover model: Dame Judi Dench. This came shortly after the publicity surrounding the publication (and now early launch) of André Leon Talley’s autobiographical grievance The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir. Mr Talley’s book has generated so much interest following the release of advanced copies (or galleys?) to the media that it would now enjoy an early release after a postponement from an original date that was to coincide with the the now-also-postponed Met Gala.

It has been reported that in Mr Talley’s book*, he has expressed the view that American Vogue’s equally lauded and lashed out at editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is no longer chummy with him because the 71-year-old, (reportedly) 130-plus-kilo former colleague and front-row companion is “too old, too overweight, too uncool”. Whether that is true of the also-71 and (reportedly) 61-kilo Ms Wintour (a dame too) in this age of body- and age-positive communication and tolerance, we may perhaps never know for sure. But British Vogue’s latest cover featuring the 85-year-old stage and screen actress and Mr Talley’s indignant charge do not do anything to diminish Ms Wintour’s persistently cold image.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, when geriatrics are in the news, not for the life they had led, but its tragic end, and the staggering many that meet this fate, Ms Dench on this cover is, for many in the media industry, a smart move. She is not known for her fashion, which makes her Vogue cover debut all the more deserving of applause, especially when she could have, 21 years earlier, been front-page material after winning the Oscar for best supporting actress, appearing approximately eight minutes as Queen Elisabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Indeed, those who grew up on Twitter and Instagram may only remember her as M in the 007 movies, but editor Edward Enninful, who chose her as the cover face, was canny not to train a telephoto lens on merely young, (still) Twilight-loving readers.


In the interview, Judi Dench is described as “a kind of cultural tea cosy to be popped soothingly over the nation’s beleaguered identity in times of crisis”. Somehow, it is difficult—unthinkable—to imagine Anna Wintour as “cosy” and “soothing” after so successfully cultivating an image of such iciness that “cold” and “tough” are far more synonymous with her, as described in Thomas Maier’s All That Glitters. To be fair, Ms Wintour’s Vogue does cover or give coverage to women of a certain age. In 2017, she put Meryl Streep, then 67, on its cover (after a “first” in 2011 that saw Ms Streep, at 62, smiling under the recognisable masthead). In addition, there is the annual “Age Issue”, yet there hasn’t been on the cover a face with the happy wrinkles that say 85.

Ms Dench lives in her country estate in Surrey. For all we know, it just might be her Capri! While in self-isolation because of the lockdown, she acknowledges in the interview that although she is surrounded by lush greenery, she is “very aware of people who may not have a garden and are not as fortunate to be able to sit outside in the sunshine”. Empathy is presently very appealing, so is honesty. On aging, she shows less tenderness, more truth—perhaps for humour or editorial meat. She said that there is “nothing” about being 85 that she enjoys, and that age is not “an attitude; it’s horrible”.

In his Editor’s Letter, Mr Enninful wrote, “…the dame is not a fan of the term national treasure. But treasure her we do”. Which got us thinking: Who do we have that we can treasure? Here’s looking at you, Her World. We challenge you to put Jin Yinji (also known as jin jie or sister Jin, the Korean actress, who, at 74, is believed to be the oldest among Mediacorp’s still-performing sorority) on your cover. Or, perhaps not someone as silver. Say, the 67-year-old Ho Ching?

*Watch this space for a review of the book. Photos: Nick Knight/Vogue