Before COVID-19, before Black Lives Matter, would Anna Wintour have admitted to “mistakes”?
Few would think that saying sorry is what Anna Wintour is inclined to do. But these are not the simplest of times. In the US (and many parts of the world), the confluence of COVID-19 and the ongoing protest against racism and police brutality is visibly and audibly shaking things up. Celebrities are mindful of what they say or do when taking a stand. Even when not. Given the known corporate culture of Vogue’s owner Condé Nast (just two days ago, it had to hold a company-wide town hall to conduct “studies” on diversity and pay equity), Ms Wintour is likely aware that she’s treading on shaky ground. A week earlier, she unexpectedly issued an internal e-mail to her staff, redressing past errors of judgment and the lack of remedial action.
For her, the stars have aligned. At first it was her former lieutenant Andre Leon Talley’s explosive autobiography in which he wrote that she is “incapable of human kindness”. In the course of the subsequent publicity, designer Ralph Rucci took to Twitter to praise Mr Talley and alleged that Ms Wintour conducts her work with a “satanic plan” and that he “will write about what (he) had to contend with concerning this very, very meaningless person”. Not long before Ms Wintour’s address to her team, the editor-in-chief of sister publication Bon Appetite Adam Rapoport, who reports to Ms Wintour, resigned after a 2013 photo of him in brown face for Halloween was shared online and charges of discriminatory work environment ensued. As it’s frequently said, everything happens for a reason.
There is suspicion among the cynical that Ms Wintour’s apology on race is a “fashionable” reflex action. Some said that her present acknowledgement of inattention to race issues is as belated as her embrace of black talents
Before something in the past comes back to haunt her, she reacted, even admitting to “mistakes”. There is suspicion among the cynical that Ms Wintour’s apology on race is a “fashionable” reflex action. Some said that her present acknowledgement of inattention to race issues is as belated as her embrace of black talents, such as the fact that it “took her 30 years to hire a black photographer to photograph the cover of Vogue… and Beyonce made that happen”, one Twitter user wrote. It is perhaps difficult to find her suddenly colour sensitive and sympathetic to those outside the world of fashion and celebrity when for most of her tenure at Vogue, she was associated with the wealthy and powerful. As Thomas Maier wrote in All that Glitters, “In building her power base at Condé Nast, Wintour showed high skill at courting the press and New York’s high society.” That is clearly distant from the present troubles of the world. It would be hard to layer wokeness over a foundation of elitism.
Cathy Horyn, when she was still at The New York Times, described Ms Wintour as “lacking mortal patience”. And this has been how many have seen her, augmented by being referred to as the “editrix”, and a demanding one. Although she has tried to soften her image by, for example, appearing on The Late Late Show with James Corden, playing a rather inane game, she has never really shed the “Devil” tag. Ms Wintour, who now also “teaches leadership and creativity” on MasterClass, has for too long excelled at being inscrutable. The signature sunglasses, even indoors, ensures that she is. If the eyes are windows to the soul, she’s certainly not letting anyone in. Yet, she wrote reassuringly in that e-mail, “I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will—and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward.” Anna Wintour shall listen! Maybe she is capable of human kindness after all.
Illustration: Just So