Anna Wintour is pictured above with Edward Enninful last year. Rumours are flying around that she is on her way out and will probably be replaced by Enninful as figurehead
In a luxurious Manhattan office decorated with antique tables and Persian carpets, legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour is giving a young black man a hard time.
‘Where’s the glamour?!’ she demands as she leafs through proposed magazine pages. ‘It’s Vogue, OK? Please! Let’s lift it.’
The scene is from a 2009 documentary and the embarrassed underling on camera is Edward Enninful.
Today, he is the editor of British Vogue and, oh, how times have changed. For some, at least.
Despite turning 70 last year, Wintour doesn’t appear to have aged at all, thanks to her famous sunglasses and shiny bob where no hair dares stray out of place. Until recently, her unstinting self-belief looked set to power her into a new age of digital publishing.
Yet trouble is brewing and the whole industry is waiting to see whether Wintour can hang on to her position as editor-in-chief of American Vogue and artistic director of parent company Conde Nast.
While magazine sales and advertising revenues plummet during the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement is building momentum and challenging the role that fashion magazines have played in perpetrating what they say are white ideals.
And now a long-time black former Vogue staffer has released a tell-all book and accused Wintour of being a ‘colonial broad’.
This followed an extraordinary public statement from Anna Wintour taking ‘personal’ responsibility for not encouraging more diversity rather than simply acknowledging mistakes were made by the whole organisation.
Internal memos seen by The Mail on Sunday now show that a major revolution is under way within Vogue – ‘a woke revolution’, as it’s being described.
It’s a dramatic shift that could finally topple Wintour’s decades-long iron rule as the Queen of Fashion.
Rumours are flying around that she is on her way out and will probably be replaced by Enninful as figurehead.
This is all quite a reversal of fortunes, not just for Wintour but the company as a whole.
The start of 2020 was looking up for Conde Nast, the publishing giant behind Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
Anna Wintour is pictured with Andre Leon Talley in New York in 2011. The Chiffon Trenches reveals the intriguing relationship Talley, an African American, had with Wintour, a woman who he now declares is not capable of ‘simple human kindness’, despite appearing by her side in public for many years
After years of redundancies and cutbacks it looked like – with digital success – the good times might be about to return. Similarly, the future looked bright for Wintour, who showed no sign of wishing to retire.
As recently as last November, she was in London co-hosting a theatre awards ceremony with the Evening Standard and telling people in Vogue House that she wanted to split her time between Europe and the US in her new, more global role.
But in February, as the coronavirus hit, designers had to down tools, future advert bookings fell off a cliff and millions of customers shifted to working from home in tracksuit bottoms.
Then a video went viral showing a black man, George Floyd, dying after a white police officer knelt on his neck in Minneapolis.
At Conde Nast, the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement raised the spectre of racism within its ranks.
Adam Rapoport, editor of the group’s food magazine Bon Appetit, resigned after pictures emerged of him ‘blacking up’ as a Puerto Rican man in fancy dress.
Then a book by Andre Leon Talley, former editor-at-large at American Vogue, heaped further embarrassment on the company.
The Chiffon Trenches reveals the intriguing relationship Talley, an African American, had with Wintour, a woman who he now declares is not capable of ‘simple human kindness’, despite appearing by her side in public for many years.
In a radio interview this month he went further, saying: ‘I want to say one thing. Dame Anna Wintour is a colonial broad; she’s a colonial Dame. I do not think she will ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege.’
Quick off the mark, Wintour issued an astonishingly candid statement, saying she ‘took responsibility’ for past mistakes.
She said: ‘I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.’
One insider said: ‘That statement was classic Anna: when you’re under siege her philosophy is that you should apologise quickly and try and take the heat off yourself.’
Certainly, tension is mounting within the organisation.
After years of redundancies and cutbacks it looked like – with digital success – the good times might be about to return. Similarly, the future looked bright for Wintour, who showed no sign of wishing to retire
Every day last week, the chief executive officer, Roger Lynch, held video-conference ‘town hall meetings’ where staff could air their grievances. He publicly stated that Wintour would not be resigning.
Mr Lynch, former head of the music-streaming service Pandora, also wrote to staff, saying: ‘I want to take this opportunity to reiterate Conde Nast’s commitments to anti-racism, justice and equality – both in our content and in our community. We know change is needed, and it starts with me and the rest of the executive leadership team.’
Mr Lynch outlined a 12-point plan to clean up the company, including hiring ‘a global chief inclusion officer’.
He has set up an anonymous ethics hotline for staff to report concerns and vowed to root out discrimination.
‘Unconscious bias training’ will become mandatory for all employees and there will be ‘fast action’ on all current and historic claims of pay inequalities and ‘inappropriate workplace behaviour’.
There are even calls to make staff salaries public, which could prove hugely embarrassing for Wintour (reputed to be on somewhere between £5 million and £6.5 million, although Conde Nast disputes these figures).
Yet, for all this in the cut-throat world of fashion – here today, gone tomorrow – Wintour’s survival techniques are the stuff of legend. Indeed, it is all part of her extraordinary fascination.
When she met and fell in love with Shelby Bryan, a vastly wealthy Texan telecoms magnate, it was a coup de foudre despite them both being married. They are pictured together in 2001
Arguably more iconic than any model or fashion designer, she has become a ‘brand’ in her own right, although it’s not a word she likes to use because, as she says, it ‘reminds me of supermarkets’.
Yet with a lifestyle of chauffeurs, celebrity dinner parties and tennis games with her friend Roger Federer, it’s unlikely she can even remember the last time she set foot in one.
Born to Charles Wintour, an editor of the London Evening Standard, and an American mother, she moved to New York in her 20s, returning for a stint to edit British Vogue.
Vogue and Conde Nast have been owned by the Newhouse family since 1959 and, as Wintour rose through the ranks, she quickly became a darling of media baron Si Newhouse. Her glamorous way of life was famously financed by ‘Uncle Si’. Indeed, Conde Nast’s leading American editors – who, along with Wintour, included Tina Brown and her successor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter – were indulged. If Si liked you, then he paid for everything.
Wintour certainly has a comfortable lifestyle today. She has two grown-up children, Charles and Bee, from her marriage to David Shaffer, and spends most of her time at her magnificent Manhattan home in Greenwich Village. She also has a holiday home in Mastic, Long Island, where the decor is best described as ‘Nantucket meets English country house’, with lots of blue and white and fresh flowers and everything immaculately ordered and timetabled.
Her desire for order is an ongoing joke within the family, with daughter Bee once sharing a ‘Wintourism’ on social media when she posted a pile of Christmas presents sitting alone with the caption: ‘My Mom threw out our tree before Christmas Day because it was ‘too messy’.’
Wintour’s waterfront holiday home has a huge footprint. There are landscaped gardens filled with long grasses and lavender, and a tennis court. She loves the ‘gladiatorial’ aspect of tennis and plays most days. Every summer she opens the 40-acre estate to friends and family, including her brother Patrick, a journalist from The Guardian, and her other siblings and nieces and nephews.
A passionate theatre fan, Wintour has hosted actors Damien Lewis, the Homeland star, Tom Sturridge and Benedict Cumberbatch at weekends, and in London she is best friends with playwright David Hare and actor Bill Nighy – their recent adaptation of Hare’s play Skylight being one of her favourites.
‘Anna is incredibly loyal to her family and close friends,’ said one who knows her. ‘Her siblings have serious jobs and she has always felt she needed to prove fashion was a serious business. That’s part of what drives her.’
She was made a Dame three years ago, receiving the honour from the Queen, which must have gone some way to fulfilling that ambition. She was also the fourth-largest fundraiser in the Barack Obama 2012 election campaign and every year hosts the Met Gala Ball in New York, one of the hottest tickets in the celebrity calendar.
Those close to her paint a picture of Wintour that is far more complex than the one that famously inspired the Meryl Streep character in the 2006 movie The Devil Wears Prada.
Yes, there are the 5am wake-up calls and a firm belief that no meeting need last longer than eight minutes. She works out daily and survives on a diet of Starbucks coffee, red meat and potatoes. Her hairstyle remains immaculate thanks to twice-daily blow-dries.
Yet it is clear she is a much more complicated character.
Vogue and Conde Nast have been owned by the Newhouse family since 1959 and, as Wintour rose through the ranks, she quickly became a darling of media baron Si Newhouse. Her glamorous way of life was famously financed by ‘Uncle Si’. The pair are pictured together in 2001
She goes to industry events but leaves early. She throws boozy dinner parties for famous friends but doesn’t drink herself. She adores male company, but also has an unnerving ability to intimidate men on a whim.
‘Her reputation is so strong that it walks in the room like a marching band preceding her,’ said one insider. ‘To some she is a mother figure, while to others she is terrifying.’
And she is passionate about everything she does in work and life. When she met and fell in love with Shelby Bryan, a vastly wealthy Texan telecoms magnate, it was a coup de foudre despite them both being married.
The source added: ‘Anna has incredible tunnel vision and focus. She is absolutely sure that she can make anything happen and that certainty is self-fulfilling.
‘She is an extraordinarily good magazine editor – completely hands-on. Her Achilles heel is that she has one very strong aesthetic, which looks like her Vogue, and at the moment that’s not what’s fashionable.’ Interestingly, in recent years, she has tried to move away from her austere image, proving she is not too grand to see the humour in her caricature.
She had a cameo in the film Zoolander 2, which satirises the fashion industry, and appeared as a guest on Spill Your Guts Or Fill Your Guts, a segment on James Corden’s US TV talk show where she was seen giggling and agreeing to eat a bacon-wrapped pizza as a forfeit for not answering one of Corden’s questions.
Whether she can morph into a new-age editor is unclear, in a world where Lizzo, the plus-size black pop star, is a role model to young women.
Wintour’s aides, meanwhile, point to the positive steps she has taken to make change, installing two black editors of Teen Vogue – Elaine Welteroth and Lindsay Peoples Wagner.
There has, of course, been gossip of Wintour’s demise before, with Conde Nast even putting out a statement in 2018 saying she would remain in post ‘indefinitely’.
So is Wintour about to lose her crown as the Queen of Fashion? Observers suggest that her final gift to the company could be to act as a lightning rod for negative press over a toxic row of institutional racism at Vogue.
Conde Nast told The Mail on Sunday it is committed to self-examination and anti-racism.
‘While we have made progress, we know there is much more to be done,’ said a spokesman. Certainly, it’s an accusation that won’t disappear any time soon. Not if Andre Leon Talley can help it. Speaking of the hiring of Samira Nasr, the first black editor to be employed by Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue’s closest rival, he said: ‘This girl is going to run rings around her.’
Adapting the Black Lives Matter mantra to the fashion world, he says of Wintour: ‘Get your Manolo Blahnik stiletto off my neck!’