The scene was set for the grand opening of Milan Fashion Week at the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, a marble-columned library in the city’s centre.
The crème de la crème of the fashion world and a smattering of A-list celebrities — from British Vogue editor Edward Enninful to actress-of-the-moment Millie Bobby Brown — sipped drinks from gold-rimmed flutes.
But as the guests milled around the mahogany entrance hall on Tuesday evening, there was one question on everyone’s lips: where was Anna Wintour?
Anna Wintour was spotted next to Queen Elizabeth II in a move that stunned and upset many people in the fashion world
The American Vogue editor, dubbed ‘Nuclear Wintour’ thanks to her chilly demeanour and iron rule of the fashion bible, would certainly have received an invitation for the illustrious event, but, inexplicably, was nowhere to be seen.
Cue the surreptitious checking of mobile phones, before the room began buzzing with news that would pierce the atmosphere like a well-sharpened stiletto — and send Enninful, 46, who took the helm at British Vogue last year, into an ‘incandescent’ teary rage.
For Dame Anna, who received her title in last year’s New Year Honours list, was sitting in the front row of London Fashion Week, shoulder-to-shoulder with none other than the Queen, who, in an unheralded and extraordinary move, was attending her first ever catwalk show.
As pictures circulated of Dame Anna cosying up to Her Majesty, Enninful’s furious reaction showed he had been entirely clueless that Her Majesty was to attend the show. Her appearance had been a well-kept secret until the last possible moment.
But, as was sensationally revealed by the Daily Mail’s Shakespeare Diary this week, Dame Anna was in the know and kept her British protégé — as well as Condé Nast International chief executive in London, Jonathan Newhouse, and Vogue’s international editor, Suzy Menkes OBE — in the dark.
‘Edward was in tears when he found out,’ revealed a well-placed source. ‘He had no idea that it was happening.’
To Wintour’s admirers, it was a masterful move which proved, if ever there was any doubt, that she is by far the most ruthless character in the cut-throat world of magazines.
Dame Anna — a platinum-plated networker who has never shied away from maximising her powerful connections in the worlds of fashion, politics and Hollywood — had seemingly pulled off the ultimate coup: a date with the Queen.
Queen Elizabeth II sat between Anna Wintour (right) and Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council at London Fashion Week
Not only that but she refused to remove her trademark £300 Chanel sunglasses for the occasion — a step some have said was ‘the height of bad manners’.
Supporters insist it was not Dame Anna who engineered the event, but the British Fashion Council. Its chief executive, sleek brunette Caroline Rush CBE, is on very friendly terms with Wintour.
‘They didn’t tell anyone who it was coming to the show, just that it was a senior Royal,’ an insider explains. ‘The only day the Queen could do was Tuesday, and that clashed with the dinner in Milan.
‘Anna has been going round telling everyone that she didn’t know, that she just happened to be the most important person left behind in London. But even her friends find that hard to believe. She must have had a tip-off.’
To her critics, Wintour’s behaviour was purposely humiliating of Enninful, a vocal admirer whom many had believed to be her protégé. Her hand in propelling a trendy, gay, black designer up the stuffy echelons of British Vogue was well-documented and widely lauded — but, ten months into the job, it appears he may have fallen out with his most vital supporter.
Sources say he is ‘beyond anger’ over this most brutal of betrayals.
‘Edward was furious about being trumped so publicly,’ one adds. ‘Wintour wants it to be known that she is the Vogue brand; no one else. That puts Edward back in his box.’
There is another fascinating aspect to the row: how does it affect Wintour’s relationship with Jonathan Newhouse, who is not her direct boss but the chairman and chief executive of Condé Nast, which publishes Vogue.
Meanwhile Naomi Campbell, Millie Bobby Brown and British Vogue editor Edward Enninful (far right) were at the grand opening of Milan Fashion Week
Jonathan, the cousin of the late Si Newhouse, the media baron who ran Condé Nast and who gave Anna her big break in Vogue, is said to be incensed.
While Wintour’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment, the British Fashion Council sent a lengthy statement explaining that ‘senior fashion editors and directors were contacted and encouraged to attend, but we were unable to announce the guest of honour’.
Whether Dame Anna was given the nod or not, the coup comes as no surprise to anyone who has encountered this one-woman-whirlwind. British-born Wintour has been variously described as the ‘fairy godmother of fashion’ and an Al Pacino-style ‘Godfather’, who holds the £1.7 trillion industry in a vice-like grip.
She counts Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama as friends and once told talk show host Oprah Winfrey to lose a stone before she could appear on the cover.
According to royal sources, Angela Kelly, the Queen’s personal dresser, is the middleman between the Palace and the Vogue editrix. Mrs Kelly, 50, one of Her Majesty’s closest confidantes, brought Wintour to royal attention in 2012 when Vogue ran a feature celebrating the Queen’s love of colour.
Her Majesty is said to have adored the spread, headlined Rainbow Queen, and developed a soft spot for Vogue and its editor-in-chief, whom she met for the first time last May when Wintour (minus her sunglasses) attended a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to accept her damehood.
Speaking about the honour, Dame Anna said: ‘They are very secretive. They call you, they tiptoe around and they tell you not to tell anybody. They are so polite, the British, that it took me a little while to understand actually what they were saying.
‘But of course I was thrilled and honoured, and it’s been interesting to see how happy everybody is.’
Vogue has recently run a series of complimentary features about the Queen, including a glowing spread detailing how her classic style is leading the way on today’s catwalks. Mrs Kelly is said to have been integral in fostering this mutual admiration.
‘Angela is very pro Anna Wintour,’ a Palace source says. ‘She was delighted to assist in the first royal visit to London Fashion Week. Negotiations had been going on under the radar for months.’
Excluded from these negotiations was Enninful, about whom Wintour has been noticeably chilly since he took over from UK Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman last August.
Asked in a recent interview about the first man to edit Vogue in its 100-year history, her response was undeniably brusque. ‘We are in a gender-fluid generation,’ she said.
She can be seen treating him with similar indifference in The September Issue, the 2009 fly-on-the-wall documentary filmed inside Vogue’s New York offices, in which Enninful, then a young designer, is seen being rebuked for not meeting her exacting standards. ‘Where’s the glamour?’ Wintour demands. ‘It’s Vogue, okay? Please, let’s lift it.’ Friends say Anna got her frosty façade from her father, newspaper editor Charles Wintour. ‘I learned from him that people respond well to someone who knows what they want,’ she once said.
As a 16-year-old, she walked out of North London Collegiate School after a row about the length of her skirt — and never went back.
She has worked everywhere from Harpers & Queen to New York Magazine, carving out the formidable reputation which inspired the film The Devil Wears Prada, in which Meryl Streep plays a character reportedly based on Wintour.
When she took charge of U.S. Vogue in 1987, after a two-year stint editing British Vogue, she famously refused to make eye contact with staff. An intern is said to have witnessed her tripping in the corridor one day, but was too scared to offer help — so simply stepped over her.
Her well-documented rivalry with former UK Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman came to a head in 2016 when their respective magazines were competing for the same cover model, pop star Rihanna.
Shulman planned to feature Rihanna on her May issue, only to discover that Anna planned to use the singer as her April cover star. In a fit of fury, Shulman dumped her planned April cover (Kate Moss) and put Rihanna on the front instead — thus robbing her U.S. rival of the exclusive — and apparently unleashing her wrath.
Eccentric and all too easy to caricature, Wintour is nonetheless brilliant, talented and devoted to her job. Vogue staffers say she oversees every aspect of the magazine’s production, even today.
‘She approves all the story ideas,’ one staffer explains. ‘She does the run-through where all the clothes are brought in on a rack. She picks the pictures.’
She often arrives at catwalk shows even before the designers, and is followed by two assistants (she never carries a handbag). At 68, she shows no sign of loosening her hold on Vogue — or the global industry it commands.
She resides in a chic gated estate on New York’s Long Island with her second husband, telecoms millionaire Shelby Bryan. She has two children, daughter Bee, 30, and son Charlie, 32, by ex-husband David Shaffer. She hasn’t lived in the UK for more than 30 years, but insiders say she likes to play up her Britishness.
‘She throws her weight around when she comes over here and it looks a bit catty,’ says one fashionista. ‘She uses the fact that she’s British and that’s not very well-liked.’ Those with first-hand experience of this side of Anna Wintour’s steely character will not have been surprised by her treatment of Edward Enninful and Jonathan Newhouse this week.
But in angering powerful figures in the industry to which she owes her whole career, could she finally have overstepped the mark?
Why she won’t ever take off those sunglasses
Sunglasses ARE A ‘MUST’
She usually opts for Chanel and is never seen on the front row without them. ‘They are seriously useful,’ she once said. ‘If I am bored out of my mind, nobody will notice. At this point they have become, really, armour.’
But could there be another reason that she wears them? According to biographer Jerry Oppenheimer, they’re prescription glasses.
Arms toned by tennis
She rises at 5am and within 45 minutes is being driven in a Mercedes to the Midtown Tennis Club for an hour on court.
‘She’s like a retriever,’ said one of her coaches. ‘She’s so fast. She’ll chase down everything.’
Anna Wintour rises at 5am and goes to Midtown Tennis club for an hour on the court
NO DRESSING, NO ALCOHOL
Whippet-thin and 5ft 5in, Wintour is thought to be a dress size 0 (a British size 4). Breakfast, by 8am, is a Starbucks coffee on her way to Vogue’s HQ at One World Trade Centre in New York. (She used to eat smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, but no more it seems.)
Wintour favours a high-protein diet and never drinks alcohol. Lunch, usually eaten at her desk with her mobile turned off, is either a rare hamburger without the bun or a fillet steak with green salad but no dressing.
She loves avocado, hates broccoli and coffee ice cream is an occasional treat. Those who’ve dined with her report she sits at the table in fur and sunglasses and doesn’t eat.
That Helmet Of Hair
After tennis, Wintour returns home to have her hair professionally blow-dried each morning. She’s said to have a hairdresser on permanent call.
Incredibly, she’s had the same hairstyle — a harsh pageboy bob — since she was 14. All that’s changed is the colour. Photos from the late Eighties show a chestnut brunette which gradually lightens to today’s near-blonde.
Every four weeks, she flies into the UK for a trim by £200-a-time stylist Max Coles at Nicky Clarke’s Mayfair salon.
‘We always stick to a very sharp and sleek finish with some slight variation on the length according to the season,’ he says. The look is enhanced by a volumising shampoo, a thickening spray and plenty of hairspray.
After her tennis session, Wintour returns home to have her hair professionally blow-dried each morning
Less is more — a good base, dark shadow on the eyelids, mascara, a touch of blusher and peachy lipstick or gloss.
Although blessed with good bone structure, rumours still abound that several years ago she had a facelift by New York cosmetic doctor-to-the-stars Sherrell Aston, who charges £18,000. Anna is also said to be a fan of cold laser facials at the Freeze Clinic in New York to tighten facial muscles.
Queen Of Fashion
Her wardrobe is colour-coded with garments hanging precisely one inch apart. With an alleged £150,000 clothing allowance each year (on top of her £1.5 million salary as Conde Nast’s editorial director), her closet must make the famed fashion cupboard at Vogue look like Primark.
But she’s not one for fleeting trends. Her signature silhouette is a dress with a nipped-in waist, a knee-length or longer hemline, a conservative neckline — and often sleeveless to show off those toned arms. She hasn’t been spotted in trousers for over a decade.
Her other love is colour. Her minions know not to show her anything in black, no matter the designer. She once said the one thing you’d never see her in was ‘top-to- toe black’.
But she’s not afraid to wear the same look several times. ‘It’s always fun to have something new, but it doesn’t mean that everything you already have in your closet has to be thrown out,’ she says. ‘Recycle. It’s totally OK.’
Same SLINGBACK Shoes
Equally striking for a woman at the helm of the fickle world of fashion, Wintour has been wearing the same shoes since 1994, when the then little-known Manolo Blahnik designed her a pair of sandals known simply as the ‘AW’.
The cross-fronted slingbacks have a kitten heel and come in a variety of shades — all beige — to complement her skin tone. Blahnik has a last the exact shape of her foot so every pair fits perfectly — but the design can be unforgiving. Wintour has been pictured with what look suspiciously like bunions peeping from the strappy sandals.
While jewellery designers would fall over themselves to lend her their most precious pieces, the fashion matriarch is rarely seen in fine gems. Instead, she wears huge strings of different-coloured chunky stones and crystals. Even a royal heirloom she once wore to a gala, an amethyst necklace that had belonged to King George V’s wife Mary, wasn’t a string of delicate gems but rather a regal version of her usual hefty favourites.