When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I just felt it fed me more.—Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
We may criticize her cold demeanor and scoff with envy at her rail thin physique, but scrutiny and slander aside, Anna Wintour is the Queen Bee of fashion. Being a Gucci-wearing, Prada-loving mama myself, I’ve always wondered why (and how) her word is the word when it comes to fashion.
Appointed Editor-in-Chief of Vogue in 1988, Wintour is to fashionistas what Oprah is to soccer moms. Her approval of designers and their throng of threads is akin to a Midas touch. Wintour’s endorsement transforms clothing and the creative minds behind it from unassuming and obscure to glitzy, golden objects of desire. Every month—without fail—fashion devotees from Milan to Montana (myself included) feverishly thumb through Vogue, as if rubies and diamonds lie between its crisp pages. Although I have yet to find any precious jewels in my issue, put simply, if Anna likes it, so do we.
Wintour is undoubtedly one of fashion’s most iconic figures. But the question that continually racks the brains of Chanel-clad industry mainstays and the aspiring designers, editors, and stylists who want to be them is—why? In a world where higher education and appeasing your superiors are two essential turns on the catwalk to success, why does a woman who dropped out of school at sixteen and earned a reputation for ignoring senior-level editorial wishes early in her career get to call all the shots? And more importantly, why do we listen?
Until recently, my guess was as stale and predictable as everyone else’s: an affluent pedigree blended with good taste and topped with a frothy layer of confidence so thick you can’t resist it—even if it does tend to make you a little queasy from time to time. But alas, our question has been answered, at least partially, in the tune of a film more highly anticipated than Tom Ford’s return to Gucci. (I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but wouldn’t it be amazing if it did?)
Along with the debut of sizzling-hot collections from the likes of Zac Posen and Carolina Herrera, September 2009 marks the release of The September Issue—R.J. Cutler’s alluring documentary based on the blood, sweat, and tiers of taffeta behind Vogue’s most important edition of the year. Taking center stage is Wintour, sporting her signature pageboy bob and flanked by a team of editors, photographers, and skittish assistants identified by the clank of their platforms careening through the Conde Nast offices. Dubbed “A hurricane of fabulousness” by New York magazine, the film offers a rare glimpse into the ultra-exclusive world of Vogue—a world where competition is fiercer than a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti’s and Wintour’s expectations are higher than the waist of those pants we all bought three seasons ago. (The ones we more than likely saw on the pages of Vogue.)
Even though her emotions are nearly always impossible to read, it’s obvious that after close to forty years in the business, fashion still energizes its biggest star. For Wintour demands perfection not only for her sake, but for fashion’s sake as well. From her arduous round-the-clock schedule to her unapologetic requests for Vogue staffers to give her more when their faces say, “We’ve given you all we’ve got,” it’s clear that dresses and skirts and shoes we all dream about having in our lives are her life, as is the magazine that’s made her a celebrity.
True, this all sounds very Miranda Priestly-esque, but there is an authenticity to Wintour’s intensity that not even an Academy Award winner can evoke. And trite as it may sound, maybe we value her opinion so much because she values it even more. Her response today might be a little more refined, but the sentiments of her reply when asked why she decided not to complete the fashion courses she enrolled in as a teen still ring true—“You either know fashion, or you don’t.”
After years of curiosity and allure, The September Issue will finally answer why Ms. Wintour is the driving force behind everything fashionable and fabulous.
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