Magazine Editor of the Year: Anna Wintour
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- At a costume party last Halloween, everyone knew who the young designer was supposed to be when she showed up screeching, in bobbed hair, big sunglasses and a white fur splashed with red paint to represent a PETA attack. And that was before "The Devil Wears Prada" brought moviegoers a caricatured uber-fashion editor who sarcastically instructed her suffering underling to move at a glacial pace, adding, "You know how that thrills me."
Such is the broad public image of Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue. But even while she navigated the crush of attention engendered by "Prada" -- which Ms. Wintour gamely screened while wearing, yes, Prada -- the world's most powerful fashion editor also oversaw the introduction of Men's Vogue last fall; then developed Vogue Living, which will appear as a test issue this week; and kept driving the magazine now internally known as "Big Vogue" to produce yet more brilliance.
While other magazines try to figure out how to extend their essence to new platforms by hiring "brand editors," Ms. Wintour has seized the moment to make the quintessential sophisticated women's bible a voice for men and teens too. She's boldly expanded a 113-year-old brand while still providing a steady compass for the flagship.
Fashion's dominant voice says she wasn't preoccupied with the recent attention trained her way.
'Remain completely focused'
"I learned many years ago to remain completely focused on what I do and not worry about what's being said or what's being written," Ms. Wintour says. "The most important thing is that you work with people you respect, and hopefully they respect you. You do the best job that you possibly can, and then you go home and have dinner with your kids and play with your dog."
Her "best job," among other things, helped Vogue's circulation climb 6.1% for first-half 2006 vs. a year ago, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
It's still probably harder to shut out the spotlight than Ms. Wintour lets on, but her devotion to fashion undeniably runs deep and wide enough to consume most regular mortals.
"The editor of Vogue has always been a celebrity," says Samuel I. "Si" Newhouse Jr., chairman of Conde Nast Publications, Vogue's parent since Conde Montrose Nast himself bought the magazine in 1909. "Anna is more so. Of course, the book and the movie contribute to that. But Anna is so brilliant in what she does that that's the important part of the interest in Anna and the excitement about her as a person. The results are right there."
Supporting young designers
"What she does" encompasses many things, particularly supporting young designers. "We started the Fashion Fund after [9/11] because so many of them were struggling," recalls Ms. Wintour, 56. "I mean, they were probably struggling before, but maybe they were struggling more after that happened. That was right in the middle of New York Fashion Week, and maybe that might seem pretty low on the totem pole, but for our industry it meant that a lot of young designers who had put down deposits that were huge to them couldn't have a fashion show after that. So we stepped in."
The Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund now gives money and mentorship to three designers a year, complementing charity work Ms. Wintour and Vogue do at Seventh on Sale and other efforts.
"All those kinds of events and even smaller, maybe less visible things are so important, I feel, to the makeup of this magazine and in a way is an extension of what we do," she says. "I wouldn't call it a brand extension, but it helps place the magazine in a different place from everyone else."
Managing brand extensions
There are, of course, the rapidly growing real brand extensions in Teen Vogue, Men's Vogue and now Vogue Living that Ms. Wintour oversees as editorial director -- and must ensure don't distort the authoritative, sophisticated voice of Big Vogue.
She's also come to serve as a sounding board for the fashion industry at large. Thomas A. Florio, publishing director of Vogue, Men's Vogue and Vogue Living, describes the meeting with a big fashion-house CEO where that became clear to him. The CEO said he had planned not to buy a particular company until Ms. Wintour convinced him otherwise. "I thought, my God, she's the McKinsey of fashion," Mr. Florio says.
Instead of giving advertisers editorial coverage, too often an expectation of fashion magazines, Mr. Florio says he's arranged for certain clients to get "reasonable access" to Ms. Wintour to talk about their businesses.
One notable priority at Vogue has been fashion's democratization. Sure, couture must be covered, but for her first issue as editor in chief in November 1988, Ms. Wintour put model Michaela Bercu on the cover in a jacket by Christian Lacroix -- and, for the first time on a Vogue cover, jeans.
Gap Fashion cover
In 1992, she featured Gap fashion on the cover of Vogue's 100th anniversary issue. "I think that was a statement that we believe that's where we think fashion is going," she says. "What's so great about fashion today, I think, is that it's available on all levels. It's available at the very highest, whether it's a Chanel couture dress, or a great item that you might pick up at H&M or Banana Republic."
"When they brought Anna Wintour to Vogue, she really totally revitalized it," says Beth Fidoten, senior VP-director of print services at Initiative, Los Angeles. "Not only that, but she really drove home this trend of mixing high and low style that is such a part of our life today that we just take it for granted."
If the Amanda Priestly character played by Meryl Streep isn't the most generous portrait of Ms. Wintour, loyalists don't deny that the real-life editor is an exacting boss.
"I don't think you could work with Anna if you were at odds with her vision," says Amy Astley, editor in chief at Teen Vogue and Vogue beauty director for nine years before that. "She is not going to glad-hand people and say, 'Oh, darling, fabulous, kiss-kiss.' "
"Anna's very decisive," Ms. Astley adds. "I frequently hear other people moan about other editors who change their minds all the time or won't make up their minds. There's none of that here. When you're with Anna ... you do your best."
Jay Fielden, a Vogue and New Yorker veteran who's now editor in chief at Men's Vogue, says many people overlook too much when they look at Ms. Wintour as an icon. "What they may miss is the kind of care and attention and intensity she brings to every aspect of what we do to put out a magazine," he says. "Coming from The New Yorker, the thing that was amazing to me was the intensity with which she went through the copy, finding too many gerunds in a sentence or a question that hadn't been answered or something she still wanted to know about. She's more a relative of someone like Horace Greeley than someone like Coco Chanel."
Ms. Wintour's journalistic bent infuses Vogue with news and broader culture in addition to fashion reports and photo spreads. Readers saw it, among other occasions, in December 1998 when she pictured "The Extraordinary Hillary Clinton" on the cover while the Monica Lewinsky scandal boiled high.
Ms. Wintour is also building a legacy that will outlast her reign at Vogue. "As a young editor, I can remember the kiss of death," Ms. Astley says. "She'd write on the copy, 'Boring.'
"I do it now. What can I say? This is our readers' leisure time. Why should it be boring?"