The “Devil” made me do it.
Since reading that book and seeing the movie version, I’ve based my opinion of Anna Wintour on fiction, as well as what I now deem biased reports in the press. So I ventured to the theater to see The September Issue, a documentary about Vogue, whose offices loom large over Times Square.
I realize that no reality show/movie is really real, since once the camera turns on, it can’t help but change people’s behavior. But I must confess that I ended up thinking quite favorably of the most famous woman in fashion, mainly because she’s more relatable than I ever imagined she’d be.
Wintour is not, as Vogue’s publisher says, “Warm and cuddly,” but so what? This is New York. When you’re put in charge of a company or division or simply a project, you’ve got to act like you’re in charge. Just because a woman is a mother at home doesn’t mean she should act like the “mom” of the office.
Why does Wintour think unkind labels are bestowed upon her? As she told David Letterman, “Sometimes [people who want something from her] don’t hear the answer they would like to hear.” What NYC woman can’t commiserate with that? Once, a cabbie called me a name because I chose to wait for the bus rather than accept his gracious offer of a ride.
For all the power she wields in her industry, the documentary shows very few underlings girding their loins when she’s in the vicinity. In fact, just like many a manager, Wintour has to deal with insolent employees who argue, question, sulk, pout and stomp around the hallways of the offices, complaining about how the boss doesn’t know what she’s doing. Wintour is clearly a more patient and benevolent executive than she’s given credit for. She not only lets them keep their jobs, she lets them live.
Manhattan managers will also empathize as Wintour gives direct orders as to what she wants—then doesn’t get it. That’s right, her subordinates go off and do what they want. When they return with what they’ve done—or haven’t done—the editors blame the photographers for not wanting to shoot something, the photographers blame the designers for not sending over enough dresses and so on, until the onus lands in someone else’s manicured hands. (I think I’ve worked with some of these people, or at least their equally manipulative twins.) They even throw cover girl Sienna Miller under the bus because she wouldn’t let them cut her hair. Close up of Anna—face in hands. (Been there?)
On Wintour’s end, there’s no assistant-abusing or dismissing people with, “That’s all.” She calls a meeting and expects people to be on time (wow, what a shrew). She points out the lack of color in a designer’s black/white/gray fashion line (how cruel). And when the editor-in-chief actually edits, the responses are sourpusses and hurt feelings. Oh yeah, at the last minute she adds a spread to the magazine, and people have to work over the weekend (will the brutality never end?).
She may have copied the signature big glasses from Jackie O, and the haircut is blunt like her, but it’s clear that Wintour keeps her size-zero figure because she’s worked her ass off for the last two decades. Despite the name-calling, ridicule and having PETA throw paint on her, she manages to, in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.” Sounds more like a role model than a devil to me.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel, Fat Chick, will be published in September by The Vineyard Press.
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