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Anna Wintour's Profile in the WSJ Magazine: She's Not Just "A Brittle Despot in Round Chanel Sunglasses"

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Image via WSJ

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There are few individuals in the world who are as simultaneously influential, respected, admired, feared, worshipped, and canonized in pop culture as Vogue editor Anna Wintour. The one-woman global brand—subject of two wildly successful films, both fictional and non-fictional, over the past few years (The Devil Wears Prada and The September Issue)—scores the cover of this weekend’s WSJ magazine with a laudatory profile detailing some of her most well-known exploits.

For dedicated followers of fashion, hardly anything in the WSJ story will come as a surprise. In fact, the six-page spread contains only a handful of original quotes from the mouth of Wintour herself—one about what Amar’e Stoudemire showed up wearing on the day of his Vogue photoshoot, another on the significance of appearing in the pages of Vogue, an assertion that “work is work,” something about the Spice Girls, praise for Roger Federer, a statement on the types of people who get featured in Vogue, and a reaffirmation that she has no intentions of leaving the hallowed halls of Conde Nast.

Fashion writer Joshua Levine, whose previous work includes the book The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys (William Morrow, 1999), offers, instead, a thorough primer and rundown of Wintour’s triumphs. "Her influence is much broader than it appears in her fun-house mirror caricature: a brittle despot in round Chanel sunglasses who rules the world around her through impeccable taste, terror and sarcasm," he writes. "It is hidden within an intricate web of powerful friends and allies, many of whom she’s worked with for decades."

Beyond the pages of Vogue and the spectacle/brouhaha of Wintour-brainchild events such as Fashion’s Night Out—and its offshoot, a 2010 event in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center that was billed as one of the largest-ever public fashion shows in the world—Levine speaks to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, director Baz Luhrmann, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, PPR Pinault chairman Francois Pinault, tennis player Roger Federer, designer Marc Jacobs, and Conde Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse, who all attest to Wintour’s instinct, business savvy, loyalty, and talent for connecting people across creative disciplines.

"I’m a streak player, but Anna’s there, good or bad," says Harvey Weinstein, co-chair of the Weinstein Company, who goes back some 15 years with Wintour. "When I wasn’t doing so well, Anna would throw a party and put me next to Bernard Arnault." Out of that came several business deals, says Weinstein (he declines to be more specific)?

Australian director Baz Luhrmann met Wintour when he sent her a half-finished reel of his movie "Moulin Rouge!" after it was beset by toxic prerelease buzz. Wintour thre her support behind it, putting Nicole Kidman on the cover in a gown from the film and organizing a celebrity auction around it with allies like Weinstein and Donald Trump. "Those people helped me see ‘Moulin Rouge!’ through its birth pangs," Luhrmann says. The two have been close friends since. "I always talk to Anna about what I’m up to," he says, referring to plans for his next film, an adaptation of "The Great Gatsby," "and I always listen to what she has to say."

There are, of course, also the fashion deals cut by Wintour—”corporate marriages” between Bottega Veneta and Gucci, Michael Kors and Sportswear Holdings. And it’s hard to say no when Wintour comes calling.

"If I get a request for something I don’t want to do," Marc Jacobs tells Levine, "first I get an email, then a phone call from someone at Vogue, and now I don’t even bother to say no—I know the next call is from her."

Perhaps The September Issue’s director, R.J. Cutler said it best when he explained: "You can make a film in Hollywood without Steven Spielberg’s blessing, and you can publish software in Silicon Valley without Bill Gates’ blessing, but it’s pretty clear to me you can’t succeed in the fashion industry without Anna Wintour’s blessing."
· Brand Anna [WSJ]
· Anna Wintour plays cover girl for WSJ magazine [Racked]