In March, the Wall Street Journal gained unprecedented access to Anna Wintour, the most powerful woman in a $350 billion fashion industry, known for hiding behind her Chanel sunglasses.
” source=”” alt=”image” align=”left” size=”xlarge” nocrop=”true” clear=”true”]Vogue’s editor-in-chief climbed her way to the top: by befriending people across all industries, from film (the Weinsteins) to sports (Roger Federer) to government (the Obamas).
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She is also credited with merging Hollywood and the high-fashion industry, by first placing celebrities on the cover of Vogue (Kim Basinger, 1991). “Her genius,” Marc Jacobs told the Journal, “is picking people very astutely, whether in politics, movies, sports or fashion.”
Wintour is a dealmaker with an instinctive ability to seat the right people next to one another at a party. After designer Michael Kors filed for bankruptcy in the 90s, she talked him up to Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll of Sportswear Holdings, who invested around $100 million in his brand in 2003. Now Kors’ clothes are bringing in nearly $1 billion.
Wintour’s celebrity rose with the 2008 documentary, “The September Issue,” which chronicled the making of Vogue’s biggest issue. Filmmaker R. J. Cutler once said, “You can make a film in Hollywood without Steven Spielberg’s blessing, and you can publish software in Silicon Valley without Bill Gates’s blessing, but it’s pretty clear to me you can’t succeed in the fashion industry without Anna Wintour’s blessing.”
An unlikely ally? Donald Trump once helped out Wintour by lending Marc Jacobs a ballroom at the Plaza Hotel when the then-lesser-known designer had no money for a show. Though it's reported that Trump's daughter Ivanka once turned down a job at Vogue, the real estate mogul has since attended many Wintour-hosted events, such as this year's Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Gala.
As for Trump's presidential aspirations? Wintour will not cast a vote for him anytime soon; her allegiances are with the Obama family.
This one is an obvious one. But if she never got in with her boss, Si Newhouse Jr., chairman and CEO of the Condé Nast publishing empire, she wouldn't still be reporting to its storied 4 Times Square offices. Newhouse tells the Journal that Vogue is Condé Nast's most profitable brand -- beating out Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Its 2010 sales were $342 million, according to the Publisher's Information Bureau. 'There can be no greater role than being editor of Vogue,' Newhouse says. 'I hope she's here 10 years from now, 20 years from now.'
In early 2009, Wintour reached out to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to launch 'Fashion's Night Out,' a celebrity-studded, all-evening shopping party across the city. It was a gutsy move proposing retail therapy in the midst of a recession. But 'Bloomberg signed on, after insisting that all five boroughs be invited to the party,' reports the Journal: 'Even a guy like me, who can barely match my tie to my shirt, knows that fashion means dollars to New York City,' he says. 'Besides, behind all Anna's grace and poise is some pretty tough resolve. She's not a person you want to say no to.'' Wintour brought in 700 retailers and more than 1,000 shoppers, 75% of whom made purchases that evening.
Terry Lundgren played a key role in supporting Wintour's first 'Fashion Night Out,' which involved keeping his Macy's and Bloomingdales (also owned by Macy's) stores open until 11 p.m. 'I was hesitant, given the mood people were in,' Lundgren told the Journal. 'I didn't know if it would work.'
That September evening in 2009, New York City stores were twice as crowded, and Macy's sales rose from 4 to 5 per cent into double digits, he told the Journal: 'Maybe you can't really put a figure on Wintour's economic impact, but it's a very big number.'
Sarah Jessica Parker is one of Anna's favourites. Not many a celebrity has graced so many Vogue covers. Wintour has also secured Parker a seat next to her at fashion shows, including the 2009 Alexander Wang fall collection at New York Fashion Week. Wintour likely played a role in SJP's tight bond with the late designer Alexander McQueen, whose creations have saturated Vogue's pages since the 1990s.
Bernard Arnault carries tremendous weight in the other fashion capitol of the world. French conglomerate LVMH brought in $28.26 billion selling many of the world's most luxurious brands, including Christian Dior, Givenchy, Luis Vuitton, which Vogue religiously splashes on its pages. Forbes recently named Arnault the world's 4th richest person. And Wintour has his ear: in 1993, she recommended he consider John Galliano for Givenchy and then Christian Dior. In 1997, Wintour suggested Marc Jacobs would be good for Louis Vuitton. 'She pointed us towards unexpected choices,' Arnault told the Journal. 'I speak very openly to her, and this was quite audacious.'
She reached out LeBron James and placed him on the April 2008 cover of Vogue. Though it was received with a great deal of criticism, Wintour stayed close to the Miami Heat basketball player, even when he didn't choose the New York Knicks last year. Talking about people she features in her pages, Wintour told the Journal, 'Not all of them become friends, but it's part of my job to get to know these people and try to understand who they are, what they are and what future they have. I won't pretend that I'm sitting here with a spreadsheet . . . 'Now it's time to reach out to LeBron James.' It's instinctive.'
Though today it may seem plausible, if you go back 10 years, did it really make sense for a fashion editor to pair up with a rap star? Carine Roitfeld at French Vogue wasn't doing it. The unlikely collaboration has led to front row fashion show seats and photo shoots alongside Kate Moss and Natalia Vodianova for Sean ('P. Diddy') Combs. Most peculiarly, Wintour made her rap debut with a speaking part in Combs's latest album, 'Last Train to Paris.' In 2011, Forbes estimated the rap star was worth $475 million - making him the richest figure in hip hop, edging out Jay-Z by $15 million.
Wintour has worked tirelessly with Emily Rafferty to increase the start power of The Met's Costume Institute Gala, one of New York's annual high society red carpet events. Once Wintour suggested bringing a 30-foot hot-air balloon into the museum for the gala. 'Anna's changed our attitude--she's brought us to new levels of thinking of what we can do, but without ever losing sight that we're working in a museum context here,' Rafferty told the Journal. Since Wintour began co-chairing the gala in 1995, the event has brought in $75 million. Tickets are between $25,000 and $250,000 for a table; last year the event brought in $9 million for the museum.
Oprah was Wintour's Met Costume Institute Gala co-host in 2010 (Winfrey wore Oscar de la Renta). After the event, Wintour dedicated several pages to the media mogul in Vogue. (Oprah was on the cover of the magazine a decade earlier.) The two also threw their collective support behind Barack Obama in 2008. Talk about political power from the country's most influential women.
In June 2008, Wintour announced she would support Barack Obama in his race for president. She has said Michelle Obama is one of the women she most admires; and she featured the First Lady on the cover of the March 2009 edition of Vogue. She hosted the president at her Greenwich Village home for a DNC fundraiser dinner last summer, raising around $1.5 million, according to Women's Wear Daily; and this spring she was invited to the White House for the state dinner honouring Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Every powerful person has connections. But the uniqueness of Anna Wintour is how she stepped out of her role as fashion editor and developed cross-industry ties. You could say it's a way to build an empire. Or a Fortune 500 brand. 'Vogue is like Nike or Coca-Cola--this huge global brand,' she told the Journal. 'I want to enhance it, I want to protect it, and I want it to be part of the conversation.'
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