Robin Givhan Reviews Anna Wintour’s Twenty Years at ‘Vogue’

Robin Givhan, Anna Wintour Photo: Getty Images

Everyone has his own opinion of Vogue and its controversial queen bee, Anna Wintour. However, that opinion becomes more interesting when it’s from Pulitzer Prize–winning fashion writer and former Vogue staffer Robin Givhan. In the Washington Post article, Givhan shares her thoughts on the famous (or infamous, depending on whom you talk to) EIC who in just a couple weeks will have reigned at the glossy for twenty years. A few choice observations below:

Wintour’s success stems from a balance of stereotypical masculine strength and feminine beauty.

The magazine's circulation is 1.2 million, a Vogue spokesman said, essentially what it was when Wintour took over two decades ago. She came to represent a new archetype for a fashion editor: a master of the universe who wears her power as comfortably and impeccably as Chanel couture. It's an intimidating combination because it implies that she is a woman who is accomplished in the so-called masculine art of war and still knows how to use all the stereotypically feminine wiles. She is a double threat.

Givhan’s stint at Vogue was surprisingly drama-free, though her personal style was upgraded.

I worked at Vogue briefly in 2000, a fact that always elicits the question: What was it like? I'm well aware that the questioner is breathlessly awaiting tales of free clothes, frantic assistants and hissy fits over cerulean blue belts. I hesitate to spoil the fantasy, but during my short stay I never witnessed any toddler-size temper tantrums. My colleagues did improve my standard of dress, although by example, not by mandate or largess.

Vogue attempts diversity in its pages … sort of.

During Wintour's tenure, Vogue has incorporated street trends into its pages. It has put its stamp of approval on what was once called hip-hop style and now is merely urban style. But it does so on its own terms, by, say, including Sean Combs in a couture fashion shoot as a Cary Grant type with a tan. (It struggles with bringing diversity to its pages, as do most fashion magazines.)

Female political figures make for the most compelling Vogue subjects.

The magazine is at its most provocative, though, when it turns its attention to personalities not typically associated with high fashion—Oprah Winfrey, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain, Condoleezza Rice. The resulting photographs are fascinating not because of any reality they reveal but because of the fantasy they unleash. Vogue sets its sights on an of-the-moment character and transforms her into an impossibly perfect version of herself.

The Editor Who Keeps Vogue in Fashion [WP]