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Is Anna Wintour really a cold boss?

Amy Odell's biography on the fashion editor attempts to document her work style and love for family

Anna Wintour at the Giambattista Valli Women's Fall-Winter 2022-23 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week in March.
Anna Wintour at the Giambattista Valli Women's Fall-Winter 2022-23 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week in March. (AFP)

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Fashion world has always known her as the icy, aloof go-getter. Always sitting in the front row of any fashion show, arms crossed and possibly looking bored underneath her sunglasses—that’s Anna Wintour to most of us. And Amy Odell’s well-researched biography, Anna: The Biography (published by Allen & Unwin), of the fashion editor attempts to unravel what lies behind those oversized Chanel sunnies. 

Based on Odell’s interactions with Wintour's former colleagues, assistants and friends, she traces her evolution, from being a young London fashionista of the swinging 60s to becoming a powerful global fashion force who’s feared and revered in equal measure. With no degree in fashion or a real journalism experience, Wintour's carefully crafted career moves bring home the point that leaders rely on their instincts, are quick at decision making, never waste time, can often sense a good opportunity before anyone else does and are adept at multitasking.

Also read: The work ethic that makes Anna Wintour queen of fashion

From hosting the annual Met Gala and supporting Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential elections to being a mentor to designers like Tory Burch (who would shoot her an email early morning asking for advice), Wintour and her team of driven colleagues show that leadership is about identifying real talent, nurturing them and creating an ecosystem where commerce and creativity complement each other.

In the book, Odell reiterates that Wintour knows the art of time management. Her daily morning schedule looks like this: wake up at 5am, play tennis, hair and make-up appointment and then head to work. Her editorial meetings end quickly. So do job interviews. Whether it's hiring or firing co-workers or killing fashion shoots, she's always known what she wants and leaves no stone unturned to ensure that it's achieved. Obviously, she merits style, pedigree and connections in people she hires, writes Odell. Her fondness for candidates in short skirts and high heels has been documented over the years across publications.

The book also highlights Wintour's reluctance to adapt to the changing times. Odell writes: "Anna's management style had never seemed more mismatched for a particular moment. By endorsing Black Lives Matter and attempting to position Vogue as a progressive publication, she had taken a stance, but many Vogue followers felt it wasn't legitimate or authentic. Though her imperiousness had been lionized in The Devil Wears Prada when the film came out in 2006, it seemed now like a liability, perhaps as it should have been perceived all along."

Besides the boss lady demeanour, the book also brings into focus her warm aspects: her unbridled support to colleagues like Andre Leon Talley (she got hurt by his depiction of her in his book, The Chiffon Trenches), encouraging upcoming labels like Proenza Schouler, to being a loving mother and grandmother.

The book delightfully captures her glamorous persona, from her Chanel couture fittings to vibrant anecdotes like when was seated next to the Queen of England at Richard Quinn’s show at London Fashion Week, and her refusal to ditch fur till very recently.

Each chapter takes us inside her career and a rarefied life of couture and Concorde flights, while sensitively documenting her painful separation from her husband. The biography also features some rare images, like Wintour dancing at a Vogue party in 1993.

What the book misses to highlight is her closely guarded friendship with the late Franca Sozzani (the late Vogue Italia editor and her daughter Bee’s mother-in-law) and her being fiercely competitive with other Vogue titles (Alexandra Shulman-edited British Vogue). Above all, the book is a delightful read for anyone interested in the history of fashion and magazine journalism.

Also read: 50 years on, the polo shirt is still a closet favourite

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