I've been looking forward to my 60 minutes with Anna Wintour for quite some time now, in fact, since January, when I got the coveted ticket to see her rare live interview in front of an audience at the 92nd street Y in NYC.
Like many events involving high expectations, the 60 minutes with Anna turned out to be disappointing. She made the impression of a well spoken, PR-trained, business savvy and perfectly vague talking machine, which has a programmed answer to any critical question with underlying meaning. Unfortunately, her interviewer Jonathan Tisch did not make an effort to "break" that machine, or at least to dig deeper into it. One example included his question about her favorite designer of the moment. When Anna politely replied with "oh, there are so many" he complimented her on a "perfect (?) answer" and simply moved on!
The rare moments of juicy insights included: "I don't want Vogue to be too hot or too cold, I just want it to lead the industry" - on keeping Vogue relevant. "I don't want it to turn into recession victim either. Although up until now I didn't look at the prices of items we featured, but now we do and we won't feature a $25,000 dress". Thank God!
She continued to weigh in on the pressure from the business and financial sides (there is none, apparently): "We are lucky to have the owner who respects editorial quality. We do not make special arrangements with advertisers like I hear other people do (who are they, Anna?), and that's part of the pleasure of working at Conde Nast." Anna Wintour must be the luckiest person in the entire fashion business, if she doesn't feel the pressure we all do. Although she did admit cutting some of the personal perks and expenses. Again, no details on what those are…
For all of you that are still dreaming about getting a position at Vogue, Anna's not-so-serious advice would be: "Write us a letter, we'll invite you in, we'll talk to you, then we'll hire you". Yes, it's that simple... On a serious note - she is always looking for personalities, people who write the way that you can feel the person behind the words. Read Andre Leon Talley.
The last part of the interview included audience questions (submitted on cards earlier) and I was one of the lucky few people whose question made it to the stage, although partially. My two part question was Anna's thoughts on fashion bloggers (are they competition or inspiration?) and the second part (and only one that made it) was regarding Vogue's future strategy online. Anna's reply was as vague as it could be, mentioning "deep discussions” with Style.com and promising to "own the online space more in the next year". Then she shared probably the only curious story of the night, which described "Andre Leon Talley being dragged kicking and screaming to write online, and now he loves it so much, he is probably blogging right now from somewhere".
The evening ended before it ever really started, and even the PETA activists who tried to sabotage the event right after Anna came up on stage and were immediately thrown out by the security, did not add the desired drama. I was still looking to get the sense of Anna’s personality and understand who this woman really is. Or maybe she has none? Maybe the walls of fear she has built around her for years are there to protect us from this discovery? The truth is we live in different times today, where authenticity and personal connection are at the top of the game (it starts slowly getting into the fashion world as well, thanks to the reality shows and gossip columns). Anna Wintour belongs to the generation that believed in building walls, and we believe in breaking them. Does she understand it and simply orchestrates her big farewell for the past year with the movie (opening this September), the 60 Min TV segment (airing this Sunday), and this live 1 hr interview she had last night? I hope so, because there wasn't a better moment for her to leave and make room for the CHANGE we are so eager to embrace these days.
Will this "change" be the French Vogue EIC Carine Roitfeld? After watching her CNN documentary I'm not sure she is the right person to lead the American fashion industry either, unless she improves her English skills and would be willing to embrace everything America is, which might be the opposite of France…
Anna's 20 years of ruling Vogue and the fashion world would be a hard act to follow, no matter who will be brave enough to step in. I only hope this person embraces the times we live in, the authenticity and personal expression that drive them.