NEW YORK, United States — Anna Wintour and Tina Brown both joined Condé Nast in the mid-1980s. Suffice to say, much has changed since then, both for them and the media giant that launched their careers.
Condé Nast is “very different from our days at Times Square and Madison Avenue,” Wintour told Brown in front of an audience at the Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center on Friday. Both women arrived at the magazine publisher in New York from London within a few years of each other: Brown as the editor of Vanity Fair in 1984 and Wintour as the editor of House & Garden in 1987. She took over Vogue a year later.
In a lively and intimate conversation, the two editors spoke about publishing, the British royal family, personal style and politics. Their talk came just one week after Condé Nast named former Pandora head Roger Lynch as its first global chief executive, who is tasked with the formidable job of uniting the company’s properties around the world in a challenging time for magazine media.
Wintour, who is the most powerful editor at the US publisher, said she was optimistic about Lynch’s ability to lead Condé Nast into a new era.
“He seemed like a very dynamic person, very straightforward, very charismatic and eager to learn,” she said, adding that Lynch will begin with a listening tour around Condé Nast’s offices, including those in Russia and China.
“Obviously he’ll come back with a strategy that we are all looking forward to hearing,” she said. “[He] talked a lot about opportunities and learning from mistakes, and I think we are all very excited.”
With more than 30 years as the editor of American Vogue, Wintour has seen the rapid changes facing publishing first hand. But when asked about the most significant evolution, she pointed to the scale of the magazine’s reach.
“Now we have all these opportunities to talk to our audiences in the millions through all these different channels,” she said. “It’s how you use those different avenues to talk to your audiences. That, to me, is the biggest change.”
Brown asked Wintour about the leaders who have inspired her own career, which has outlasted that of many of her peers. The Vogue editor cited her father, Charles Wintour, the former editor-in-chief of the London Evening Standard, and Katherine Graham, who led the Washington Post for two decades.
“I think the most important thing is to have clarity,” said Wintour about her leadership style. “The people that work for you, they want to know where they stand, what the decision is being made and how they can execute it. And I think when people waffle, or are indecisive, that is incredibly frustrating for the people that work for you.”
I think when people waffle, or are indecisive, that is incredibly frustrating for the people that work for you.
In recent years, Wintour has been an active fundraiser for the Democratic party; she was the fourth largest fundraising bundler for President Barack Obama and supported Hillary Clinton with equal fervour, even endorsing her in the pages of Vogue. Wintour said she will support whoever ends up winning the Democratic primary.
“I personally hope that the decision on who the Democratic candidate will be doesn’t take too long,” she said. “I am convinced that [President] Trump is already fueling his war chest. He’s, I’m sure, spending a lot of money on digital advertising and probably voter suppression and many other things.”
Wintour also remembered two longtime collaborators and friends whom she has lost in recent years, Karl Lagerfeld and Franca Sozzani. “There was no one, there is no one like Karl; he was a completely exceptional person,” she said.
The day Lagerfeld died in February, the editor took an early morning flight from London to Milan, during which she read many of his obituaries and “started to bawl.” Her seatmate, an "un-fashion type” businessman kindly offered her several of his handkerchiefs and said nothing until the end of the flight, when she thanked him. “Madam, the world has lost a great figure,” he told her.
The loss of Sozzani, the longtime Vogue Italia editor who died of cancer at the age of 66 in 2016, is particularly emotional for Wintour because her daughter Bee Shaffer and Sozzani’s son Francesco Carrozzini have since married. “Before we lost Franca, she really did know that they were to be married and she, I think, was given a lot of comfort with that towards the end,” said Wintour.
The #MeToo movement is a key theme of Brown’s Women in the World Summit, and the host asked Wintour about how she reacted to allegations in early 2018 that Condé Nast photographers Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier had sexually harassed models and others. After the revelations, Condé Nast and Wintour established a new code of conduct for behaviour on its magazines’ shoots and set up a hotline to report inappropriate behaviour. And the publisher cut ties with the men.
“These were photographers who were not only longtime, brilliant collaborators and colleagues and very important to the voice of many of our titles, but also personal friends,” said Wintour. “That has been a very, very tough decision but absolutely no question that it was the right one to make.”
Wintour has also made a point to support Harvey Weinstein’s wife Georgina Chapman, who was profiled in the pages of Vogue after her husband’s public reckoning. “I think it would have been exceptionally unfair to blame Georgina for her husband’s behavior,” she said.
The conversation then turned to the British royal family, which welcomed a new member last year with the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. Wintour praised her sense of style and said the Duchess had even inspired her to consider breaking her uniform of colourful, printed dresses in favour of a suit.
“She’s really bringing modernity to the royal family in a way that is inspiring,” she said. “I think the image that I have in my mind … the Duchess of Sussex walking down the aisle by herself, that to me that was representative of a modern woman.”
Wintour shared a special moment with Queen Elizabeth II, who named her a dame in 2017, when they sat together front row at London Fashion Week last year. “She and I discussed how long we had both been in our jobs,” she said.
Wintour and Brown also remembered a lunch they had together with Princess Diana six weeks before her death in July 1997, during which the princess wore a Chanel suit. “I heard that she spent a lot of time deciding what to wear to that particular lunch,” said Wintour, describing her style as incredible. She praised Princess Diana for her willingness to engage with the press, which was an uncomfortable idea for the royal family during that era. “She was certainly the first person in the royal family to understand the benefits of that.”
Wintour and Brown’s conversation came less than three weeks before the annual Met Gala, the high-wattage fundraiser for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum that Wintour first hosted in 1995. It started as a run-of-the-mill Gala and has since become the Oscars of fashion, and one of the most sought after tickets for A-list stars.
This year’s theme is “Camp: Notes of Fashion,” a riff on Susan Sontag’s essay “Notes On Camp,” and will feature costumes from the court of Louis XIV to modern day fashion. Wintour said there is a lot of discussion about what guests, who are asked to dress to reflect the theme, might wear.
“I’m really hoping that someone will arrive in hiking boots and a backpack,” she said.
As for what Wintour plans to wear? “I have options.”