Speculation is picking up over reports that President Barack Obama will seek to nominate Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of US Vogue and one of his most effective re-election fundraisers, for an overseas ambassadorship in his second term, possibly even in her native land, Britain.
A legendary figure in the fashion universe with her steely bob hair-do and imperious mien, Ms Wintour has long evoked emotions ranging from reverence to ridicule. It was the latter that informed a Republican video last summer mocking her efforts to raise campaign cash with a line of Obama-themed fashion goods.
On that, as is often the case, Ms Wintour had the last laugh. It turns out that her ‘Runway to Win’ line, which offered fashion flotsam like bags and scarves variously featuring his face or his campaign logo designed by the likes of Marc Jacobs, Thakoon, Diane von Furstenberg, Derek Lam and Prabal Gurung, harvested an impressive $40 million for the re-election campaign.
The money was raised partly by sales of the goods but also through related social events to which Ms Wintour invited like-minded friends with deep pockets. There were even ‘Runway to Win’ functions in London and Paris this autumn. Additionally, Ms Wintour served as a celebrity co-host to dinners that featured Mr Obama himself at the homes both of Sarah Jessica Parker and Harvey Weinstein.
Thus Ms Wintour, 63, has emerged as one of Mr Obama’s most important re-election ‘bundlers’, someone who corrals cash for a candidate from as many friends and associates as possible. Rumours of her likely reward have been reignited by Bloomberg News, which cites two unnamed sources close to the president confirming that he is considering her as US ambassador either to London or Paris.
The White House is saying nought - Mr Obama has more urgent staffing business to attend to, like replacing Hillary Clinton at the Department of State. Equally mum has been Ms Wintour, though a spokesperson at Conde Nast headquarters in Manhattan, home to Vogue and its sister magazines, says she is not interested in trading her SoHo abode for Winthrop House, the mansion off Regents Park that has sheltered every US envoy to the Court of St James since World War II, or the equally impressive ambassadorial pad in Paris.
Choosing Ms Wintour for the UK post would raise many a disapproving eyebrow in Washington and in London. Certainly it would seem odd to serve a country you have adopted in the country you were born in. The eldest daughter of Charles Wintour, a former editor of the Evening Standard, she has dual citizenship.
That she has no experience of diplomacy might not be an issue, however. There is a rich tradition of American presidents rewarding their most important supporters with ambassadorships. Nor would it be the first time that a British-born woman would be thus anointed – Bill Clinton sent the late Pamela Harriman, a Washington socialite and Winston Churchill daughter-in-law, to be ambassador to France.
Mr Obama has done nothing to break the mould. Louis Susman was a Chicago-based investment banker and a bundler par excellence for Mr Obama in 2008 before being dispatched to London as ambassador nearly four years ago. In fact, of the 59 ambassadorial picks made by Mr Obama in his first term, 40 turned out to be people who had been election bundlers who had no prior diplomatic experience.
Ms Wintour, therefore, may indeed have first dibs on the diplomatic plumb jobs that are shortly to be distributed. But with a social status in New York that is already stratospherically high and a salary to match (Conde Nast is rumoured to pay her $2 million annually to keep American Vogue relevant) she may remove the sunglasses, look President Obama sweetly in the eye and say no thank you.
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