Some kind of monster

A new biography of US Vogue editor Anna 'Nuclear' Wintour depicts her as a cold and driven egomaniac. Well naturally, says James Sherwood, they don't call it Condé Nasty for nothing
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The Independent Online

You could almost feel sorry for Anna Wintour. Last year, the woman who has helmed US Vogue since 1988 was mercilessly parodied by a former assistant, Lauren Weisberger, in the roman-à-clef The Devil Wears Prada. Tomorrow, a excoriating biography of the woman, written by Jerry Oppenheimer, is published worldwide. As the subtitle - The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor-in-Chief - suggests, Oppenheimer wants the reputation of the most important ice maiden in fashion to melt. But why should we be shocked? Fashion editors were ever thus. Wintour is simply the most extreme editor currently working and she is just one in a great tradition of fashion dictators.

You could almost feel sorry for Anna Wintour. Last year, the woman who has helmed US Vogue since 1988 was mercilessly parodied by a former assistant, Lauren Weisberger, in the roman-à-clef The Devil Wears Prada. Tomorrow, a excoriating biography of the woman, written by Jerry Oppenheimer, is published worldwide. As the subtitle - The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor-in-Chief - suggests, Oppenheimer wants the reputation of the most important ice maiden in fashion to melt. But why should we be shocked? Fashion editors were ever thus. Wintour is simply the most extreme editor currently working and she is just one in a great tradition of fashion dictators.

ANNA WINTOUR

Title: Editor-in-chief of US Vogue since 1985.

History: Began at Harpers & Queen, moved to New York in 1975 to work for Harper's Bazaar, then Viva and New York magazines. Wintour was appointed editor of US Vogue in 1988 after two years at British Vogue.

Trademark: Bobbed hair, Chanel blackout shades and a skeletal figure.

Eccentricities: Rises at 5am to play an hour of tennis before her hair and make-up team prepare her for an 8am start at the office. After attending important social events in New York with her daughter (and Teen Vogue contributor) Bea Shaffer, Wintour retires at 10pm.

Bitchiness: Popularly known as "Nuclear Wintour", the editor is rumoured not to allow any of her employees to look her directly in the eye, or talk to her uninvited. She also routinely bans the wearing of pink lipstick, flat shoes and tights around the office. Image is everything according to Wintour. Being fat is a cardinal sin. Wintour told Oprah Winfrey she would have to shed two stone before even considering putting her on the cover. Oprah ditched the pounds. Reported also to have axed a famous writer for being too ugly and snapping "Cindy Crawford's just a model. I'm Anna Wintour" at those in any doubt as to her power.

Survival Instinct: Boss Si Newhouse calls her "the greatest Vogue editor of them all".

Payoff: Currently grooming daughter Bea to be a Mini-Me. A woman this competitive would abdicate only for her own blood.

DIANA VREELAND

Title: Editor-in-chief of US Vogue 1962-1964.

History: 25 years at Harper's Bazaar.

Trademark: Kabuki make-up and lacquered black hair.

Eccentricities: Her legendary apartment in Park Avenue was designed like "a garden in Hell" and her editorial style was equally exotic. She drank two-fingers of Scotch for lunch, smoked 40 "Luckies" a day and rouged her ears.

Bitchiness: More kooky than bitchy, the closest she came to being nasty was to announce "we needed an artist and they sent us a house painter" of the new Bazaar editor Nancy White, who got the job that Vreeland wanted. Model Tania Mallett also recalls Vreeland posting an assistant outside her office with a pot of rouge to daub all visitors, because she had deemed rosy cheeks the fashion.

Survival Instinct: US Vogue's editorial director said: "Everything was extravagance and luxury and excess. She was given too much power; she took too much power."

Payoff: Wintour's boss Si Newhouse fired Vreeland for her extravagance as US Vogue editor. Vreeland became creative director of New York's Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute. She died in 1989.

CARMEL SNOW

Title: Editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar 1933-1958.

History: Though she began her career at US Vogue, Carmel Snow's life was her 25 years at Bazaar. Snow was credited with creating the blueprint for modern fashion magazines. Her comment "it's a totally New Look" christened Christian Dior's seminal 1947 collection.

Trademark: A hat and two-piece skirt suit.

Eccentricities: In 1936 Snow spotted Vreeland on the dance floor at the St Regis in New York wearing Chanel with roses in her hair. She offered her the job as fashion editor of Bazaar on the spot. She lived in an apartment in New York's Ritz Tower.

Bitchiness: When Snow was removed as editor-in-chief, she told her bosses at Bazaar that Vreeland was "a brilliant fashion editor who should never, ever be editor-in-chief of a magazine".

Survival Instinct: Richard Avedon said: "She was a real star before fashion people were stars."

Payoff: Within three years of being replaced at Bazaar by her niece Nancy White, Carmel Snow was dead.

GRACE MIRABELLA

Title: Editor-in-chief of US Vogue 1964-1985.

History: Born in 1930, Mirabella worked for Vreeland's Vogue predecessor Jessica Daves but became Vreeland's personal assistant in 1962. She replaced her mentor and boss in 1964 and remained in the chair until 1985 when Mirabella was ousted by Wintour.

Trademark: Big hair.

Eccentricities: Mirabella was the enemy of the exotic and bizarre Vreeland years at Vogue. She single-mindedly took the magazine from whimsical to commercial.

Bitchiness:: When Mirabella was ruthlessly removed to make way for Anna Wintour, Si Newhouse said: "The way it was handled was graceless - without making a pun." When Mirabella's role as replacement for Vreeland was announced, longtime Voguette Margaret Case described her as "an assistant to Diana, devoid of editorial ability, personality, education or sophistication" before throwing herself from her New York apartment window.

Survival Instinct: Mirabella said of her firing: "I'm the first to see nothing coming. Even a bus." She reportedly learned of her removal from Condé Nast when she turned on the TV and heard it on the news.

Payoff: As her autobiography candidly states, the 75-year-old has been In and Out of Vogue.

TINA BROWN

Title: Editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair 1984-1992.

History: Born in 1953, Oxford-educated Tina Brown became the youngest editor of Condé Nast's Tatler at 25. Appointed editor-in-chief of the newly relaunched Vanity Fair in 1984 where she was credited with "inventing" celebrity journalism. Became editor of The New Yorker, then launched spectacular failure Talk in 1999. Since Talk's closure in 2001, Brown has her own interview show Topic A on CNBC.

Trademark: Blond bouncy hair and a weather-girl smile.

Eccentricities: At The New Yorker Brown's cheque-book journalism enticed writers with $50,000-per-story fees. She launched Talk at the Statue of Liberty.

Bitchiness: Brown is the face of Manhattan gossip who observed of fashionistas Plum and Lucy Sykes that the sisters are "(a) not twins at all and (b) not 31". Brown has also been described as a vulgarian by New Yorker writer Jamaica Kincaid. Known for her dislike of Wintour, she printed a particularly cruel portrait of Shelby Brown in the The New Yorker at about the same time as it became known he was having relations with Wintour.

Survival Instinct: Brown bleats: "I'm trying to entertain without being mean." Hasn't edited a magazine since Talk folded.

Payoff: Graydon Carter, the man who replaced Brown as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, has asked her to write a column (Tina Brown's Diary) for the magazine. Ouch.

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