Stop depicting Anna Wintour and Alexandra Shulman as bitchy rivals – they are strategic businesswomen, not schoolgirls

A recent documentary suggested that there is a glacial frostiness between two Vogue editors  

Anna Rhodes
Sunday 23 October 2016 18:01 BST
Alexandra Shulman is editor-in-chief of British Vogue
Alexandra Shulman is editor-in-chief of British Vogue (David Sandison)

Why are we so obsessed with pitting women against one another?

The recent documentary that explored the world of Vogue, Absolutely Fashion, provided a keen insight into the relationship between US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and UK editor-in-chief, Alexandra Shulman.

When the dreaded name of Wintour was mentioned, it all got a bit dramatic, with long silences from Shulman and a long shot of Anna Wintour standing in the corner of an overly decorated room, looking out the window in her sunnies in the manner of a sniper ready to shoot a target on sight.

And now, Alexandra Shulman has divulged to The Times magazine that her rivalry with Anna is “purely professional”, adding that they “both have ambitions for our magazines, and if we’re in competition about something, we’ll fight our corner”.

I mean, stop the press. Two editors who work for competing magazines (albeit under the same umbrella) aren’t going to agree on everything, and may be opposed to the other furthering their magazine to the detriment of the other?

Let’s be honest, no one is shocked – this is how business works. They are working for rival magazines, with similar fan bases (US Vogue sees popularity in the UK, and vice versa) and they are both working in an ever declining print environment, where innovation equates to commercial survival. This happens at almost every publication – it’s called keeping your product viable and beating your competitors in an ever changing market.

Anna Wintour on Late Night with Seth Meyers

So why do we put so much time and energy into psychoanalysing the relationship between Shulman and Wintour so closely? Lest we forget, in the Devil Wears Prada, a fantastic film based on the memoir of a former US Vogue assistant, the editor of Runway magazine Miranda Priestly was in fierce competition with a French counterpart – this depicted the real-life relationship between Carine Roitfeld and Wintour. It was rumoured that Roitfeld, the editor-in-chief of the seminal Vogue Paris, was after Wintour’s job – and Wintour fought tooth and nail to keep her position. Roitfeld has since left Conde Nast to start her own magazine, CR Fashion Book.

Miranda Priestly was not a likeable character – and nor was she meant to be. We were meant to love the slightly dopey assistant Andy as the heroine, with Priestly coming off as the Wicked Witch of the West.

(In my opinion, Andy was a layabout who didn’t understand that you actually have to work if you want to keep your job, but that could take up an entire comment piece alone).

However, thousands of men who work in big business act in this manner every single day – they undercut one another, and are in longstanding rivalries to be the best. A quick glance at Donald Trump proves that point. The obsession with Wintour, Shulman and Roitfeld comes down to their gender, ingrained societal perceptions about how women should conduct themselves – and the nature of the fashion industry.

The industry, considered as very feminine, fluffy and rather stupid by many (Absolutely Fashion debunked this myth, with many of the girls in the office receiving Oxford educations) has contributed to the obsession with the women’s relationships. How could they be so cutting in such a silly industry? It’s not exactly breaking news, or politics. Why does it even matter?

Women have been sidelined in mainstream industries for decades (banking, politics, big business); fashion is our arena – and with no testosterone-fuelled boss in a suave suit and a sense of entitlement to be there, women can excel, and the glass ceiling is practically non-existent.

All we are seeing from Wintour and Shulman is sheer talent. They are absolute titans in their field, and should be celebrated in the same manner as any man who has excelled in business or journalism (Richard Branson, Ian Hislop, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch – they are hitting the same timespans).

But, instead, we simply view them as bitchy women who cannot get along, as opposed to people who we can look up to as successful, determined and possessing of business stamina. Which is a shame for aspiring women around the world.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in