Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…
February. The month of fashion week in the “Big 4” fashion capitals of New York, London, Milan and Paris. So this month is a pretty obvious pick, as no personal brand is more widely associated with fashion week than Anna Wintour. The longtime editor-in-chief of American Vogue and the artistic director of Condé Nast is, after all, widely regarded as the most powerful women in fashion.
Love her or hate her, no one can deny the prominent brand Anna Wintour has created for herself in the world of fashion. She has become one of the most influential people in fashion, and has recently received the highest honour, Dame Commander (DBE), in the New Years Honours 2017 list (the female equivalent to knighthood given to Brits abroad).
There’s of course her unique combination of uncompromising work ethic, dedication, passion, vision and sheer talent that helped to reestablish Vogue as the dominant American fashion magazine. But there are many more colourful facets to Anna Wintour’s personal brand. Here are the top three that I believe helped to define our High Priestess of Fashion:
Her famously frosty demeanor
No one does Ice Queen quite like Wintour. Her demanding personality and aloofness earned the nickname “Nuclear Wintour”. And it works.
Her frosty demeanor inspired the 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada by her former personal assistant, Lauren Weisberger (adapted for the big screen in 2006). Wintour embraced this portrayal in good humour by wearing Prada to the premiere. Wintour was also the feature of a 2009 documentary, The September Issue.
The secretive side to her brand makes it hard to really know what lies under the icy surface. Her daughter, Bee Schaffer, describes her as “the most generous person you will ever meet and she puts everyone else before her”. This also becomes apparent when considering the strong socially responsible side of her brand (as you will see below).
Her consistent and distinct outer branding
There’s of course the uncompromising attention to detail, but getting up at 6 am for tennis, then hair and make-up, takes outer branding to the next level. Wintour looks the part; she certainly has an unwavering ability to look like she just stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Former British Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman, herself admits that the flawless “Vogue look” is difficult to attain.
The strength of Wintour’s outer brand lies in its consistency. Of course, the most iconic aspect of her outer brand is her perfectly coiffed bob, a look she has sported since around age 15. She maintains her signature look with two blow-dries a day: one first thing in the morning (after tennis!) and once early evening.
Wintour has a worn the same shoe style for over two decades. Her favourite nude, slingback kitten-heel “Manolos” were first designed for her by Blahnik himself, and never veer too far from Wintour’s skin tone (she is rumoured to have different shades to match a suntan).
Then there are the trademark black Chanel sunglasses, which apparently serve a purpose beyond fashion. Wintour shared with 60 Minutes in 2009, “I can sit in a show and if I am bored out of my mind, nobody will notice … At this point, they have become, really, armor.”
She’s also not not too posh to recycle her clothes; certain dresses are wardrobe favourites and get rotated. She is often photographed wearing the same items over again, including her multi-string coloured crystal necklaces (also a signature look). Instead of a fashion faux-pas, this is often widely regarded as an intentional fashion statement.
She gets behind causes, like it or not
She’s not afraid to bring politics into her personal brand. Wintour has been a staunch supporter of the Democratic National Committee and has hosted numerous fundraising events for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
She’s also a trustee of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, turning the museum’s annual gala into one of the highest profile events of the year. She was bestowed one of highest honours in fashion when the institute named their wing The Anna Wintour Costume Center.
She has made a tremendous charitable impact within the fashion world, and is particularly passionate about helping emerging young designers. In association with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Wintour set up the Vogue Fashion Fund in 2003, which provided financial and business support to young designers (notable past recipients include Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler to name a few). Then, in response to the economic downturn in September 2009, Wintour launched Fashion’s Night Out, a global initiative celebrating fashion and promoting the retail industry to restore consumer confidence.
She has also been actively involved in AIDS charities by organising high-profile benefits and spearheading initiatives. In 1990, she played a pivotal role in creating the CFDA/Vogue initiative, the fashion industry’s AIDS charity, and has subsequently helped raise over $20 million. She also led the fashion industry’s involvement in Born Free Africa, whose mission was to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, by raising funds from a clothing line by world-renowned fashion designers who are also mothers.
Not to mention the countless benefit galas she has dazzled.
All in all, while some may view her brand as more of a caricature in her industry, there’s little debate that Anna Wintour is a memorable, distinctive and consistent personal brand synonymous with success in the unforgiving fashion world.