Here’s a free Machiavellian lesson, courtesy of Anna Wintour: Perfect hair, designer sunglasses and pinched inscrutability will keep an industry on its intimidated toes every time.
The grand editor of fashion, the Queen of Chilliness, she’s a legend in the fashion world. (And yes, she was the inspiration for Miranda Priestly, the icy fashion editor played by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.”) Why? Because what the diminutive, tight lipped publisher does -- or doesn’t -- put on the cover and inside pages of Vogue affects the fashion industry’s entire stock and trade.
That Machiavellian lesson comes from watching “The September Issue,” a reality-show-styled documentary that follows Wintour’s working life as she creates the magazine’s most anticipated issue of the year. As we see, over the course of R.J. Cutler’s fascinating movie, Wintour exudes a mystique that has models, staffers and designers alike hanging on her every sigh, pout and pronouncement; every downturn of that well-coiffed head; every gesture, implication and weighty silence.
And when she does speak -- in a sort of magnificently clipped “good grief do I really have to spell it out?” cadence -- those toadies, minions, staffers, hangers-on and rivals parse her words as if they’ve sprung from the lips of the Oracle at Delphi.
“I do want to make the point that September has to be about value,” she says at one of her editorial meetings. “But we don’t want to give up completely the dream of fantasy but I also feel like we need to have -- uh -- uh a sense of being more grounded.”
Now think hard. Where have you seen this act before? Who has also used sunglasses, distinctive hair and a combination of inscrutability and banality-as-wisdom speak to affect a whole industry?
I’ll give you a clue. He even shares Wintour’s initials. A free tomato soup can to anyone who guessed Andy Warhol.
The key ingredient for both A.W.’s is the aforementioned inscrutability. Why? Because it creates mystique. And mystique can move mountains where reality can’t. With his fright-wig mien, Warhol built an entire ersatz world view. He knew it. And most smart people knew it.
But they forgot that they knew it, and they started to confuse his act with the real thing.
We are still quoting Warhol’s “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” as if it sprung from the lips of Pallas Athena. And I can see Wintour nodding vigorously (well, maybe diffidently) in response to this Warhol utterance: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Is Anna Wintour really the center of taste, the deific visionary who understands and anticipates the next Big Thing, the next It dress? Or is it enough that the fashion world thinks so? Were Warhol and such disciples as Keith Haring artists or Purveyers of Faux Certainty?
I say all this because it’s so comfortable to believe in Anna W. After all, she fulfills a very deep human need: to believe in things. Anything. Plus, I really, really like Julie Christie.
“The September Issue” is about how mystique affects us, how we create the leaders we want - the ones who have the gall to speak with godlike confidence. It’s about the triumph of form over content. And how we want to live perpetually within air quotes.