Anna Wintour

Editor-in-chief of Vogue

Anna Wintour: The Most Powerful Woman in Fashion

With a nickname like “nuclear Wintour,” you can believe the longest-standing editor in Vogue’s history to be many things. Just be sure ‘powerful’ is among them.

Anna Wintour is the most powerful woman in the $350 billion fashion industry. Dubbed the grand dame of fashion by Forbes, she’s the brain behind the most influential publication in fashion.

Wintour was born in London to a British newspaper editor. She showed an early interest in editing and business. At a young age, her father began asking her for ideas to boost his younger readership. In The September Issue, she said, “I think my father really decided for me that I should work in fashion.”

As a teen, she rebelled against her school’s dress code, taking up the hemlines of her skirts. Wintour was also an avid reader of Seventeen magazine. These early experiences contributed to her growing interest in fashion.

Her father got her a job at the Biba boutique in London at age 15. Wintour began taking fashion classes at a local college but quickly gave them up, saying, “You either know fashion or you don’t.”

Wintour was hired as an editorial assistant for Harper’s & Queen in 1970. While at Harper’s, she executed some of her most formative shoots, including one that recreated the works of famous French painters.

In 1975, she quit and moved to New York City. She was hired as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Unfortunately, her innovative style was too provocative for the magazine, and she was fired after just 9 months. Reflecting on the firing, she says, “I recommend that you all get fired; it’s a great learning experience.”

Without a job, Wintour leveraged her network to land a position as a fashion editor at Viva, a women’s adult magazine. Due to unprofitability, Viva was shut down in 1978.

Wintour hopped from magazine to magazine over the following years. A co-worker said, “Anna saw the celebrity thing coming before everyone else did.” One thing I admire about Wintour is her insight. Moreso than others, she can see into the future and forecast trends. During this time, Wintour developed her cover strategy, noticing that editions with a celebrity on the front page sold more.

Wintour quickly set her sights on Vogue. Reflecting on her aspirations, she said, “The best way to make a dream come true is to wake up.”

Wake up she did: During an interview with former Vogue editor Grace Mirabella, Wintour told her that she “wanted her job.” Wintour was approached by the editorial director for Condé Nast about a creative director position for Vogue UK. After a salary-multiplying bidding war, she accepted the job.

Her early time at Vogue was chaotic. Wintour replaced many of her staff, earning her the name “nuclear Wintour.” She redefined the publication’s target customer, telling papers, “There’s a new kind of woman out there….She doesn’t have time to shop anymore. She wants to know what and why and where and how.”

Wintour was appointed the head of Vogue in 1988. Under the former editor-in-chief, the magazine had lagged. The media called these the “beige years.” Luckily, Wintour’s reputation for innovation made her ideally suited for the role.

Unlike her predecessor, Wintour used lesser-known models and mixed inexpensive clothing with couture. Her first cover featured 19-year-old Michaela Bercu wearing inexpensive faded jeans and a $10,000 t-shirt. Wintour says, “It was so unlike the studied and elegant close-ups typical of Vogue's covers back then, with tons of makeup and major jewellery. This one broke all the rules.”

Wintour’s ingenious approach mirrored the way real women put together outfits. Few women wear head-to-toe high-fashion. This shift “was a leap of faith, and it was certainly a big change for Vogue.”

Throughout her tenure, Wintour continued to rift with her employees and peers, who dubbed her “unapproachable” and “intimidating.” Nevertheless, by the 90s, she’d returned Vogue to its former glory.

In the mid-2000s, critics began wondering when Wintour would retire. She took to 60 Minutes, saying, “To me this is a really interesting time to be in this position, and I think it would be in a way irresponsible not to put my best foot forward and lead us into a different time.”

She’s since been inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame in 2010. She’s also the artistic director for all of Condé Nast’s magazines.

Wintour still serves as editor-in-chief of Vogue. Condé Nast’s yearly revenue is $2 billion, consistently outperforming its competitors. Of her publication, she says, “Some people have the Bible. I have Vogue.”

Here’s what we can learn from Wintour about strong opinions, adaptability, and networking.


Likability is a useless pursuit—lead with strong opinions and a unique vision instead. Wintour is famously brusque with her employees. She fired many of her staff when she took over at Vogue. A publisher said of her, “I don’t find her to be accessible to people she doesn’t need to be accessible to.” Wintour refuses to conform to feminine standards. She doesn’t do small talk and keeps her private life private. I believe Wintour’s intimidating demeanor is a cornerstone of her power: When she walks into a room, others stand up a little straighter. She says, “You can’t really worry too much…about what the competition is doing or what other people in your field are doing. It has to be a true vision.” Wintour values uniqueness over approachability. She says, “Create your own individual style. I'm not interested in the girl who walks into my office in a head-to-toe label look that's straight off the runway. I'm interested in a girl who puts herself together in an original independent way.”

Don’t be afraid to shift your target customer. Before Wintour took over Vogue, the magazine’s sales were lagging. Covers featured unattainable ideas. The publication was marketing to the 1%, which wasn’t working. After she took over, Wintour said, “There's a new kind of woman out there…She doesn't have time to shop anymore. She wants to know what and why and where and how.” Wintour redefined the magazine’s target audience. She expanded the clothing advertised, mixing high-fashion with lower-cost brands. Wintour believes that no one “is going to want to look overly flashy, overly glitzy, too Dubai, whatever you want to call it. I just don’t think that’s the moment.” Rather, she emphasizes the reason why people purchase designer items. She believes in “quality and longevity and things that really last.” She says, “I think we need to give women the aspirational clothes that can make them dream, and another portfolio that’s about mixing high and low.” Her approach worked, and the magazine’s sales skyrocketed.

Adapt to changes in culture—and fast. Wintour doesn’t believe in ‘trends’ but understands the transient nature of the fashion industry.  She says, “Things change. You walk on the street and get a Starbucks, and things have changed by the time you come back to the office.” Powerful industries reflect our shifting culture. Wintour says, “If you look at any great fashion photograph out of context, it will tell you just as much about what's going on in the world as a headline in the New York Times.” You have to adapt rather than react. Adaption is critical to resilience. She says, “Fashion's not about looking back. It's always about looking forward.” Wintour’s ability to adapt is among the reasons she’s been at the helm of fashion’s top magazine since Regan was president. In 2020, she wrote, “We must change as we re-emerge. We must adapt. We have to. And I hope that change will be positive, that we will re-emerge thinking about what is meaningful in our lives…We’re talking about this a lot at Vogue. What do we value? What do we truly need?”

Controversy creates conversation. Wintour has a history of being in deep water. Her controversial opinions on fur and her history of shaking things up yield her a variety of crude nicknames and attacks. In fact, Wintour says she’s “lost count” of the times she has been physically attacked. Recently, Wintour faced controversy over a lack of diversity at Vogue. Famous supermodel Naomi Campbell ran to her defense, saying, “[Wintour has] been a very important factor in my career and my life and has been honest about what she can do and what she cannot.” Cancel culture and fear run rampant in society. However, these hardly scar mainstays like Wintour. Controversy creates conversation. And conversation creates interest and revenue. Of her critics, Wintour says, “I'm an ice queen, I'm the Sun King, I'm an alien fleeing from District 9 and I'm a dominatrix. So I reckon that makes me a lukewarm royalty with a whip from outer space.”

Seek opportunities to make connections and leverage them. Wintour says, “In today's world you have to interact. You can't be some difficult, shy person who is not able to look somebody in the face; you have to present yourself. You have to know how to talk about your vision, your focus, and what you believe in.” One of Wintour’s most valuable traits is her ability to network. She learned this skill from her father, who “believed in the cult of personality. He brought great writers and columnists to The Standard.” Early in her career, she befriended journalists, editors, and photographers. After being fired by Harper’s Bazaar, Wintour leveraged her relationship with journalist Jon Bradshaw into a position at Viva. Later, she leveraged her relationships with colleagues at New York into meetings with influential players at Vogue and Condé Nast. To maintain her network, Wintour aims to  “surround myself with a talented group of people that are opinionated and interesting. I try to remain very open to what others have to say.” She meets with models and designers in person, knowing synchronous contact is key to making an impactful connection. She’s a regular at tennis matches and significant events. Her biographer says, “There are a lot of people in fashion who are fantastically creative and brilliant but they don’t have that ability that she has to talk to business people.”

Make a decision, even if it’s wrong. “I think possibly what people working for one hate the most is indecision. Even if I'm completely unsure, I'll pretend I know exactly what I'm talking about and make a decision. The most important thing I can do is try and make myself very clearly understood.” I wholeheartedly believe in movement even if it’s in the wrong direction. Making a choice—provocative or not—yields better results than inaction. Decisions are the basis of learning. Wintour was famously fired from Harper’s Bazaar for innovative, provocative photo shoots. She recommends everyone be fired, calling it “a great learning experience.” In most cases, “people respond well to those that are sure of what they want.” Wintour says, “I think I'm decisive, and I like to get things done quickly. So if that comes across as intimidation, I'm sorry to hear it. But it's more in the interest of getting things done.”

Anna Wintour Quotes

On adaptation: “It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten.”

On decision-making: “In the end I do respond to my own instincts. Sometimes they're successful, and obviously sometimes they're not. But you have to, I think, remain true to what you believe in.”

On her demeanor: “If one comes across sometimes as being cold or brusque, it's simply because I'm striving for the best.”

On passion: “I’m very driven by what I do. I am certainly very competitive. I like people who represent the best at what they do. If that turns you into a perfectionist then maybe I am.”

On strong leadership: “When I hear a company is being run by a team, my heart sinks, because you need to have that leader with a vision and heart that can move things forward.”



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