The Devil Wears Racism
June 17, 2020 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Can Anna Wintour survive fashion's reckoning with racism?

Anna Wintour is all powerful. Anna Wintour charges $25,000 per head to have people "kiss the ring" at the Met Gala. Anna Wintour "know(s) Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.” Anna Wintour is one of "very few people in the world who can have the influence on change and culture, as it relates to the activities that our business has...” Condé Nast’s CEO, Roger Lynch, said. “The reason she is here is because she can help influence the change that we need to make, and I know she is committed to it.”

Apparently, Anna Wintour is not going to cancel herself. (I love the headline - "Does she not realize that she, largely alone, had all the power all along?)

There's likely little shock at how racist the fashion industry has been, and still is (Beverly Johnson, the first Black model on the cover of Vogue says that the fashion industry still isn't fixing it's problems with racism. ), but I have to admit I was hopeful at least this domino would topple.

And, let's not forget that Condé Nast recently fired Bon Appétit EIC Adam Rapoport for appearing in brownface and creating a toxic racist culture at the magazine.
posted by foxywombat (15 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Can she? Probably.

Should she? Certainly not.
posted by turbowombat at 11:40 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

André Leon Talley's new book is pretty timely, isn't it.
posted by Melismata at 11:56 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]

I hope not.
posted by Faintdreams at 12:01 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

I've thought for years that AW is a spent force: no new or interesting ideas, unseemly celebrity worship. "Before it's in fashion, it's in Vogue"--how long has it been since that were true? How has she managed to stick around this long?
posted by orrnyereg at 12:19 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]

Anna Wintour has always been interested in power -- who has it, what it means to have power, what power looks like. American Vogue's visual vocabulary under her always reflected this interest: She came into her tenure there and correctly identified the high-low mix in fashion as a powerful, emerging cultural and sartorial current; as the nineties moved toward celebrity as the currency of U.S. power, she shifted coverage significantly; when it was convenient, she paid attention to women in politics and business if they had commercial/crossover appeal. For all that Anna Wintour can broker power -- and has done for fashion designers, fashion week and with the Met Gala -- she's also very sensitive and reactive to surfing other power shifts in U.S. culture. I don't think it's an accident she put Melania Trump on the cover in 2005, right as the U.S. was heading into the second Bush II admin. Republicans buy couture.

If questioning white supremacy and making the appearance of dismantling it will benefit her, then she'll do that. But given that Condé Nast's raison d'être has been to identify and commodify the idea of an élite, with rampant classism as a feature of its brands, not a bug -- it's questionable whether she'll do it at Condé Nast or if she'll do it elsewhere.

The most damning thing, I think, will be if she chooses to leave; it'll be a sign that Condé Nast no longer holds any significant commercial or cultural currency with the powerful people who matter.
posted by sobell at 12:23 PM on June 17 [19 favorites]

But given that Condé Nast's raison d'être has been to identify and commodify the idea of an élite, with rampant classism as a feature of its brands, not a bug -- it's questionable whether she'll do it at Condé Nast or if she'll do it elsewhere.

Perhaps The New Yorker could be a model for how to do things differently:
Before Mr. Lynch’s arrival, David Remnick, the editor in chief of The New Yorker, objected to a plan that would have lowered the magazine’s subscription price and raised ad rates. He has brought aboard a diverse crew of journalists, including Jia Tolentino, Hua Hsu and Vinson Cunningham, while adding digital subscriptions.

Three people with knowledge of the company said The New Yorker was likely to surpass Vogue as Condé Nast’s biggest contributor to U.S. profits by the end of 2020. The people added that about 80 percent of The New Yorker’s revenue came from readers, which helped the magazine weather the advertising downturn. The magazine did not cut staff during the recent layoffs.
But maybe not, because Vogue and related properties, while serving an overlapping customer base of economic and cultural elites, are dependent on ad sales to an extent well beyond The New Yorker.

Whether Wintour adjusts or no, the overarching concern seems to be whether the work she does is profitable or not. Beyond racism, that's an open question during a pandemic that has done much to shut down conspicuous consumption by the wealthy.

High fashion is about consumption, as much as spectacle. If rich people aren't buying the clothes, the ad revenue dries up, and that's deadly for a publication that, year over year, has become made up mostly of advertising. How to solve that problem is probably what will decide her fate at the company.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:38 PM on June 17 [9 favorites]

Is there a free version of that WWD article?
posted by Melismata at 12:55 PM on June 17

André Leon Talley's new book is pretty timely, isn't it.

I haven’t read it yet, but I thought this review by Rebecca Carroll of the NYT was poignant:
By the time we arrive at the point where Talley admits, “I’m not belittling myself to say my strength was in my ability to be beside a small, great, powerful white woman,” he has already belittled himself in about 50 different ways. . . . There are people he called “friends” who made racist remarks about him behind his back; who cut him out of their social circles without reason; who thought nothing of taking him off important guest lists. There are people for whom he was their first or only black friend, who staged an intervention with Talley about his weight but remained silent when he was the object of cruelty. . . .

For all its name-dropping, backstabbing, outsize egos, vivid description and use of words like “bespoke” and “sang-froid,” “The Chiffon Trenches” is less about the fashion elite than it is about a black boy from the rural South who got swallowed whole by the white gaze and was spit out as a too-large black man when he no longer fit the narrative. But the white gaze has done its work, and Talley’s disconnect to blackness — his own and others’ — is palpable.
ALT’s first memoir about his childhood growing up in North Carolina with his grandmother made me a fan of his for life; this review makes me hurt for him. If Wintour had any of the “taste” people praise her for, ALT’s story would be vastly different. The reality is she was a talented saleswoman for a clothing industry stuck in the same racist (sexist, sizeist, etc) world as the rest of us.
posted by sallybrown at 12:59 PM on June 17 [12 favorites]

Is there a free version of that WWD article?

I don't know, but here's another source (albeit uncorroborated) commenting about the publication circa 2014:
Generally, the percentage of ad pages for Conde Nast magazines is 40-50% as an average, changing from issue to issue and a country of publishing. For Vogue, the american september issue sometimes can reach 75-78% of ad pages.
Again, not corroborated, and from 2014, so perhaps take those numbers with a grain of salt.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:01 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]

High fashion is about consumption, as much as spectacle.

Did you see the wonderful Robin Givhan piece in the Washington Post yesterday, "Fashion was broken even before the pandemic. A reboot could be just what it needs." Her premise -- the aesthetics of fashion are far removed from the business realities -- gets a thorough airing-out, and I think it's relevant to the question of what American Vogue is going to be from now on. There's already a drumbeat to reduce or eliminate Fashion Week, there's increasing emphasis on the fashion industry needing to reckon with its environmental malfeasance ... it'll be interesting to see whether any of this gets explicitly recognized in the remnants of the traditional American fashion press.
posted by sobell at 1:06 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]

I am highly disinterested in the fashion industry, but I do find it very encouraging to see how widely the ripples of anti-racism are spreading. It's long overdue, and I hope the underlying systemic racism of our society is finally going to be dealt with.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:19 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Did you see the wonderful Robin Givhan piece in the Washington Post yesterday

That's a good read, cheers. There definitely seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors, hype, etc. that is built into the business model.

Watching the end to Making the Cut was interesting — the winner ultimately agrees to make aesthetic changes asked for by the investor (Amazon), which leaves the creative vision riding shotgun to the money, somewhat. When you have a few people at the top repointing creative people to what sells, diversity of viewpoints (and the effect when there is a lack of it) really begins to show.

Sorry to get too far afield of the topic of this thread, and I'll bow out.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:35 PM on June 17

Is there a free version of that WWD article?
Here is an archived copy that should work.
posted by kaelynski at 1:36 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]

When she thought it was financially and politically beneficial to keep POC out of Vogue, that was what Anna Wintour did. Not that it’s financially and politically beneficial to allow them in, that’s what she’s doing. This has nothing to do with her seeing the light. It’s just a savvy business move. Do we really think that she’s become an inclusive humanitarian overnight whose seen the error of her ways? No, she’s terrified for her job and the future of the magazine.
posted by Jubey at 4:27 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]

In April 2019, The Pudding published an article "Colourism in High Fashion" that looked at 19 years of Vogue covers to find out how Vogue represents women of all shades and includes several charts analyzing their results. Data visualization expert Soha Elghany used that data to make a chart in Tableau that was Tableau Public's Viz of the Day just a few days ago.
posted by Ranucci at 6:58 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]

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