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Anna Wintour and Tina Brown at the 2019 Women in the World Summit.
Anna Wintour and Tina Brown at the 2019 Women in the World Summit.

A life in Vogue

In unguarded interview, Anna Wintour reveals a rarely seen sentimental side

By Abigail Pesta on April 12, 2019

Is there anything President Trump could do to score an invite to the Met Gala?

“Absolutely nothing!” Anna Wintour said in a rollicking conversation with Tina Brown at the Women in the World Summit on Friday, drawing laughs from the crowd. Wearing her signature sunglasses due to a recent eye surgery, she said, the iconic Vogue editor talked politics, fashion, the royal family — and how the #MeToo movement sparked key changes at Vogue.

The magazine “moved very quickly” to update its global code of conduct as the movement erupted, she said, making clear that “any kind of disrespectful or upsetting behavior would in no way be tolerated,” and launching a hotline for people to report “untoward” behavior at photo shoots or in the office.

“We made the very, very difficult decision to stop working with a number of photographers that were under investigation for sexual harassment, and these were photographers that were not only long-term collaborators, brilliant collaborators and colleagues at Conde Nast throughout the world, and very important to the voice of many of our titles, but also personal friends,” she said. “That has been a very, very tough decision, but absolutely no question that it was right one to make.”

She expressed her support for Harvey Weinstein’s former wife, designer Georgina Chapman, saying, “I think we’ve seen many times over the years, Tina, when maybe the wife is the last person to know what her partner might be up to. I think that Georgina behaved with discretion and I think was emotionally obviously devastated, but was very private, was very concerned, rightly, about her children. I think it would have been exceptionally unfair to blame Georgina for her husband’s behavior.”

Turning to her party of the year, the Met Gala, which is coming up in a few weeks, she said the theme for this year is “Camp.” She also dished on last year’s gala, where the theme was “Heavenly Bodies.” For that one, she managed to get the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel choir to come and sing — no small feat. She joked about communications with Vatican officials, noting that they aren’t big emailers. “I think they send messages by pigeon,” she laughed. She and the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum “had to make many, many visits to the Vatican,” she said, to seal the deal.

But then, a hitch: “His Holiness had agreed, but then we got a call to say that unfortunately, His Holiness had changed his mind, and the Vatican choir had to work on their homework, and they would not able to come to the Met to perform. So we went into a complete panic, and we were able to find a wonderful alternate — which was Madonna.”

“Take that, Pope Francis,” Tina joked.

“Two days before the Met or three days before, His Holiness changed his mind. So then we had not only Madonna, we also had the Vatican choir,” Wintour said, laughing. The choir was “absolutely perfect, immaculate, so well behaved,” she recalled, noting that the singers didn’t get distracted by glitzy celebrities — at least not at first. “Even though they were sitting in the American wing with Rihanna there and George Clooney and Amal Clooney, they were perfectly behaved. And then the minute they finished their performance…they leapt up and there was selfie heaven.”

Later she learned that “there was a lot of displeasure on the part of the Vatican on their behavior, and that the maestro himself had been let go,” she said. “I think there was also an element of possible corruption on the part of the maestro. Backstage at the Vatican is ceaselessly interesting.”

She also talked very personally about the death of her friend Karl Lagerfeld. “There is no one, was no one, like Karl. He was just a completely exceptional person. He was a linguist, he was a historian, he was a designer, he was a decorator, he was a philanthropist, he was a humanitarian. He was witty, he was wicked, he was the best kind of friend to have. He was incredibly generous and incredibly kind. He was this larger-than-life figure I think that we all need to inspire the world,” she said. “It was very poignant for me when we lost him.”

She described a touching moment after his death, recalling, “I was in London and I had to get on a flight very early the next morning to go to Milan for a press conference. I was sitting there reading all the obituaries in the British papers and international media, and there was a very un-fashion-type gentleman next to me — checked shirt, probably a businessman — and I suddenly started to bawl, I mean really bawl. He was so lovely. He just reached into his pocket and he just kept giving me handkerchiefs,” she said, her voice wavering. “He never said a word. I said, ‘Thank you, sir, for being so very kind.’ He said, ‘Madame, the world has lost a great figure.’ And to me, that was someone who was not involved in our world and he felt the loss. I feel like the whole world felt the same way. Karl was just this force.”

In another poignant moment, Wintour and Brown discussed how they had once gone to lunch together with Princess Diana, just six week before she died. Brown recalled how Princess Diana spoke of feeling lonely and of her love for her boys. Wintour remembered that she “looked incredible, she looked fantastic” in a mint green Chanel suit, and talked about the media. “I remember her talking quite a bit then, and at other times too, about how the royal family…were not comfortable dealing with the media. I think part of her popularity was that Princess Diana really was so good with media, was so in tune with them, and welcomed them rather than standing back. She was certainly the first person in the royal family to understand the benefits of that.”

Turning to politics and the array of Democratic candidates looking to topple President Trump, Wintour said, “It’s wonderful that there are so many viable candidates,” noting that she is “looking forward to the post-label generation…when we don’t have to label our candidates as the gay mayor from South Bend or the black female candidate from California. How about they’re just great candidates!”

She said she’ll support and help raise funds for whoever wins the nomination, adding that she hopes it “doesn’t take too long” to find the right candidate. “I am convinced that Trump is already fueling his war chest. I’m sure he’s spending a lot of money on digital advertising and probably voter suppression and many other things,” she said. “We have to win!”

She also praised New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on her handling of the recent mass shootings at two mosques. Just weeks after the massacre, the country passed a law banning most semiautomatic weapons. “I think when we look at the terrifying issues that we have in this country and obviously many other countries on gun control, and how brilliantly and directly and emotionally she dealt with the tragedy in New Zealand, and how swiftly they moved to correct the situation, it is astonishing to me that we cannot pass the simplest correction in this country. I just think it’s appalling. I wish she’d come and run this country.”

Wintour, who was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2017, sat beside Queen Elizabeth II on the front row at London Fashion Week last year, sparking a viral photo. When Brown asked what the queen of fashion had talked about with the queen of the U.K., Wintour smiled and said, “She and I discussed how long we had both been in our jobs.”

Additional reporting by Karen Compton.


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