Sunday, September 4, 2022

Weekend Review: Anna: the Biography


Anna: the biography / Amy Odell
NY: Gallery Books, c2022
447 p.

I've always been intrigued by Anna Wintour, and since this new biography arrived in my library I thought I'd grab it -- it's an authorized bio, and very lengthy, but not gossipy like earlier unauthorized attempts at writing about Wintour. 

It's quite thorough, beginning with Anna Wintour as a child; it talks about her family beginnings and her parents, explaining how both their personalities and their family backgrounds and careers affected Anna's direction. Unlike her siblings, she was more interested in fashion and journalism than university, and once she found her direction she went for it with precise aim. 

It covers all her early jobs and how they shaped her career in magazines, both by her successes and by those places and roles that she wasn't so successful at. It was interesting to see that here was somebody with a distinct vision and a particular personality, who wasn't too good at all the things that people are supposed to do to "pay their dues", but was superb at the role she wanted and finally got - editor of Vogue. 

She found early on that she didn't like many of the elements of a fashion job; going out on site as the producer of a shoot wasn't for her, and many of the daily grind kind of things weren't either. It was running the show and shaping the vision for the magazine that she wanted and was really good at. This kind of focus on doing what she wanted to be doing was interesting to me - how did she keep on with everything else in the meantime? I guess thinking about it as a step toward the ultimate goal. 

Anyhow, the book does talk about her personal relationships to a degree, and does point out some of the missteps she made at other magazines as well as the one or two big errors at Vogue. But it was written by a fashion insider (Odell is the editor of and depends heavily on interviews with friends and family, as well as being okayed by Wintour, so there isn't too deep of a discussion of the various criticisms she's faced over the years. 

Along with the personal, there's quite a bit about the workings of the fashion world in general, and about Condé Nast in particular. A reader finds out a lot about the bosses and the work culture at this magazine consortium, and my lord, you'd have to have a thick skin to make it there. I've noticed that Anna Wintour was not front and centre at every runway show in the past while, and wondered about it, but here I discovered that she is no longer the editor of Vogue but the overall content manager for Condé Nast as a whole -- so now it makes sense. 

If you're also interested in fashion journalism and the history of Vogue magazine, and have a fascination with Anna Wintour like I do, this is a good read. Lots to think about here even if it isn't an "exposé" of anything, but more of a putting on record of Wintour's career overall. I feel like it did a good job of tracing her personality and how it developed and worked for her (and against her) in her chosen field. And it also pointed out how many of those traits were only criticized or examined because she was a powerful woman - many men in the same roles were far worse but never got a comment on their leadership at all. Fascinating read about a huge figure in the fashion world, I enjoyed it. 

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