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Vogue, Under Anna Wintour, Has Fallen From Fashion Bible To Pop-Culture Rehash

By Erica Jimenez··  8 min read
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If you tuned in to watch this year’s Met Gala red carpet parade, there is one name you may have heard mentioned in the background: Anna Wintour.

The ideas expressed in this article are solely the opinion of the author and not to be construed as fact.

The editor-in-chief of Vogue is the mastermind behind fashion’s most iconic night of the year. While there has always been an element of theatricality to the Met Gala, the last several years have reached new lows regarding the quality of both fashion and the guest list.

What used to be an up-scale event for New York’s high society is now some elaborate costume parade for celebrities and the biggest faces on TikTok. For years, women like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians were banned from attending by Anna Wintour, who considered them tacky and unfashionable. That’s why, in 2021, fashion cognoscenti were horrified to learn that several TikTok influencers including Addison Rae and Emma Chamberlain, were to be invited to the oh-so-exclusive event.

Many may wonder if something is going terribly wrong for the Met Gala behind the scenes, because this year the entire Kardashian-Jenner family was invited to attend. Quite a triumph for the ladies who have long been excluded from the halls of high fashion.

This begs the question: what exactly is motivating the notorious Anna Wintour to relax her famously restrictive standards around who may attend the Met Gala? Is this part of a desperate ploy to make the event more popular to the younger generations, who seem to be wholly uninterested in what Vogue, and by extension, Anna Wintour, are selling?

American Vogue may have once been one of the preeminent fashion publications in the world, but that was a long time ago. Now, one could argue that it’s a tired, unimaginative, politically motivated shadow of its former glory.

High Fashion or Influencer Culture?

Is anyone else tired of seeing the Hadids on the cover of Vogue? We get it, they’re beautiful and desperately famous. But when was the last time you remember seeing a Vogue cover that didn’t feature one celebrity or another? (Or, even worse, a painfully unfashionable politician?)

When Madonna appeared in her first Vogue cover in 1989, it was a huge departure from the publication’s history of covers featuring only models, according to Wintour. “I see the role of Vogue to reflect what’s going on in the culture,” Wintour says. “The first celebrity that I put on the cover of Vogue was Madonna, and that was considered completely controversial at the time, too. It’s such a long time ago probably no one remembers, but she was a very controversial figure. Now she’s part of the establishment. I think if we just remain deeply tasteful and just put deeply tasteful people on the cover, it would be a rather boring magazine. Nobody would talk about us. It’s very important that people do talk about us.”

Flash forward to 2021, and the cover is now seemingly open to anyone. Even Madonna’s much less well-known daughter Lourdes Leon managed to snag a spot in the September issue cover, a homage to Vogue’s new dedication to diversity in fashion. 

It seems to have been this same desire to “keep up with the times” that drove Wintour to put Kim Kardashian and Kanye West on the cover of Vogue in 2014, despite the fact that she has implied the couple aren’t “tasteful.”

“Th[e] cover was a deeply controversial cover,” she recounted. “But Kim and Kanye were a part of the conversation of the day. And for Vogue not to recognize that would have been a big misstep. You are leading, not following – and that’s a very important lesson to always keep in your mind.”

Leading the fashion world into the pit of influencer driven fashion and cheap internet clicks, that is. It may be hard to blame the explosion of influencer culture solely on Vogue’s feature of Kim Kardashian on their cover, but it certainly didn’t refute her status as a poor imitation of true style and class. 

Anna Wintour Has Cultivated an Atmosphere of Exclusion and Nepotism in High Fashion

Because fashion is, if nothing else, a sign of class for Anna Wintour. She herself is descended from the British aristocracy, with ancestors including a duchess and several earls. More directly, she is the product of British publishing royalty. Her father served as editor of the Evening Standard, and her stepmother, Audrey Slaughter, was a magazine editor who founded publications such as Honey and Petticoat.

Apparently, Anna Wintour likes to keep high fashion in the family, so to speak. Most of the biggest faces in fashion right now – Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber, Kendall Jenner – are descended from famous parents. Wintour has also fostered the career of Victor Demarchelier at Vogue, son of photography legend Patrick Demarchelier, who was known as Princess Diana’s “personal photographer.”

Of course, it’s not a crime to be born to rich parents, or even to use those parents’ connections in order to make your way in the world. But such a restricted group can get boring easily. After all, it’s usually the up-start newcomers who bring the much-needed fresh take when things begin to get stale.

It’s usually the up-start newcomers who bring the much-needed fresh take when things begin to get stale.

Unfortunately for Wintour, her iron-handed grip on the fashion industry has blocked out anything truly innovative for decades now. It has also, according to many fashion insiders, created an environment that thrives on the exploitation of harmful stereotypes.

Wintour Has Been Accused of Profiting from a Legacy of Colonialism and Elitism

In the words of the late designer and ex-friend of Anna Wintour Andre Leon Talley, "Anna Wintour is a colonial broad; she's a colonial dame.” Talley blames Wintour’s attitude on her aristocratic bloodline: "She comes from (Britain), she's part of an environment of colonialism. She is entitled. And I do not think she will ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege."

Accusations of an exclusionary environment at Vogue are nothing new –after all, “Nuclear Wintour” inspired the infamous Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada, which was written by one of her former assistants about her time at Vogue. “I've never seen or experienced first-hand the kind of discrimination, burnout, or pay disparities that I've witnessed at Condé Nast,” a Condè Nast union member told the Daily Mail, discussing a recent protest against Wintour for what the union considers unfair labor practices by the publisher.

Worse than burnout, over a dozen Vogue employees (who chose to remain anonymous) told The New York Times that they had experienced racist or hurtful treatment under Wintour’s leadership. Under Ms. Wintour, the employees claim Vogue “welcomed a certain type of employee – someone who is thin and white, typically from a wealthy family and educated at elite schools.”

Then there was the 2008 cover of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen that for many was far too reminiscent of a racist World War I propaganda poster. The basketball star is bellowing and gripping the supermodel around the waist in almost an exact mirror to the poster that urges potential recruits to “Destroy the Mad Brute.”

Not exactly a good look for a publication that purports to be a shining example of everything modern, progressive, and fashionable. 

Closing Thoughts: Vogue Is No Longer Leading the Way, It’s Following

When we think of a high fashion magazine, we imagine a publication that is responsible for setting trends, not following them. But it has been a long time since American Vogue has done anything innovative besides putting a man in a dress on the cover. Groundbreaking.

Vogue is more interested in staying on the right side of sociopolitical trends than it is in pushing the envelope. It’s impossible to be truly ingenious when you must simultaneously bow to a strict set of ever-changing rules about what’s acceptable. 

Even worse, Wintour seems happy to follow in the footsteps of TikTok influencers, rather than forging a new and different path ahead. What exactly are these internet phenomena’s claim to class or style influence? A big following on a random app? You can’t run a multi-billion dollar industry off the whims of a few million kids. 

Fashion may be the product of millions of tiny influences all coalesced into one physical form, but discernment and taste can’t be crowdsourced. You don’t have to agree with what Vogue says, but at least they should be saying something. But right now, I'd argue that they’re nothing more than empty pages and empty words. 

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