“I didn”t know anything”: As new book celebrating 120 years of Vogue is launched, Anna Wintour admits being out of her depth when first editing “fashion”s bible”
Ice queen: Feared and revered editor Anna Wintour has admitted she “didn”t know anything” upon first editing Vogue
She is known as the icy queen of fashion who does not suffer fools at all.
But in a rare admission of weakness Anna Wintour has revealed that in her early days as editor of Vogue she was way out of her depth.
In an interview Wintour that that she ‘didn’t know anything’ and had to trust her gut despite facing harsh criticism.
She also admitted that her convention-defying first cover was so out of the ordinary that the printers called to check that the image was not a mistake.
Now having been in the job 23 years, Wintour has launched a new book of classic Vogue covers, including her own first effort.
It spans the life of the magazine known as ‘fashion’s bible’ since its launch on December 17, 1892.
Wintour, 62, took over as editor for the November 1988 issue and wanted to make her mark – even if it meant being unsure of herself.
She has since grown into a perfectionist with an acid tongue who was said to have been the inspiration for the 2006 comedy “The Devil Wears Prada”.
Speaking to CBS, Wintour said that her first cover, an outtake from a non-cover shoot which featured an Israeli model wearing jeans, was ‘totally unplanned’ but it felt right.
She said: ‘And I just said, “Well, let”s just try this.” And off we went. It was just very natural. To me it just said: “This is something new. This is something different.”
“And I remember the printers called us up because they thought we”d made a mistake – just wanting to check that that actually WAS the cover!”
Speaking of her early days, Wintour said: “I didn”t know anything.
“I never pay any attention. I”m sure it”s not such a good way to be, but I don”t really follow market research.
Instinctively right: Anna Wintour”s first Vogue cover, which saw a model in jeans grace the “fashion bible,” was chosen upon instinct – and saw a 40 per cent rise in sales that month
“And 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.”
British-born Wintour, a mother-of-two, faced criticism for putting celebrities on the cover of Vogue instead of models, including Madonna, which some disapproved of.
She said: “I remember getting quite a bit of criticism for my first Madonna cover – you know: “She”s not in vogue, she”ll never sell.
“It was a little bit risky.”
Wintour added that when sales shot up around 40 per cent it was an ‘eye-opener to all of us.”
The $50 book, called “Vogue: The Covers” has been put together by herself, long time contributor Dodie Kazanjian and international editor-at-large Hamish Bowles.
Holding a mirror to trends: Vogue magazine covers from 1939, left, and 1915, have always captured trends
Another fashion era: Illustrative covers, from 1926, left, and 1950, were soon eclipsed by photographs
In total there are more than 300 of the most ‘beautiful, provocative, and fashion-forward covers ever produced’ along with the stories behind them.
It begins with the first illustrated cover in 1892 and features work from the likes of Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz and Helmut Newton.
To coincide there is also the digital archive of every issue at voguearchive.com, although publishers Conde Nast are charging each individual $1,575 a year for access.
Vogue was started as the chronicle for well-to-do New York women known as ‘Gibson Girls’, so named after the illustrator who created their look.
It was bought in 1909 by publisher Conde Nast who oversaw what Bowles described as an ‘explosion of colour’.
Rise of the Supermodel: Twiggy, left, and Cindy Crawford with Richard Gere graced covers in 1967 and 1992
Fashion”s bible: Farrah Fawcett in 1978, left, and the book, documenting 120 years of stunning Vogue covers
He said: ‘Really wonderful world-class illustrators start to produce covers which become kind of abstract and fanciful, and certainly aspirational.’
Another big change came in 1932 with the first colour photograph cover, which was taken by modernist pioneer Edward Steichen.
The biggest selling issue in the magazine’s history was the 100th anniversary issue in 1992, which featured many of the supermodels who had been on its covers over the years.
Wintour said: ‘They were kind of the Liz Taylors of the Eighties.
“They were the ones with the unbelievably glamorous lives and the crazy glamorous boyfriends. And they were the girls that everyone wanted to be.”
Both she and Bowles agreed that being on the cover of Vogue has a significance beyond that magazine itself.
Wintour said: “To be in Vogue has to mean something. It”s an endorsement. It”s a validation.”
Vogue The Covers. $50, is published by Abrams and is out now.