I don’t really know much about fashion. Nor do I read Vogue, but when my school (Pratt Institute) announced that Anna Wintour would be the speaker for this year’s Presidential Lecture, I knew I had to go, if only to say I’d gotten to see her speak. Last year, I got to see the absolutely wonderful Martha Stewart give a lecture as part of the same series (which, when I relayed the details of said lecture to my father, he decided that I, much to his disbelief, went to “a real school.” Thanks Dad.) Martha spoke on garnering inspiration from her surroundings and translating it into other parts of, for lack of a better term, her empire. I was excited to hear Wintour talk about Vogue, to see the woman who I had heard was controlling, cutting, and crazy. I mean, Meryl Streep played a character inspired by her—she had to be over-the-top.
I was utterly shocked by the Anna Wintour I saw. Given, this probably had everything to do with the topic she picked: remembering Irving Penn, the long-time Vogue fashion photographer. Wintour was shockingly humble, perhaps partially given that she wasn’t just talking about herself or Vogue. “I’m not an artist,” she admitted, discussing working around Penn’s photography. And, in perhaps the greatest departure from the image of the egomaniac I had been led to believe she was, she didn’t even take credit for all of her own success: “[Penn] made me a better editor.”
After completing her lecture, she was joined onstage by Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European editor at large, and they discussed the work of several other Vogue photographers. As a layperson, it was interesting to see how so much could actually be captured in a fashion photograph, and how much fashion reflects the times politically, economically, and socially.
The event was wrapped up with pre-screened questions from Pratt fashion students. This was what we were waiting for: the things that were particularly relevant to students looking to make their way into her field. The insights here were a bit surprising: Wintour embraces blogs and social media as a platform for discussing fashion. “Anyone talking about fashion is a good thing,” she said.
The last question of the night was the best. It was the classic: if you weren’t doing your job, what would you want to be doing? “I think I’d like to run the Tennis Channel,” she said.
Image courtesy Pratt.edu