Grace Dzilenski
Famous Personality Assessment of Anna Wintour
With simply a glare or an icily whispered remark, Miranda Priestly sends shivers down her target’s spines; by merely pursing her lips in disapproval she has the ability to literally destroy careers. Priestly, played by Meryl Streep in the hit movie, “The Devil Wears Prada”, is the editor of the fictional Runway Magazine and the high priestess of the whole fashion world. And all of this is based on a real woman who’s power and influence is not exaggerated in the slightest; Anna Wintour is the Pope of fashion and absolutely nothing happens in that world without her blessing.
Born in London in 1943 to a wealthy family, her father Charles Wintour was a renowned newspaper editor of the London Evening Standard (who ultimately was the impetus for her career in journalism.) Wintour’s tendency to do things her own way began very early in life, for example, she decided to forgo academics and dropped out of her finishing school to fully immerse herself in the alluring, swinging sixties scene in London. Frequenting the same clubs as the Rolling Stones and Beatles, she cut her hair into the signature bob hairstyle that she has worn ever since. She began her career in the fashion department at Harpers & Queen, and bounced between various publications rising up the editorial ladder. Wintour then moved to New York City in 1976 and became the editor of Harpers Bazaar, at only 33 years of age. After a brief stint at New York magazine, she headed back to London to take on the role of editor in chief at British Vogue. "I want Vogue to be pacy, sharp, and sexy, I'm not interested in the super-rich or infinitely leisured. I want our readers to be energetic, executive women, with money of their own and a wide range of interests," she told the London Daily Telegraph. "There is a new kind of woman out there. She's interested in business and money. She doesn't have time to shop anymore. She wants to know what and why and where and how." Clearly Wintour had a clear perspective and strong opinions as an editor but that was not the only reason she began to garner attention and criticism. In 1987 she was hired to make-over another publication, Home and Garden, whose titled she changed to simply HG. She also decided to cut almost $2 million dollars worth of photographers and articles, which had already been paid for. Many became a bit disgruntled by the alterations and her nicknames in the publishing community were “Nuclear Wintour” and “Wintour of Our Discontent” due to her lack of patience and harsh criticisms.
However, her bosses at Conde Nast (the publishing company for HG and many of her previous magazines) fully supported Wintour’s work, as illustrated by her $200,000 annual salary and a $25,000 annual stipend for wardrobe and other amenities. In addition, she demanded they subsidize Concord flights between New York and London so that she could see her husband, South African psychiatrist David Shaffer whom she married in 1984. But her stay at HG was also short-lived, for she was soon offered the coveted position of editor-in-chief at Conde Nast’s American Vogue, which was also in need of an overhaul. Long held as the signature fashion magazine, its circulation was stagnant and quickly losing subscribers to a new magazine called Elle. Conde Nast was deeply concerned that Vogue had become out of touch and even boring, so they gave Wintour full reign to revamp it however she saw fit with virtually unlimited financial backing. Over the more than twenty years that Wintour has been with Vogue she has reestablished the magazine as the authority on fashion, while also breaking new ground and producing astonishingly large issues. September of 2004 broke the record for a monthly publication with 832 pages (notably the majority of those pages are devoted to advertisers, which shows the profitability of her magazine.)
Along the way Wintour has also reached staggering heights of power and influence; for example she told Oprah that she would have to lose 20 pounds before she would feature her on the cover. (Oprah lost the weight and proudly graced the cover.) Another example was seen in 2008 when Hillary Clinton snubbed the magazine because she worried that appearing too feminine would hurt her chances in the presidential election. Wintour had no qualms about firing back a response in an issue of Vogue stating, “The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying. This is America, not Saudi Arabia.”
But clearly with that power and influence came an equally large ego. She has developed a reputation for being extremely aloof, critical, harsh, demanding, and severely challenging to work with. She expects her staff to always look fashion-forward and as rail-thin as she is and her lack of patience is legendary. "I'm very driven by what I do," Wintour has said. "I am certainly very competitive. I like people who represent the best at what they do, and if that turns you into a perfectionist than maybe I am." Many would not hesitate to call her the devil, and going back to the movie mentioned above, and it was one of her assistants who penned a book called “The Devil Wears Prada” which told the harrowing account of working as her assistant, which was then turned into the film. Love her or hate her, Anna Wintour has influenced fashion to an extent that no one else has or probably ever will in all of history.
Gordon Allport recognized that although people behave differently depending on their ages, whom they are with or what situation they are in, that we all have constant, core tendencies or traits. Anna Wintour certainly has unique, key qualities that have been practiced and exhibited consistently over time, so that her personality has come to be known as aloof, emotionally distant and demanding. Some of this can be attributed to Allport’s theory of common traits, which he describes as traits that people within a population share, and are basic dimensions. Wintour grew up in England, which is known for not being a particularly emotional culture; the common attitude is to keep a stiff upper lip and to be relatively conservative in emotional displays. Also, she was born in the early 1940’s, and previous generations were less likely to be comfortable exhibiting sentiment or emotion. Additionally, her father who was a World War II veteran and earned a reputation for being a tough, stern, rather humorless newspaper editor must have also had an effect on her disposition. It is likely that she inherited many of his traits, but also if she witnessed her father’s style, as an editor as being strict and firm and it was successful, it would be logical to follow in his footsteps. Therefore, it could be reasonable to assume that since she grew up in a culture that was collectively distant, and she inherited and modeled her father’s personality, being austere, harsh and cold comes naturally to her. The trait approach also employs the use of The Big Five personality test, which is useful in understanding Anna Wintour. In terms of Extroversion, Wintour would rate high, about a 6, because she is very dominant and opinionated. Energetic, enthusiastic and sociable aren’t exactly the words I would use to describe her but she is clearly passionate and committed, and while she is extremely selective about who she socializes with, she is a very social person. Agreeableness on the other hand is not her forte; I would rate her about a 1! She is not friendly, warm, cooperative or trusting. She is notoriously unkind, critical and impatient. She would rate very high on Conscientiousness, about a 6.5, because to get where she is requires perseverance, responsibility, devotion and hard work. Ironically, I would rate her rather low on Neuroticism, she is generally not nervous, worrisome, high-strung, or emotional. She is always quite in control, and even though she is harsh and mean she isn’t moody because her personality is quite consistent. In Openness is where there is a bit of a dichotomy, landing her somewhere in the middle. To be a magazine editor that focuses on arts, she is obviously cultured and intellectual. But she herself is not really the artist so I’m not sure that she is creative or witty or imaginative, she has other people focus on these matters and she almost seems to look at the art from a business perspective. And many could argue that she rather shallow.
The trait perspective helped show that Wintour’s personality is shaped by traits that are linked to biological heritage, shared culture and that despite her prickly demeanor, the Big 5 shows her as an extroverted, conscientious, relatively open woman with little neuroticism but her agreeableness needs a little work!
George Herbert Mead created the idea of the Social Self, which says that who we are and how we think of ourselves arise from our interactions with those around us. Henry Stack Sullivan also believed in the concept of the Social Self, and felt that we actually become different people in different social situations. Someone who has the position of the editor in chief of a world-renowned fashion magazine will obviously encounter a never-ending stream of new people and new experiences. And not only that, but the fashion world is notorious for projecting themselves in a way that would make even Gandhi second guess who they are or how to be. Wintour is quite possibly the world’s harshest critic and she deems what is “in” and “out,” therefore it is interesting to see that she herself does not follow any of the trends. She cut her hair into the distinctive bob haircut as a teen and has not changed it in the 50 years since. She wears her signature black sunglasses everywhere she goes, even if she’s in a dark fashion show at 9pm in the winter, she still has them on. Although she rarely wears the same thing twice, her outfits are virtually identical to one another. What I take from all of this is that despite working in a cutthroat industry where image is everything and the peer pressure (or situational press) is so suffocating, Anna Wintour does not seem to change who she is based on her surroundings. Although Sullivan felt personalities had an “illusion of individuality,” Wintour seems to have such a strong sense of self that she doesn’t change based on whom she’s with or where she is. She really does seem to have strong, enduring traits, which is astounding since she is at the epicenter of a culture obsessed with change and portraying oneself as cool. Which could suggest that adheres to Walter Mischel’s theory of being a low self-monitor. But clearly Wintour also adheres to Mischel’s theory of seeking and creating situations. Not only does Wintour spend all day working at a fashion magazine, but also she goes out most nights and attends parties and functions that focus on fashion and are filled with people related to the field. And even on her rare vacations, she regularly travels with people in the fashion industry; therefore we can assume that Wintour chooses not to divorce herself from her work and that by never escaping this world it helps to reinforce her self-concept that her identity is fully immersed in fashion.
But returning to Sullivan’s theory that who we are changes based on our surroundings and my findings that Wintour appears to immune to that (at least from an outsider’s perspective), there is one very distinct instance in which Anna Wintour completely and utterly changes who she is. In the 2009 documentary “The September Issue” which chronicled Wintour behind the scenes as she pulled together the 2007 September issue of Vogue, we saw a rare moment of Wintour at home interacting with her family. In the moments where you see her conversing with her daughter, everything that is Anna Wintour virtually vanished, to the point where she was almost unrecognizable. Gone was the chilly, inscrutable and humorless façade and instead we saw a nurturing, playful, sweet woman who could not stop doting on her daughter. And what was all the more ironic was that as Wintour adoringly chatted with her daughter, Katherine, the young girl said that she would never follow in her mom’s footsteps because fashion is so silly and shallow. In that moment there was a depth added to Wintour that was never before seen, for here was a person who was not afraid or nervous in her presence, in fact she poked fun at her mother and the kingdom she rules. And it was heartwarming to see how Wintour normally doesn’t change her cold, hard edges for anyone, except for the one person who really matters. Hopefully Stack would be proud!
Anna Wintour has been a magnet for criticism virtually ever since she emerged on the fashion publication scene decades ago, and it is not without merit. Even in an industry known for pettiness and cruelty, her harsh and demanding demeanor has ruffled a lot of feathers. But it must be acknowledged that if a man were in her position, little attention would be paid, and he would simply be known as a tough businessman. She has broken ground in fashion and print, set new trends and anointed and ignited the careers of designers, models, photographers and writers. Her personality garners much attention because it is fascinating when a woman behaves in a way that is deviant to what a woman is “supposed” to act like, and it was fascinating to note how her personality varied in the Person Situation Interactionist Approach. Assessing her form the Trait and Skill Aspects revealed that she scores quite well on most of the dimensions and that many of her behavioral patterns can be attributed to common traits. All in all I think Anna Wintour captures our curiosity because she is such a formidable, powerful figure and the world of fashion as the backdrop just fuels the flames. Her never-ending intrigue, controversy, worship and demonization has become part of her identity and even if she is the devil at least she’s well dressed.
R.J. Cutler (director). (2009). //The September Issue//. [Motion picture]. Roadside Attractions.
Oppenheimer, Jerry; Front Row: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor In Chief, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005
Weisberger, Lauren; //The Devil Wears Prada//, Broadway Books, New York 2003