Review: ‘Anna: The Biography’ by Amy Odell


ANNA: The biography, by Amy Odel


On the front pages of “Anna,” a semi-authorized biography by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the protagonist cries. It’s November 9, 2016, the morning after his old friend Donald J. Trump was elected to the presidency, and Wintour is speaking at a hastily organized staff meeting. In denouncing a Women’s Wear Daily article that accused her of going too far in her support of Hillary Clinton, she relents. That kind of peek into the soul that inhabits the iconic bob and sunglasses is what the book promises. On the cover, Wintour smiles from behind his armor, arms crossed defiantly, as if daring the reader to pierce the veil. The author, Amy Odell, tries hard.

The book is the product of more than 250 interviews and exhaustive archival research: in the letters of Wintour’s father, Fleet Street editor Charles Wintour; in nearly every fashion magazine Anna has put together over the course of her long career, including those in the obscure Viva, a Penthouse-owned women’s fur magazine that Wintour tried to clean up in the late ’70s. Odell even appears in a 1969 issue. from a fashion magazine published by young Richard Branson, in which Wintour, misidentified as “Anna Winter”, models the “Swinging London” styles of the time: a minidress, a pantsuit and a triangle top that exposes her midriff. There are about 80 pages of footnotes, bringing the biography to a page count of nearly 450 — long, in a sense, but also about half the length of Vogue’s largest September issue.

Odell’s extensive reporting brings out a wealth of delightful details: the time Wintour scandalized her boss by presenting a $9,000 goatskin trunk in New York magazine, where she was also known for throwing her pennies in the trash. ; that Andy Warhol considered her a “terrible hairdresser”; that she often bumped into people when going around corners at Vogue’s offices because, “being British, she used the other lane”; that after having lunch with Bill Gates, she told a colleague “how attractive she found him”; that “she once asked the photography department to touch up the fat around a baby’s neck.”

“Anna” is a biography with naturally complete goals, so these details are scattered throughout an extensive work that sometimes, well, does. And because fashion prefers the high-end and the European, names spring from a Pynchon novel: Francine du Plessix Gray, Lisa Love, Rochelle Udell, Min Hogg, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Peggy Northrop and Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis , who descends from people who actually feature prominently in “The Crying of Lot 49”.

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