Review: ‘Anna: The Biography’ by Amy Odell


ANNA: Biography, by Amy Odell

The protagonist cries in the first pages of “Anna,” a semi-authoritative biography of Vogue editor Anna Wintour. It’s November 9, 2016, the morning after his old friend Donald J. Trump’s election to the presidency, and Wintour speaks at a hastily arranged all-staff meeting. During the review against Women’s Everyday Wear article accusing him of going too far Support for Hillary Clinton, it cracks. This kind of look at the living soul in the iconic bob and sunglasses is what the book promises. On the cover, Wintour grins from behind his armor, arms defiantly, as if challenging the reader to pierce the curtain. The author, Amy Odell, is trying bravely.

The book is the product of more than 250 interviews and extensive archival research: letters to Wintour’s father, Fleet Street editor Charles Wintour; Anna has been involved in almost every fashion spread she has put together during her long career, including those at the obscure Viva, a Penthouse-owned, ladies’ skin magazine that Wintour was trying to clean up in the late ’70s. Odell models the “Swinging London” styles of the day from a 1969 issue of a fashion magazine published by a young Richard Branson, in which Wintour mistakenly identifies as “Anna Winter”: mini dress, pantsuit, and revealing triangle top. There are about 80 pages of footnotes, bringing the biography to about 450 pages—long in a sense, but also about half the size of Vogue’s largest September issue ever.

Odell’s extensive reporting reveals a number of nice details: when Wintour scandalized her boss by publishing a $9,000 chest of goatskin in New York magazine; that Andy Warhol saw her as a “terrible dresser”; She often bumps into people while turning corners in Vogue offices because she “uses the other strip because she’s British”; After having lunch with Bill Gates, she told a colleague “how attractive she thought he was”; “He once asked the photography department to touch up the fat on the baby’s neck.”

“Anna” is naturally a biography with complementary goals, so these details are sometimes scattered throughout an expanded work. And because fashion favors the nobility and the European, the names pour out like something out of a Pynchon novel: Francine du Plessix Grey, Lisa Love, Rochelle Udell, Min Hogg, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Peggy Northrop, and Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis. It comes from the people who really stood out in The Crying of Lot 49.


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