Anna: The Biography by Amy Odell review – the coldest Wintour on record

This strait-laced portrait fails to unpick Vogue’s famously frosty editor-in-chief Anna Wintour – or even poke fun at some of her more ludicrous behaviour

For all those who have occasionally wondered just what might lie behind the eternal sunglasses of the famously scary Anna Wintour, the author of a new biography of the longstanding editor-in-chief of American Vogue has momentous news: it seems that there is, after all, “a person there” (as opposed, you understand, to a robot programmed by the ghost of Oscar de la Renta). But while journalist Amy Odell has indeed found several witnesses willing to testify on the record to the existence of this corporeal being, she is, alas, unable to go much further; to explain what motivates Wintour, let alone to reveal what keeps her awake at night (assuming she can tell it’s the night). Her book might well be based on 250 sources and come with notes longer than the concordance to Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. However, full disclosure, it is not – unless, of course, the reader was hitherto unaware that Wintour’s “ability to empathise is debated”.

Debated! The word would come with all the wit and understatement of vintage Maison Margiela were it not for the fact that it is used completely without irony. Then again, its author’s refusal to poke fun at anything, however ludicrous, is also the only reason I enjoyed her book. If the pages (and pages) she devotes to Wintour’s assistants – young women who must not want to be writers and whose job it is to make sure that her full-fat latte and blueberry muffin (an item usually left uneaten) are waiting on her big, white desk every morning – are comprehensive to the point of tediousness, it’s hard not to laugh at her utmost seriousness, even when dealing with the mad and the risible. Having noted, for instance, that after the 9/11 attacks, Wintour went back to work immediately, she quickly adds that this was hardly unusual: after a facelift in 2000, she returned to the office – even more amazing! – with bruises still visible. Yes, Vogue’s staff were uncomfortable at being expected to do similarly, but they were also, thank goodness, able to make “one extraordinary step toward self-care” by wearing flats rather than heels “in case they had to run down the stairs”.

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