From her front row seat at the fall and spring fashion shows, a nod or frown from Anna Wintour can make or break what comes down the runway and send tremors through the fashion industry.
As one of President Barack Obama’s most successful fundraisers, the Vogue editor memorably played as a controlling ice queen by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada,” exerts her influence in another way.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, the British-born Wintour is part of an elite group of 27 Obama supporters who have used their connections to each solicit $500,000 for the president’s re-election campaign. In less than a year of making fundraising calls and hosting a string of dinner parties, Wintour has more than tripled the $100,000-plus she helped raise for the campaign in 2008.
The fashion matriarch’s support for Obama is not a complete positive for the Obama campaign. On the one hand, Wintour, who was named the 69th most powerful woman in the world this week by Forbes, brings a certain panache to a campaign that promises to reach the billion dollar mark. On the other, she highlights Obama’s celebrity ties at a time when the administration is tackling a down economy.
Last year, before Wintour, 61, hosted a fundraiser at her Greenwich Village home, the Republican National Committee sent out an e-mail with the subject line “The President Wears Prada.” In their press release, they blasted Obama for his “elitist disconnect from the American people.”
Surveying the guests at a fundraiser Wintour gave along with film titan Harvey Weinstein earlier this month - they included actress Gwyneth Paltrow, designer Vera Wang and singer Alicia Keys - Obama seemed to acknowledge the special nature of his audience.
“This is a pretty good looking crowd,” the president told his guests who had gathered around round tables in Weinstein’s basement.
Wintour declined to participate in this story. But a friend of the fashion editor says she is not “hell bent” on a particular policy issue or cause Obama supports. Rather, the friend said Wintour, who has known Obama since 2007 and who donated $1,500 of her own money to him in 2008, “really believes in his presidency, what he represents and brings to the table.”
“Anna has always been in [Obama’s] corner,” said the friend who did not want to be named, citing a desire to protect their friendship. “And she feels even more strongly about [the election] this time even though he’s had a volatile few weeks lately.”
The Obama campaign is certainly appreciative. “She is a force,” one senior campaign aide said. “You know who she is.”
And her efforts are not without their own rewards. Earlier this year, Wintour - who was appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2009 - secured a coveted invitation to the state dinner honoring Chinese premier Hu Jintao. Upon entering the White House in a Chanel zig zag suit, the editrix said she wanted to talk to Hu about investing in Chinese fashion.
At the same time, Obama isn’t the only Democrat Wintour has supported. She backed John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004, donating $2,000 to the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. She also donated money to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, the Democratic National Committee and a handful of other congressional hopefuls.
But her real involvement began during the last campaign, and Wintour, whose brother is a political editor at The Guardian in London, has only become more engaged, dialing up friends and hosting $30,000-a-head dinners like the one she had with Calvin Klein and Andre Leon Talley in 2008.
“I spent time on the aesthetics, and Anna did the phone calls and was really responsible for the funds,” Klein told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. “She was a powerhouse, this tiny, beautiful woman who you think just lives and dies for fashion.”
Wintour owns a vacation home in Mastic, N.Y., and has also thrown her support behind Rep. Tim Bishop, the Democrat who represents that district. She has donated more than $5,100 to the congressman’s campaign since 2008.
Her support “is very valuable to us and very much appreciated,” said Jon Schneider, who serves as Bishop’s district director.
Portrayed in “The Devil Wears Prada” as a hard-edged and demanding boss who had eyes for nothing but fashion, Wintour has taken a particular interest in the rehabilitation of the Forge River in Mastic, Schneider said. She has been to Bishop’s district office to lobby for support of the river and to give the congressman advice on cleanup efforts.
“When she walked in, an intern came into my office and asked, ‘Is that Anna Wintour?’ Schneider recalled. “I’ve got to say we were all a little surprised by her support. It’s not something she brags about or advertises but it shows that there’s a lot more than meets the eye. She knows her stuff.”
The Vogue editor also donated $1,000 to Bill White, the former Houston mayor who ran for governor of Texas last year and she attended a fundraiser for White at investment banker Roger Altman’s home in New York.
In an e-mail to POLITICO, White explained that he knows Wintour’s longtime boyfriend Shelby Bryan, a Texas communications executive who has donated more than $35,000 to Democratic candidates, and that he and Wintour share a “close mutual friend” in Houston.
White ended up losing the race. Still, “I appreciated her support,” he said.
Wintour isn’t the only big-name fashion editor who has donated to political candidates. Tina Brown, who currently runs Newsweek and The Daily Beast, donated $1,000 to Clinton’s Senate campaign in 1999 when she was editor of Talk Magazine. Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, donated $2,000 to Clinton that same year and $2,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the DNC respectively.
Samir Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, says Wintour’s support of political candidates has increasingly become the norm with fashion editors.
“The majority of fashion editors have come out of the closet” disclosing some political affiliation, Husni said. “But I don’t think readers of Vogue really care if she’s a Republican or Democrat. What you do inside those pages has nothing to do with who you are outside of those pages.”
But even though Wintour personally supports Democrats, her magazine has profiled both Republicans and Democrats alike. In the September issue of Vogue, for example, the magazine published a six-page spread on GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and his family.
“There’s definitely a separation between Anna Wintour the person and Anna Wintour, editor of the magazine,” Husni said. “You definitely won’t see an endorsement of anyone in the magazine. Vogue is the fashion bible. I don’t think any editor will dare mess with that brand.”
That hasn’t stopped Wintour from featuring the Obamas in Vogue and on the magazine’s website. Along with Obama’s appearances, Michelle Obama graced the cover of Vogue in 2009. Wintour told Forbes this month that having the first lady appear on the cover was a “benchmark” for the magazine.
But friends and acquaintances are quick to point out that Wintour did not show up for the first lady’s cover shoot or conduct the interview - something they say speaks to the way she conducts business and her relationship with the Obamas.
“I know of very little interaction between the two,” a source close to Michelle Obama said.
Still, the source added, “It doesn’t surprise me at all that Anna took an interest in [the Obamas]. People like Barack and Michelle because they’re seen as this glamorous couple with their fingers on the pulse. They did capture the attention of many Americans-not just the editor of Vogue— for that very reason.”
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