Current Affairs

How Michelle Obama is backing fashion queen ‘Ambassador’ Anna Wintour all the way – to Paris, NOT London (despite the fact she speaks little French)

By  Sharon Churcher and Nick Pryer

PUBLISHED: 20:35 EST, 8  December 2012 |  UPDATED: 20:55 EST, 9 December 2012

 

Anyone doubting the veracity of Washington  rumours that Anna Wintour, the famously icy fashion queen of New York City, will  soon become a high-profile American ambassador in Europe should look no further  for substantiation than the archives of Vogue magazine.

In March 2009, the magazine – ruled by  Wintour as her personal fiefdom – devoted its cover and eight glossy pages  inside to an  interview with the new First Lady Michelle Obama alongside a  fabulously glamorous set of photographs shot by legendary portrait photographer  Annie Leibovitz.

The ‘Michelle Obama Edition’ hit the  newsstands with the glowing headline The First Lady The World’s Been Waiting For  – and transformed her public image at a stroke.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour, pictured at the 58th London Evening Standard Theatre Awards in November, is being put forward to become an ambassador to Paris 

Vogue editor Anna Wintour, pictured at the 58th London  Evening Standard Theatre Awards in November, is being put forward to become an  ambassador to Paris

 

Icy fashion queen of New York City: Anna Wintour backstage at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on December 8, 2012 in New York City 

Icy fashion queen of New York City: Anna Wintour  backstage at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on December 8, 2012 in New York  City

When she first appeared on the  political  stage, Michelle was dismissed as a slightly awkward,   intellectual lawyer:  an angrier, African-American  version of the young  Hillary Clinton. But  when Vogue was finished with her, Michelle was  recreated as a softly elegant  global fashion icon and role model: a  perfect Jackie to her husband’s JFK for a  multi-racial age.

The Vogue cover was the culmination of a year  of hard work by the ambitious and hard-working Ms Wintour, a committed  Democratic Party fundraiser  who spotted the White House potential of the Obamas  when Barack was  still regarded as a rank outsider.

As his star began to rise, Michelle appeared  in clothes by fresh, exciting young designers, and political sources say the  influence of Ms Wintour  on her choice of wardrobe is unmistakable. ‘Anna makes  Mrs Obama feel  glamorous,’ an administration insider told The Mail on Sunday.

So successful has Wintour’s guidance been  that Michelle, rather than  Barack, was regarded as the star of this year’s  bitterly fought  Presidential election.

Now highly placed diplomatic sources  in  Washington have revealed Michelle is driving the campaign to reward  Ms Wintour  by making her an ambassador to Paris. The move has been  greeted by astonishment  on this side of the Atlantic, particularly  because of Ms Wintour’s reputation  as a capricious ice maiden. Indeed  her legendary frostiness, which earned her  the soubriquet Nuclear  Wintour, seems at odds with the art of international  diplomacy.

The proposed appointment is backed by First Lady Michelle Obama, pictured at the Democratic National Convention in the U.S., who was featured on the front cover of Vogue in 2009

 

The proposed appointment is backed by First Lady  Michelle Obama, pictured at the Democratic National Convention in the U.S., who  was featured on the front cover of Vogue in 2009

She once described overweight people  in  Minneapolis as looking like ‘little houses’, and she is known for  frequent  angry outbursts. Her chilly demeanour is made all the more  intimidating by her  love of dark glasses – even indoors.

British journalist Toby Young – who  satirised his five-year stint in New York with Conde Nast, the magazine  company that publishes Vogue, in the book and film How To Lose Friends  And  Alienate People – said: ‘She presides over the fashion business with the  imperial hauteur of a Prussian general and expects instant,  unquestioning  obedience.

‘It’s hard to imagine a personality less  suited to the world of international diplomacy. She left school at 16 and has  been working in fashion ever  since. Obama’s chauffeur probably knows more about  international  relations than her. It’s like Caligula making his horse a  senator.’

One fashion editor in London said: ‘It’s  incredible the most powerful  nation on Earth should even consider appointing  the least diplomatic  woman on Earth as an envoy. She is joyless and  intimidating.’

The 'Michelle Obama Edition', pictured, was the culmination of a year of hard work by hard-working Anna 

The ‘Michelle Obama Edition’, pictured, was the  culmination of a year of hard work by hard-working Anna

Tales of Wintour’s capriciousness are legion.  When she hosted the Evening Standard theatre awards in London last month, she  demanded gold chairs, gold cutlery and a 22ft yew hedge be installed inside the  venue. She asked for the temperature to be turned down, that a guest who arrived  with her baby be removed and summarily cancelled dessert. At a New York fashion  ball at the Metropolitan Museum she asked to be informed about the size of the  knots on the ties of the waiters.

She put noses out of joint two years ago by  giving a speech at a London Fashion Week soiree at No 10, rather than leaving it  to a British fashion leader. Samantha Cameron was  said to be so terrified  of her that she acquiesced immediately.

But in America, the idea of Ambassador  Wintour has scarcely raised an eyebrow. Sir Christopher Meyer, former British  envoy to Washington, said last night it would be entirely in keeping with US  tradition.

He said: ‘Americans have always  regarded  their top ambassadorial positions as political appointments, a  reward for  services rendered.’

The current US envoy to London, Louis Susman,  is a banker from  Chicago who was a major Obama fundraiser in 2008. Obama  also appointed Dan Rooney,  owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, as  ambassador to Dublin.

U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes a speech at a dinner held by the U.S embassy in Paris last year 

U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes a speech at  a dinner held by the U.S embassy in Paris last year

In the past 50 years, nine out of ten US  ambassadors to Paris and London have been political appointees rather than  career diplomats. British-born Ms Wintour is an American citizen and Sir  Christopher added: ‘There is no systemic reason why Anna Wintour shouldn’t be an  ambassador.’

Meanwhile a State Department insider told The  Mail on Sunday: ‘Anna Wintour’s friends have expressed an interest in making  sure that she is nominated to become an ambassador to a major Western European  nation. I have had this confirmed from a friend in the political office at the  White House. I am also told there is only a slight chance Wintour will end up in  London.’

Mrs Obama, instead, is said to be pushing  vigorously for her to be sent to France, despite the fact that she is said to  speak little French. The State Department insider told The Mail on Sunday that  Ms Wintour is currently ‘under consideration’, adding: ‘Paris is her number one  choice. I gather Ms Wintour finds the Paris house and grounds particularly  spectacular.’

It is easy to see why the US ambassador’s  official residence should appeal to Ms Wintour. The grand mansion, once the home  of Baron Maurice de Rothschild, is one of the most imposing houses (after the  Elysee Palace) on the Rue du Fauborg St Honore, which is itself regarded as the  most fashionable street in the world.

State Department insiders are at  pains to  say that, if appointed, Ms Wintour would be expected to  concentrate on using  her close relationship with President Obama to  influence French president  Francois Hollande. Her personal style, love  of Parisian haute couture and  elitist views about beauty and femininity  are expected to go down  well.

Anna Wintour would be expected to focus on using her relationship with President Obama to influence French president Francois Hollande if she was sent to Paris, pictured 

Anna Wintour would be expected to focus on using her  relationship with President Obama to influence French president Francois  Hollande if she was sent to Paris, pictured

Ms Wintour’s supporters in the Democratic  Party hierarchy point to her tireless fundraising for Obama as evidence of her  focus, contacts and drive. She helped design a range of election merchandise  that raised £25 million for the party and organised a series of glittering  fundraising dinners where celebrities paid £25,000 each to meet the Obamas over  dinner at Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker’s Manhattan town house, and  at the home of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Ms Wintour is said to have  personally overseen the preparations with the iron hand for which she was  satirised in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada.

If divorcee and mother of two Ms Wintour is  nominated as an ambassador, the appointment must be confirmed by the US  Senate.

One obstacle might be money. Ms Wintour is  well-paid – her salary is believed to be £1.2 million – but not independently  wealthy. It is believed she has calculated she will need £500,000 a year to  fulfil the job in the style she regards as appropriate.

Some in Washington have raised the  possibility that her ambassadorship could be discreetly ‘sponsored’ by American  fashion designers Michael Kors or Ralph Lauren.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said  last week: ‘I have no personnel announcements to make.’

Vogue said: ‘Anna Wintour is very happy with  her current job.’

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