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
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
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
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
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
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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