by Jonathan Durbin , 09/01/2009
If you were to ask someone to organize a global street party, Anna Wintour might not be the first you'd think to tap. Nevertheless, the normally reserved editor in chief of Vogue is the force behind Fashion's Night Out, the worldwide bash going down on September 10—the first day of New York Fashion Week. And that’s not all that’s in store for her this week. The September Issue, a new documentary that follows the creation of Vogue's September 2007 edition, the largest issue of the magazine to date, opens nationwide on September 11. Wintour sat down with nycgo.com to discuss her feelings about the film, as well as her thinking behind Fashion's Night Out and what she'll be doing on the evening of the event. (Hint: She'll be at Macy's in Queens, signing Fashion's Night Out T-shirts, posters and, as she put it, "the real September issue.")
How did you arrive at the idea for Fashion's Night Out?
Anna Wintour: It started back in March when all the international editors in chief of all the various editions of Vogue met together in Paris to strategize what we could do as a group to help the retail industry and designers. I'd always been impressed by the success of Paris' White Nights, which is the night where you can visit the city's museums until dawn. Fashion's Night Out is really a take on that. Each editor in chief is creating the event in their own city as they see it. In New York, we immediately reached out to Diane von Furstenberg, president of the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America], and got her on board. Then she and I went together to see the mayor [Mike Bloomberg] and got his blessing. After that, we had monthly, if not weekly, meetings with a whole group of people, from retailers to the CFDA to NYC & Company to a lot of people who work at Vogue and Teen Vogue. Now it's almost reached the point where it's a military campaign. We have over 800 stores involved, every designer and as many models as we could round up—I think we have 250 models going out into the streets of New York on the 10th. Here at Vogue, every assistant and every editor are being sent out all over New York.
How did you tailor the New York edition specifically for the City?
AW: What's great about New York and New York fashion is that it's such an incredible, eclectic mix. It's just like our neighborhoods. So you can go to the Teen Vogue fashion show on Perry Street; you can drop by a film on the High Line; you can go up to Saks Fifth Avenue and meet Justin Timberlake; you can go to the eco store at Barneys; or go out to Queens, which is where I'll be for part of the evening. I think that's what's so fun—it's really trying to cover the waterfront. That was very much the mayor's thinking, and we wanted to follow his direction. He didn't want it to seem like an elitist initiative, and I think he's right. Particularly in today's world, where there's so much wonderful fashion available at every possible price point, why not make it for one and all?
As you said, you'll be at Macy's in Queens. Where else would you want to go on Thursday night?
AW: I have a lot of places I'd like to go—they're working on my schedule now. There's a great Brooklyn street party that I want to go to. I certainly want to stop by Prada, where [Vogue creative director] Grace Coddington is re-creating the lead fashion story of September Vogue in which everyone's dressed up as wolves. She did a story in the issue called "Into the Woods," so she's creating this wonderful mise-en-scène. And then [Vogue editor at large] André Leon Talley, I think he's at Bergdorf's playing a Fashion Rules! game. I'd like to stop by Manolo Blahnik and say hello to him because he's flying in for the event. I'd like to go to Barneys and thank the Olsen twins, who are going to be there styling customers. I'd like to go to Bloomingdale's to thank Gwen Stefani. So I'm going to try to go to the different locations, personally thank everyone and do a little shopping at the same time.
Sounds like Vogue comes alive.
AW: Yes, it's Vogue comes alive, but it's really about fashion coming alive. We have up on our website a trend report that pulls from the fall/winter collections. It highlights what we feel are the important trends. I mentioned red, but there's the whole '40s silhouette [and others]. So we're trying to focus the consumer on what's in stores now, getting her to go out there, to be happy to pay full price, to understand the value of fashion, the fun of fashion, the names and the faces behind fashion and just make it an enjoyable experience.
When people hear about Fashion's Night Out, their first response is to think that the evening is about discounts.
AW: We're not by law allowed to influence in any way what the stores decide to do, but a lot of them had a tough time over the holiday season, and they needed to get rid of inventory that they had overbought. I think everyone's aware that it's a different situation now. They bought much more carefully for the fall. There aren't stacks of merchandise. Everyone feels very conscious that we have to talk to the customer about the value of fashion, and that you don't have to throw away a wardrobe at the end of a season. You can keep it for years and just add a few pieces every season. That time of extravagance and excess was great on many levels, but in these times that might seem faintly ridiculous. At the same time, though, that doesn't mean that everything should be 85 percent off, you know? That's very harmful and destructive.
What sort of response do you hope Fashion's Night Out will generate?
AW: We're not expecting a miracle. What we would love is for it to have some kind of a boomerang effect that will last through Fashion Week—that women, men, children, dogs, whatever [Laughs] will want to go back into the stores again, and look again, and enjoy that. I think that there's this sense that it's not morally justified to go shopping right now. This is meant to counteract that. The feeling is to put the fun back into fashion and have people go out for a really enjoyable experience: meet a designer, meet a celebrity, be styled by a model and really focus on the fashion that's in the stores rather than just looking at the clothes in the [Fashion Week] tents that will be coming next spring. Hopefully there will be a large amount of traffic. I don't think you can quantify a number.
Do you have any advice for retailers on how to create a successful event?
AW: I think that they've realized—and we've all been talking to them about this—that the hard-sell is not the right way to go. It's about making fashion personal, getting the designers into the stores as much as possible, having events that are not just "come buy this." I mean, Armani is hosting Rosie O'Donnell and Nora Ephron reading from [Ephron's] new play. It's that kind of thing that gets customers into the stores and leaves them feeling great about the experience. I think the clothing drive and the T-shirt being sold for the mayor's fund are lessons that they could easily learn. Difficult times teach everyone to be more creative. Vogue might be the nucleus, but everyone's doing their own thing.
Which explains why Oscar de la Renta…
AW: Is singing! Which I think is great! [Editor's note: de la Renta is hosting a cocktail party at his store on Madison Avenue, where he'll be singing to entertain guests.]
Do you want to make this an annual event?
AW: A lot of people are asking me that. The plan right now is to get through this one, and after all the collections are over in October, we'll sit down and evaluate it. It is a huge amount of work. If it has a happy result, maybe. [Laughs]
The September Issue opens nationally on September 11—just in time for Fashion Week.
AW: I heard it's already opened in a few cinemas. People are going to be sick of me. I'm going to be sick of me.
The posters are everywhere.
AW: Oh, well. There's a lot of other things going on right now. The movie's come and gone. Next! [Laughs]
In one scene in The September Issue, you meet with the heads of Neiman Marcus to discuss retail. What are you hearing from them now about what customers want?
AW: Things that are valued, personal. It's less about an interest in such-and-such celebrity wearing an item and more about buying fewer things that you can wear often but that mean a lot. It's not so much a reaction against cost. Consumers are prepared to pay the price, so long as they feel it's special. Special and value—those are the two words that keep coming back up.
Have designers made a turn toward that?
AW: Well, we'll see during Fashion Week. Hopefully.
What's your take on the film? Do you think it's an accurate portrayal of what goes on at the magazine?
AW: As I said to R.J. [Cutler, director of the documentary] when we first talked, this is his film. It's his view. I think he had a very clear mission of what he wanted to achieve, which was to document the creation of this one particular issue. As a result, a lot of the other things got completely left out. I felt badly about that because we do so much work supporting young designers and the Costume Institute [at the Metropolitan Museum of Art] and the CFDA/Vogue AIDS Fund. But that's my personal opinion. I understand that as a filmmaker the movie reflected his mission.
Are you surprised by the general public's interest not just in fashion but in the business of fashion?
AW: There is a huge interest there. I think the whole breakout of media coverage on the shows and the personalities, plus the interest from websites and bloggers and on Twitter and Facebook…there is a much higher level of awareness of all the personalities within the world of fashion than there was five years ago, not to speak of 10 years ago. And because most of us at Vogue are, on the whole, pretty private—we don't show ourselves to the world—I guess because of the outside media, there is interest. This isn't a world that people usually get a chance to take a look inside at.