Wintour thaws

The most reviled and feared woman in fashion goes on David Letterman and ... kinda charms us?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 25, 2009 3:26PM (EDT)

You don't get to be the inspiration for "The Devil Wears Prada" by being warm and fuzzy. In her 21-year reign as editor of American Vogue, Anna "Nuclear" Wintour has been compared to Hannibal Lecter, Marie Antoinette and Cruella de Vil.

 Yet lately a different Anna has been emerging from behind the oversized sunglasses, a woman who's charming and surprisingly funny. On David Letterman last night to promote the new documentary "The September Issue," which chronicles the annual spectacle of making the one issue of Vogue that traditionally weighs more than most of its models, Wintour didn't jump on the desk and flash her boobies, but she did reveal a wry amusement at her own image.

 "I read in the New York Times this week that I'm an ice queen, I'm the sun king, I'm an alien fleeing from District 9, and I'm a dominatrix," she said dryly. "So I reckon that makes me a lukewarm royalty with a whip from outer space." Even Gawker enthused that Wintour came off "almost approachable" while Jezebel gushed that her appearance "went okay." 

She is, by all accounts, a tough, demanding boss, a person who expects nothing short of excellence from herself and others. She's a rich woman who works in the supremely elitist world of the thin and beautiful. There's very little that's earthy or populist about her. Even if she were a bundle of laughs, it'd probably be tough to love her. And from her position as the most powerful woman in fashion, Wintour's probably not sweating it about whether the JC Penney-sporting hoi polloi do. It's not her job to be cute and friendly, any more than it's Graydon Carter's, David Remnick's or David Granger's. On Letterman, Wintour said, "I'm very decisive and I try to give very clear direction to the people I'm working with," adding that she appreciates "wonderful work and creative, talented people." Her unmatched history of innovative art direction and championing young designers bears that out. We don't need to like you, you alien dominatrix. But after last night, we almost do.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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