Anna Wintour may have minted her public image in an age before Instagram, but nobody embodies a more cohesive personal brand than her.
The editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast has long hewed to a small set of visual cues that make her instantly recognizable. Her bobbed haircut, dark glasses and patterned dresses are so consistent that they've taken on a life of their own, inspiring Halloween costumes and comedy sketches and immediately calling to mind the personality traits people assign to Wintour: intensity, exacting expectations and a certain kind of powerful aura that can both inspire and intimidate.
But we're living, as so many have noted, in unprecedented times. And though there's plenty of proof of this in every news headline and trip outside that requires a face mask, we now have one more reminder that the world is turning upside down: on Monday, Anna Wintour posed for a picture wearing (drumroll please)... athleisure.
If it were somehow possible for a person familiar with the last couple decades in fashion to have been stranded on a deserted island without internet access since December, and they emerged from their information desert and the first thing they saw was this image, it alone would be enough to signify that the world has changed.
Wintour, quite simply, does not dress down in public — for the decades she's been in the public spotlight, she's rarely been seen without her heels and statement necklaces. In an era of celebrity built on over-sharing, when we're accustomed to seeing inside our favorite actors' homes and learning about our favorite pop stars' acne treatments, Wintour has remained a bastion of the old-school style of fame that is more interested in presenting a tightly polished image than in seeming "relatable."
But in the age of coronavirus, all that seems to be changing. At the end of March, Wintour took us by surprise by posing for a Vogue Instagram photo in jeans, which was, at the time, the most casual garb we'd ever seen her in. But on Monday, she upped the ante even more by posing for another Instagram photo, this time depicting her going on a run in a matching athleisure set from Tory Burch and Nike sneakers.
It couldn't have provided a more perfect visualization of Wintour's admonition in her editor's letter published that same day that "we must adapt. We have to." It also could've been read as a well-timed counterbalance to a New York Times piece published one day prior that characterized Wintour as someone who "made Condé Nast the embodiment of Boomer excess" and asked whether the company — and Wintour, its public face — could change to meet the current crisis.
The queries raised by the Times piece about the future of Condé Nast and all it stands for remain unanswered, for now. But one thing's absolutely clear: the world certainly is changing, and Wintour is trying to change with it.