Book review: Front Row, Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue’s Editor in Chief

Even if you don’t follow fashion, you’ve probably heard of Anna Wintour, if only from the film or book The Devil Wears Prada.

While that book, written by a former assistant of Wintour’s, is real life given a sheen of fiction, Jerry Oppenheimer’s unauthorised biography Front Row, Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue’s Editor in Chief, purports to be all reality.

From Wintour’s childhood as the daughter of Evening Standard editor Charles Wintour to her ascension to editor-in-chief of American Vogue – and leader of the world’s fashion industry – this book chronicles every moment that has made Wintour into what she is today.

And that is, according to Oppenheimer, one of the most feared and nastiest editors, if not women, in the world.

Of course, Wintour has a reputation. She’s tough, she doesn’t play nice by all accounts, and she’s said to be a harsh taskmaster. But Oppenheimer seems to go out of his way to portray Wintour as nasty – there’s barely a move she makes, according to this book, that doesn’t have some sort of motive behind it.

Tiny little incidents are made much bigger than they seem, all in order to make Wintour seem horrible. One that sticks out, from Wintour’s time at Savvy, is introduced by Oppenheimer as an incident that put Wintour’s “name and the magazine’s” on the line. It amounts to a photographer’s assistant damaging a rug and shattering a vase, and Oppenheimer quickly wraps up the story by saying the “damage was taken care of, and Anna walked away with her reputation and job intact”. Perhaps as he was writing Oppenheimer realised this incident was hardly what he made it out to be.

Oppenheimer does acknowledge Wintour’s talent at her job, and even includes quotes from people who say she’s tough but fair, but as soon as he’s praised her he’s off damning her again.

What I wanted was a book that really delved into Wintour’s career and gave me an insight into her talent and her world, which I realise isn’t always pretty (unless you’re sitting in the front row at a fashion show). Oppenheimer’s bitchy biography, while stacked full of quotes from sources and those supposedly close to Wintour, is just an extended version of a newspaper’s gossip pages, and not worth the paper it’s printed on. (If you want to find out more about Wintour, your time will be better spent watching The September Issue.)

How I got the book: Bought

Front Row, Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue’s Editor in Chief is the 10th book in my challenge to read 12 non-fiction books in 2013.

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