There’s buzz that Anna Wintour, the powerful editor of Vogue magazine, is being considered by President Obama for the prestigious post of U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom-- correctly known as ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.
When White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about this at a news briefing, he wouldn’t bite. But it is that time of the postelection season when plum assignments are being bestowed upon supporters, and when ambassadors who got political appointments in Obama’s first term are stepping down.
Of course, the first qualification for being ambassador to a fun, cushy country like Britain -- as opposed to one engulfed in civil war or terrorism and/or located in the Middle East and therefore requiring a serious Foreign Service officer -- is raising heaps of money to help elect the president. And that Wintour did, mostly through a series of high-dollar, celebrity-studded fundraisers, including a $38,500-a-plate dinner at “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker’s house in Manhattan.
Wintour is listed among the bundlers for Obama who raised more than $500,000. One source tells me she probably raised north of $1 million.
The second qualification is that you have enough of your own money to host dozens of receptions and gatherings at embassies, because the State Department doesn’t float you a huge entertainment budget. This is not an issue for the multimillionaires and near-billionaires who have gone off to European countries as ambassadors.
Athough Wintour may not be super-rich, there’s probably no need to worry that the Vogue editor, who lives in a Greenwich Village townhouse and has been reported to pull in a $2 million annual salary, can swing the entertainment budget on her own. Sure, she would lose that Conde Nast wardrobe allowance she is reported to have. But she already has a colossal wardrobe -- those Carolina Herrera dresses she’s been seen in would look great at English garden parties -- and designers around the world would probably want to send her free clothing. After all, she’d still be a style icon.
But after that, her bona fides for an ambassadorship are up for debate. At 63, Wintour’s look -- reed-thin frame and trademark hair bob with a thick fringe of bangs -- hasn’t changed much since she took over American Vogue in 1988. So, in a business based on mercurial trendiness, she’s admirably consistent.
Although a fashion editor doesn’t leap to mind as a first choice to be ambassador to the Court of St. James, does an investment banker? That’s who has the slot now -- Louis Susman, a former Chicago-based investment banker who raised cash for Obama in 2008. And the current ambassador to Ireland is Dan Rooney, the controlling owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers pro football team (although he has a long history of involvement in cultural and charitable groups in Ireland and America).
According to Bloomberg news reports, Matthew Barzun, finance chairman of Obama’s reelection campaign and a business executive, also wants the Britain post. He too is among Obama’s biggest campaign bundlers. And Barzun is a former ambassador to Sweden, a job he got after fundraising for Obama during his first campaign for the White House.
Wintour is as much a businessperson as they are and is one of the most powerful people (perhaps the most powerful person) in the multibillion-dollar fashion industry. She was the driving force behind the “Fashion’s Night Out” annual event to boost the flagging retail economy, and she has made Vogue and herself a major player in various New York cultural institutions. And Wintour, though now an American citizen, was born in Britain.
That said, I’m not sure how diplomatic she is. Whether you believe she’s the ice queen tyrant of “The Devil Wears Prada” -- the novel and movie whose main character is allegedly modeled on her -- or the creative and sharp-eyed editor in chief of the world’s most influential fashion magazine as profiled in the documentary “The September Issue,” she hardly comes across as warm and chatty. In fact, she is notorious for being aloof. However, the documentary’s maker, R.J. Cutler, has marveled at her ability to have the meetings she runs go no longer than seven minutes. So we know she’s organized and decisive.
Maybe the post would warm her up. One thing is certain: She’d have to lose the giant framed blackout sunglasses she’s fond of wearing indoors while sitting along the runway of a fashion show.