When the editor of Vogue rails against consumerism, the economy must be in a tailspin. Before she headed to the New York runway shows, fashion kingmaker Anna Wintour—dressed in taupe Manolo Blahnik boots, a Carolina Herrera sheath dress, and a tweed coat with a large fur collar draped over her shoulders—sat down in her office, with a perfect fresh bouquet on the desk, at Conde Nast's midtown Manhattan headquarters and discussed why "value" is in and "too Dubai" is out.
WSJ: If fashion is a barometer of the prevailing mood, what can we expect to see for fall 2009?
Ms. Wintour: It is so important for designers not to run scared, and not to be too worried about what's safe and what's commercial. Right now, what's going to work is something their customer doesn't have in her closet and that has a real intrinsic sense of value. …Because to be honest there's been too much product, too much copy-catting, and, probably too much consumerism. I think a sense of clarity, a sense leveling off and a sense of reality is needed.
So people want to look understated?
Yes, I don't think anyone is going to want to look overly flashy, overly glitzy, too Dubai, whatever you want to call it. I just don't think that's the moment. But I do feel an emphasis on quality and longevity and things that really last. This morning I went to see Ralph Lauren, who designed a tiny but superb collection of watches. You can look at those watches, you can see if you buy one you will have it for the rest of your life.
During the boom, were people buying too much stuff?
I think it was excessive, and there's a very correct correction going on.
When do you think the consumer will be confident enough to shop like she used to?
I don't think she's is going to shop the way she used to in the immediate future.
Will she ever?
I am not saying never. Who would ever say never? That would be ridiculous. I think what she buys is going to give her more pleasure because it's going to last longer, mean more.
Are you trying to add more moderately priced clothes to fashion spreads?
I think we need to give women the aspirational clothes that can make them dream, and another portfolio that's about mixing high and low, certainly the way the First Lady is dressing. It's about a mix. …In the Index pages we are looking more rigorously at price and value and asking, 'is something worth that particular price tag?' A thing that wasn't worth it? Without naming names, we had a little sequined thing that wouldn't come down to here on you [points to chest.] And I said, 'How much is it?' $25,000. I said, 'No. We're not going to photograph that right now.'
How is Michelle Obama and the Obama administration affecting the fashion mood right now?
Hopefully, the bailout package will have a positive effect on the economy, although it would be ridiculous to think it's going to have an instantaneous effect. Previous First Ladies seemed to feel the need to wear a sort of uniform, whereas Michelle Obama likes fashion and is very comfortable in fashion. She's happy to mix high and low, and she loves emerging designers. That will do nothing but good for our industry.
Are you personally inspired by the way the First Lady dresses?
She wears clothes beautifully. They always look like they belong to her. It's extraordinarily refreshing, and it's empowering for women all over the world. I think what's different about this administration -- and I am talking strictly about fashion here -- is that they really enjoy it. Working with other brilliant people in Washington previously, I felt they've been nervous about clothes, about being criticized and not taken seriously. Washington has been very conservative. But I think now we have a beautiful and brilliant First Lady who loves clothes and enjoys them, and she is going to send that message to women all over America -- they can wear beautiful clothes and still be taken seriously.
By creating the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, you've helped fund and mentor young American designers. How can you support young designers in such a challenging environment?
My editors and staff have to be out there in the next 10 days. We have to be very visible, very supportive. …[For designers,] keeping collections extremely focused while maintaining quality is also important. Making everything suddenly inexpensive is not the right way to go. I have to say how incredibly generous the industry is -- how supportive of young talent. It's an incredibly impressive group: Patrick Robinson, Kate and Andy Spade, Andrew Rosen, Reed Krakoff, Diane [von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America]. Even the beauty industry, they really do believe in giving back. None of them are stepping back at this time, which I think is remarkable.
If many of the most successful emerging designers are still struggling, what do you tell all the fashion students who want to be just like them?
It's important for young women and men coming out of the fashion schools to think seriously before starting their own collections. Anyone who wants to be a designer and thinks they're going to be the next Calvin [Klein], Ralph [Lauren], or Michael [Kors] is not realistic. It is much more helpful for them to go and study with an Oscar [de la Renta] or a Carolina [Herrera] -- someone who can teach them.
Many well-known designers have recently created cheap-chic lines for stores such as H&M and Target. Why don't they just license their own low-end labels? Do you think they've ceded ground to some of the purveyors of fast fashion?
I am sure that the checks from Target, and the exposure, are very helpful. I don't agree that [they lost ground to cheap-chic retailers]. If it's the right fit, [I encourage it] absolutely. One of the collaborations we do through the Fashion Fund is with the Gap [wherein the winners design their own twist on the classic white shirt]. Gap takes the designers all over the world, and photographs them with young models wearing the shirts. And the shirts are fabulous. [End]