Anna is the former artistic director of Condé Nast, Vogue’s publisher, and a force of nature by all accounts. Up close you might not find her so intimidating, but only the chosen elite would be allowed the privilege of being in her company. Even if you secured a meeting with her you’d first have to navigate the long walk to her office, through whitewashed corridors and buffer zones. At the end of the long walk you’d wind up in an extravagant office and be greeted by the formidable poise and fragrant sophistication of a seasoned magnate.
It’s hard not to recognise someone like Anna, with her coiffed bob and large sunglasses, behind which those all-seeing eyes flit critically about the room. It’s safe to say she’s accepted a cult of personality that has her standing at the fatless heart of her company, like Atlas, holding the fashion world up between her narrow shoulders. Her choice of outfit is often unashamedly lavish, with a mixture of opulent furs and exotic skins, reminiscent of old-fashioned power dressers. Mostly you’ll find her looking vibrant and colourful, courtesy of Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Fendi, Givenchy or Saint Laurent. It might not be the style you’d expect from an icon with such a serious and iron-clad reputation. Let’s not forget that this is the same woman who was nicknamed ‘Nuclear Wintour’ and also inspired her former assistant to create that imperious fashion editor, Miranda Priestly, for the roman à clef, The Devil Wears Prada. Suffice it to say that Anna has been attracting a following since she assumed control of Vogue in New York. Before she arrived the magazine was starting to seem a little stale, but then she blasted the whole publication wide open with her famous first cover, showing, simply, a model in a t-shirt and blue jeans, with a small amount of stomach showing. So surprising was this decision that the printers actually questioned it and asked if Vogue had made a mistake.
Under Anna’s watchful eye, Vogue continued to shape the fashion industry, creating new trends and promoting upcoming young designers. However, the magazine had wasn’t always positive and Anna became quite a controversial figure after a few years at such an influential post. Animal rights activists came in droves and berated her for shamefully promoting the use of fur in their fashion lines.
“Nobody was wearing fur until she put it on the cover in the early 1990s,” said Tom Florio, Anna’s co-worker at Vogue, “She ignited the entire industry.”
In a surreal turn of events, Vogue had suddenly come to represent the revival of fur, featuring two-page photo spreads devoted to fur and numerous pro-fur editorials written by Anna herself. At the same time the magazine also flatly refused to accept paid advertisements from animal rights organisations, as if stoking the fire that would later engulf their magazine and eat at their credibility.
It wasn’t long before the activists rose up to challenge this deplorable new direction. Anna became the unsmiling recipient of hurled tofu and custard pies and, on one occasion, a dead racoon was even dumped onto her plate in a restaurant. These were the desperate and brazen tactics often attributed to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and this was undoubtedly the organisation that led the charge against Vogue.
One of PETA’s most famous representatives, Pamela Anderson (alongside Chrissie Hynde and Eva Mendes), went so far as to say that Anna was the living person she most hated.
“She bullies young designers and models to use and wear fur,” she said.
For all their airs of being cultured, progressive and sophisticated, Vogue had adopted an antiquated approach and proven themselves to be capable of making vacuous decisions and not averse to allowing wanton animal cruelty to supercede their standards. It was a moral outrage and it came from the top. Many people boycotted their publication and crowds amassed across the world to express their disgust. One memorable example was the fervent protest outside Harrods, when one woman held aloft a handwritten sign, which read: ‘The Devil Wears Fur’. That particular protest was a response to catwalks during New York, London and Milan’s Fashion Weeks, when animal skins and fur coats were all the rage. In fact, German designer Karl Lagerfeld actually showed off motorbike helmets swathed in mink and chinchilla, just in case bikers would one day like to sport recently bludgeoned roadkill.
In a short space of time, Anna’s elitist views, unapologetic edge and bold character, formerly celebrated in popular culture, were now being publically attacked by animal lovers everywhere. In light of her unempathetic stance, those intriguing assets actually became an indication of her inhumanity. It was something that PETA would use to their advantage and they spared no time in Anna at every turn, to deter him from bringing fur back into the mainstream. It , doesn’t it? All the poise and grace spent in such a spoffish way. Just imagine how Anna could’ve used her influence, had she not been so hell-bent on promoting the killing and skinning of animals. And let’s get this straight – we’re not talking about Inuits using fur to shield themselves in blizzards and keep their families warm for the winter. We’re talking about fashionistas strutting through the sunny climes of cosmopolitan cities, pursuing the kick of ‘being ahead of the curve’, ‘remaining current’… and other such vain cliches. It’s such a shame that many of the models still flocked to the Vogue banner and were revealed to be so fickle. A good example of someone who momentarily abandoned their ethics was Naomi Campbell. You might remember that Naomi was once an ambassador for PETA’s ‘Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ campaign in 1994. She then backtracked after Anna created the fur bandwagon and quickly opted to front a campaign for the luxury furrier, Dennis Basso.
The return of fur looked like a sure bet, much to the chagrin of Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of PETA, who, just like Anna, is also known for being a force of nature. Remember that this is a woman who displayed caged, naked models in city centres to illuminate the treatment of imprisoned animals. The same woman who joined her supporters in storming the Vogue offices in France, wearing leg traps. These were just a few in a series of stunts that Ingrid helped to execute, whilst desperately trying to change Anna’s mind. In the end, Ingrid discovered another of Anna’s newly revealed vices – she was very intransigent. Taking a different approach, Ingrid offered Anna a brain scan for her birthday:
“There is this thing called a ‘mirror neuron’ that allows you to empathise,” said Ingrid, “In some people it’s not developed, so I said: ‘If the result comes back and it’s not developed, then it’s not your fault that people loathe you.”
Looking at Ingrid, an unassuming older lady who’s often neatly dressed and wearing a smile, you might not expect her to be the fiery radical at the head of the world’s largest animal rights organisation. However looks, as you know, can be deceiving, and her calm exterior belies the passionate storm inside. This is a woman who, at the age of 22, opted for voluntary sterilisation because she’d decided that the ‘world has enough babies’. She also said that she wanted her feet turned into umbrella stands after she died, hoping to highlight the mistreatment of endangered animals. All this might sound a little crazy, but, in the end, we have to remind ourselves that it takes a woman like Ingrid to rattle the cages and wake the yawning status quo. Someone so willing to go to extremes is very difficult to ignore and likely to make models think twice when they throw on the latest number made of sexy animal carcass.
You also have to regard Ingrid’s eccentricities within the context of the current global environmental crisis. Presently Earth is home to millions of species, but only one that considers itself morally sufficient to hold dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. We see ourselves as an infinitely intelligent animal, and undoubtedly we are – you only have to look at our rapid acquisition of knowledge, expanding civilisations and the invention of ‘Best of Both’ bread to see it. However, wisdom is something altogether different. Wisdom is the application knowledge to change the trajectory of the way in which you live. For example, a child that knows how to read is intelligent, at least in as much as they possess the cognitive ability to translate pre-assigned symbols into a narrative. But, if that same child chooses, having learnt to read, never to pick up another book so long as they live, they’re being unwise – you see?
Of course, our understanding of wisdom is entirely subjective and so we really have to make up our mind whether our actions suit the way we want our future to play out. That being said though, here’s a little test we can try out to determine whether or not we think humans are a wise species:
The strand of the Homo Genus belonging to our species has been around for approximately 200,000 years. In 1960 there were 3 billion of us, at present there is around 7 billion of us and by 2050 there will be some 9 billion humans, all crowded together on this little blue marble. Just consider the accumulation of dangerous greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane that we will produce by that time. Already we have been causing irrevocable damage to our climate. The 10 warmest years on record – that’s in the recorded history of our entire planet – have all occurred since 1998. In short, Earth’s life support system, which is made up of the atmosphere (air we breathe), the hydrosphere (planet’s water), cryosphere (ice and glaciers) and biosphere (plants and animals), is failing. We are hurting our home on all four levels, to the point that there is now talk of fleeing the red desert of Mars, where we’ve recently found traces of oxygen. That means leaving a lush, vegetated, hospitable environment for a distant wilderness where nothing grows. We’re like a fatal virus that, having eaten away at its original host, spreads and moves onto another potential carrier.
So this is the kind of crisis that people like Ingrid have to push back against on a daily basis. Let’s just say it’s a big ol’ mountain to climb and individuals like Ingrid are compelling us to hit the first slope. Mostly Ingrid concerns herself with the protection of the biosphere, namely animals, so it’s easy to see why narcissists like Anna get under her skin. By the turn of this century there will be large parts of this planet without any usable water. If energy production triples, as it’s predicted to, we will need around 1,800 large dams or 23,000 more nuclear stations. That’s not even to mention the ongoing issue of climate change, which is evidenced every day with the extremes in weather, from sweeping fires and heatwaves to torrential rains and floods. It’s also been proposed that the Amazon will be turned into a treeless savannah. But, perhaps the greatest loss will be the number of species that are expected to disappear in the next fifty years. To put this into perspective, I want to mention an analogy Stephen Emmott came up with in an article he wrote for the Guardian:
Imagine if we found out now about a future extinction event, like say a distant asteroid was hurtling towards our planet, and we knew that it would hit us in 2071 and wipe out 70% of all life on Earth. How do you think we’d react? Don’t you think we’d pool all our resources together and enlist our greatest scientists to dedicate themselves to the task of stopping that asteroid?
Well, in the world in which we live we are that asteroid.
Before we wander into some really misanthropic territory, let’s take a look at a few influential icons in the fashion industry who refuse to contribute the degradation of our species. Stella McCartney, for example, has openly refused to use leather or fur in her fashion lines and has instead sought out a number of viable alternatives.
“Stella has got wonderful materials infused with nettle fibres,” said a spokesman for the ethical label, Origin Assured, “You can wear a warm thing that doesn’t weigh 20lb and make you smell like a bear.”
The World Bank maintains that fur is treated with chemicals used to prevent putrefaction and is therefore among the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution. Conversely the CEO of the International Fur Trade Federation has often insisted that fur is a natural and durable material. Nonetheless, in the UK fur farming has been outlawed since 2000 and fur itself has been outright rejected by many high-end stores like Selfridges and fervently condemned by designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood, who was recently seen riding a tank to David Cameron’s house, whilst declaring war on fracking.
This is all part of an ongoing effort to prevent fur from being falsely branded as a ‘natural, renewable and sustainable resource that is kind to the environment and respectful of animals’ welfare’ – to borrow the words of the British Fur Trade Association (BFTA). So, if you don’t like the idea of wearing animal skins drenched in chemicals like formaldehyde and chromium, used to combat decay, and if you’d prefer not to see fur farms springing up, where animals are bred, caged, beaten, gassed, electrocuted and poisoned for fashion, then turn your back on fur and challenge those ugly-minded naysayers, like Anna Wintour, wherever they appear.
After all, there is one sure way for us to lose this fight for survival and that is by taking the tranquilising drug of the defeatist. If we give up then the battle to live out a peaceful and sustainable existence on this planet is over. Instead, we should remember that change is incremental and the first and most important move is to stop exacerbating the problem. After that, with a lot of love and hope, we can begin to reclaim our rightful place in the animal kingdom, with all the other innocent citizens of Earth.
“If you stop seeing animals as handbags, hamburgers or amusements,” Ingrid said, “If you see them as fellow animals and you know that they feel joy and pain and all the same things we feel, how can you kill them for fur?”