She's been editor of the American edition of Vogue since 1988, and by now it has become commonplace to call her the most powerful woman in fashion. But her influence is much broader than it appears in her fun-house-mirror caricature: a brittle despot in round Chanel sunglasses who rules the world around her through impeccable taste, terror and sarcasm. It is hidden within an intricate web of powerful friends and allies, many of whom she's worked with for decades. That web spans the U.S., out to Hollywood, down to Washington, and across both oceans. Imperious as she may appear, she's really more impresario than empress.
The unusual part, say her intimates, is that there's never a direct quid pro quo. On the other hand, if Wintour does ask for something, there aren't two possible answers. "If I get a request for something I don't want to do," says Marc Jacobs, "first I get an email, then a phone call from someone at Vogue, and now I don't even bother to say no—I know the next call is from her."
"With all the new media outlets out there, with all the noise, a voice of authority and calm like Vogue becomes more important than ever. The more eyes on fashion, the more opinions about fashion, the more exploration of fashion around the world, the better it is for Vogue. Vogue is like Nike or Coca-Cola—this huge global brand. I want to enhance it, I want to protect it, and I want it to be part of the conversation."