The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has named its collection of used clothes — a sort of consignment shop one must pay to enter and where nothing is for sale — after Anna Wintour. A trustee of the Met since 1999, the editor of Vogue, artistic director of Condé Nast, and inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada has over the years raised some $125 million for the museum. Earlier this week, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Anna Wintour Costume Center, Michelle Obama delivered a speech. Never have I read one quite like it.
The first lady’s presence at the occasion was no surprise. Some of Anna Wintour’s favorite charities, after all, are the Democratic Party and the career of Michelle Obama’s husband. Since 2004, every cent of Wintour’s political contributions — $114,750 in total — has gone to Democratic candidates and to Democratic groups, including the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
As a bundler for Obama, Wintour has raised a total of $5,448,371 over the course of two presidential campaigns. In 2012 she co-hosted, with the actress Sarah Jessica Parker, a New York City fundraiser for the president to which some lucky commoners were also invited. Dinner cost $40,000 a plate. Start saving now, and you may be able to attend the next dinner. It is likely to take place in the summer of 2016, for Wintour has said that she wants to see President Hillary Clinton on the cover of Vogue.
We are not betraying any industry secrets when we say that politicians have a tendency to flatter and woo the donors on whom their livelihood depends. Even by political standards, though, Michelle Obama’s tribute to Anna Wintour was cloying, fulsome, and unctuous. It was also untrue. “I know that Anna hates being the center of attention,” Obama said, which is ridiculous, considering Wintour has been the basis for one movie, starred in another (nonfiction) one, appeared on the Late Night with Seth Myers a few days after the Met gala, and has visited the sets of Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report, 60 Minutes, the Late Show with David Letterman, and Entertainment Tonight. She is also in the habit of being photographed constantly. Camera-shy Anna Wintour is not.
“Fashion isn’t an exclusive club for the few who can attend a runway show or shop at certain stores,” Michelle Obama went on, in what must have come as a shock to the exclusive club to which Obama was speaking, the club that meets seasonally in Manhattan, London, Paris, and Milan, that affects a knowing attitude toward the garishly attired models striding goofily down the runway, that shops not at Target and Wal-Mart, not at Macy’s or Bloomingdales, but at Versace and Valentino, at Dolce & Gabbana and Donna Karan.
The first lady would have us believe that fashion is for the masses, for the nameless yokels who have yet to visit the Anna Wintour Costume Center, who have not had their consciousness raised. The dummies. “Maybe they’ll come initially because they love clothes and they love shopping,” Obama said, “but then they’ll learn that fashion isn’t just about what we wear but that fashion is also a business, it is an art; it’s a career that involves science, engineering, accounting, marketing, and so much more.” So much more, like preening and posing, Blue Steel and Magnum, and the piano-key necktie.
The point of view of Michelle Obama’s speech can only be described as elitist. Her argument seems to be the following: By looking at the tattered fabrics, at the castoffs and the queenly gowns that Anna Wintour has bought for the Met, young people whose concerns are only superficial — who are interested only in how they look, in what they wear, in where they shop — will be elevated, will be made sophisticated, will be fashioned, so to speak, into cosmopolitans.