Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anna Wintour and those pictures

Something always bothered me about Anna Wintour's office at Vogue. And then, looking at a still from The September Issue, I realised what it was. The pictures weren't straight. They weren't even hung very well.

Now I like Vogue. And even though I've heard some eye-opening stories about its formidable editor-in-chief from my old boss (the former editor-in-chief of US Harper's Bazaar), I like Ms Wintour too. You need tenacity, determination, strength, confidence and courage to manage a magazine (I know), and she's done a remarkable job of it. For a remarkably long time. But if I were editing a magazine that was considered the inimitable bible of aesthetics and style, I'd ask someone to hang my pictures correctly. Not like this. 

See the area to the right of the lampshade? There's a gap there that shouldn't really be there. And the pictures are too close together. Not to mention hung in a dishevelled way. What are the ones floating near the ceiling doing? There are gaping gaps up there. And there's a few stragglers on the bottom. And more obvious gaps there. I think a blind man has hung these?

The other thing many observers note is the pair of French galvanized steel bistro chairs that she's placed in front of her desk for visitors to sit on. (Well, you wouldn't really sit on them, would you? You'd perch indelicately, waiting to be dismissed.) I have a journalist's instinct that these chairs are deliberate. They're there to make visitors feel uncomfortable. Very clever, Anna.

According to Media Bistro, the chairs are known as "Chaise A”, and were designed in 1934 by Xavier Pauchard for Tolix, which still manufactures them. Media Bistro explains that “the chair was created for use in the weather forecasting room on a battleship". Ah, well that explains it then. It's a chair that gives you stability in a Wintour storm.

Here's another old shot I found of the office on Apartment Therapy. Someone has obviously asked The Blind Picture Hanger to take the images down. Apparently Anna Wintour redecorated her office after The Devil Wears Prada came out, according to WWD. Perhaps this shot was taken mid-decorating?

{Images via Apartment Therapy and ArtNet}

Ironically, here's the fictional version of the editor-in-chief's office (below). With different pictures and chairs. (But the same style mirror, which shows that someone has obviously done their homework.) I think I might prefer this version, don't you? The difference here is that the pictures are professionally framed and mounted. The mounts vary in size (an important factor when you have lots of photos because the juxtaposition not only makes the arrangement less "same-same" but also creates visual interest), the frames look elegant and there's a neat order to the configuration. Furthermore, the monochromatic theme – photographs, flowers, chairs, wall – ties everything together in a sophisticated fashion.

Love the chrome bar cart, too. Of course, many editors would have the faux stuff on that – the fancy mineral waters, etc – and the real alcohol hidden in their second drawer. I've inherited desks where the bottom drawers were littered with empty bottles... But those are secrets I shouldn't be telling...


  1. Hmmm yes, so agree here the pictures (or the way that they are hung) would so annoy me! Are they meant to be 'artfully dishevelled' or something that I have missed?? The fictional/film office pics far better! Did a post yesterday on one of my favourite paint colours from the Paint and Paper Library range in UK and wondered do you know of it? Think you would love their colours and huge range. Sarah x

  2. You're so right. I hadn't even thought about it and it looks so... unprofessional, and so un-designery. Not exactly what you'd expect! I prefer the Devil Wears Prada office myself. Maybe Miss Wintour could get tips from the designer?

  3. The film office was much classier! As an ex employee of Aust. Vogue The offices were not the most attractive. In fact a very poor relation to the areas in The Devil Wears Prada!

  4. Hi Sarah, I've heard lots of good things about the Paint and Paper Library in the UK. Will pop over to your blog and have a look. Thank you for letting me know.
    Janelle xx

  5. Hi Julienne, I've heard that many magazine offices in New York are similarly "underwhelming". It's funny because I used to do a lot of writing for Vogue Living and I remember popping into their new Albert Park office a few times. It was a converted Victorian terrace and it was spectacularly chic. They'd used Porter's Paints 'Donkey Grey' (an elegant chocolate shade) on the walls with lots of crisp white trim, and the whole space looked very modern and striking. But then I heard that they sold the property... I do hope they didn't have to move into a drab, uninspiring place after that...

  6. Have always loved that office mise en scene bit to the very elegant, with the bar cart and that gorgeous Art Deco side table under the window.
    Perhaps a case of art being inspired by, rather than imitating, reality?

  7. Although I could not stand to leave those pictures as they are - the lack of symmetry would drive me crazy - I do quite like them in Ms Wintour's office. As she is known as being very controlling and a perfectionist, I think the pictures hint at a more interesting side to her personality. I also think it is quite an "English " way of doing things - just banging in a nail and adding to the wall whenever you get a new picture, rather than purchasing them all at once and working out an elegant way to display them. The wall in the movie looks more "American", more contrived and perfect.

  8. Good point Kate. I agree. It IS a very English trait to just "bang" in a picture, where Americans might line it up just so. And I loved your insight that it hints at an interesting side to her personality. I've often wondered if the calm demeanour hides another side.

  9. Hi Janelle - this is just TOO funny! From my own experience of working at a fashion magazine in London, the general public would be sorely disappointed by the lack of glamour and interior design savvy reflected in the office space. The editor's office was simply a glass box with piles of paperwork, old magazine cuttings pinned to a 'mood board' and the running order stuck to the wall as the primary source of decoration!

  10. Agree with Kate, the pictures and the way they're hung do show us another side of Anna Wintour's personality and a little quirkiness. It also shows her natural super-confidence - that she just doesn't care - and doesn't need to care - what others may think of how she hangs her pictures. The "better hung" pictures in the movie are of course a couple of stills from a fictionalised office, while the others are real life. Most people don't want to inhabit a movie set.
    In any case, why should they be hung perfectly - without personality or soul? That's what wrong with so much modern decor - too perfect - so it lacks warmth, personality and spontaneity. Her pictures are hung in very much more the old English way - not wanting to look too contrived and "decorated".

    Really clever style has elements that break the pattern, that are not perfect. After all, human beings are not perfect. It is also more relaxing, except I guess for the ultra-perfectionists. One of my dear older female relatives couldn't help herself, whenever she entered someone's house/room, she could never admire or even really see the pictures themselves, all she could see was that some were not straight or were not well hung. I think this is very sad.
    Thank you for showing these pics and the stills from the movie - and for opening this up for comment. I'm sorry I can't agree with your critique of the way the pictures are hung. Also, can easily imagine staff in magazines having bottom drawers where the bottles were kept. Have worked in a couple of places like that too, though not magazines. I guess it's one way of dealing with a stressful workplace.

  11. Dear Anonymous,

    It IS a good point that you and Kate make about Anna Wintour's personality. Thank you for such a considered comment.

    However, I also think it's an English trait too. The English will happily reside in an old Georgian manor full of everything they've ever inherited or bought at a Chatsworth House Attic Sale, while Americans will clear the place out, bring in decorators, style it all up and make sure everything's 'just so'. Both sides of design have their merits and charms, and both sides create beautiful interiors. Just very different ones.

    Personally, I like the look of Cabbages & Roses (a British company) over, say, the Farnsworth House, however I DO like my prints and paintings to be hung properly. That's just giving them a certain respect, don't you think? If I'm going to buy a photography by Richard Avedon, I think he'd like it if I did the right thing by him - and his incredible talent.

    But I agree with you on being too idealistic and perfect. Most of us don't want to inhabit a movie set. (Although the island hideaway in 'The Thomas Crowne Affair 2' would have made a fantastic weekender! And I loved the Paris apartments and sets of 'Singing in the Rain' too.) Our house is far from a shrine to design, as you can see from the photos in this blog. In fact, I won't buy new sofas while we live in the country with little puppies who race in and out of the garden all day long, so our living room looks a little like a second-hand furniture store...

    I'm very glad you commented, and I was really interested to read your opinion. I think it's important to have healthy debates.

    As for the bottles, I should not have put that in and am ashamed now. It's certainly not just magazines where it happens. My ex-boyfriend is a newspaper editor and drinks his way through every weekend. And my partner works in politics/government and can't wait to get home and open a beer to decompress from his day.

    Thanks again for writing. It was a delight to read, and I very much hope you'll stop by again.


  12. the about Anna's chairs....pure luxury for me....when I was briefing my CEO he wouldn't even allow us to sit....we (the directors) had to line up in front of his desk...standing...and in turn, brief him! Talk about keeping us 'on our toes'!!!! Aahhh..... the games boys and girls play. (By the way, he's no longer the CEO.)


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