Anna in Oxford

In Famous people on December 21, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Here is your mid-week special. I did try and find one that was seasonally appropriate, but then I decided a break from Christmas might be a bit of a relief.

This is from 2007 when I was still covering the shows in Milan and Paris. Oh happy happy days. And before that great film ‘The September Issue’ came out…

I saw Anna Wintour in Oxford. It was so strange. Like seeing a unicorn in a shopping centre. A creature from another world, suddenly dropped down here among the humdrum mortals.

Not that Oxford is quite the real world. In winter, without the roaming herds of American tourists and despite the ordinariness of its chain store shopping strip and ugly traffic system, it still maintains its extraordinary Hogwarts magic.

I was strolling about with my brother Nick, who lives there, on his personal tour of ‘Oxford’s back passages’. En route to one of the obscure little vistas he loves to share, we came round the corner from the Bodleian Library going towards the Radcliffe Camera and there she was admiring a building. Miss Wintour. It was so odd.

Not because I have never seen the international-fashion-legend editor of American Vogue in the flesh before. Quite the opposite. I spend about four weeks a year seeing her every day at the Milan and Paris fashion shows. I have stood behind her in the loo queue at the Milan exhibition centre for heaven’s sake. It was seeing her completely outside that fashion context that was so strange. It made me feel quite unusual.

Enjoying a family outing on a wintry English Sunday, I was definitely in civilian mode (jeans, trainers, pea coat, Greek fisherman’s cap), but she seemed still very much on duty, as immaculately dressed as ever in a boxy fur jacket (Prada), a neat burgundy tailored skirt and very high-heeled boots. Her bobbed hair was as sleek as ever, her legs were still pin thin, she was wearing her signature black sunnies, and she wasn’t carrying a handbag. Situation normal.

She never seems to carry one at the shows. Rather as the Queen never carries money. Everyone else is either lugging around their entire life in a shoulder-breaking fashionista tote (notebooks, mascara, mineral water, mobile phones etc), or sporting this season’s prestige bag in an extra-small size that indicates the limo waiting outside. Anna just saunters in holding a leather bound notebook.

The chauffer-driven girls are making the statement that they have all their other gear in the car – Anna probably has a hair and make up artist, a private secretary and a juice bar in hers.

Anyway, I felt quite discombobulated seeing her there in Oxford, just on the street like that, not surrounded by a milling hubbub of fashion folk. I felt strangely caught out and found myself doing a mental check of my outfit, which I decided just passed muster – they were the right trainers – although strictly speaking the Greek fisherman’s cap was very Celine three seasons ago.

I also felt strangely excited. As though we had come round the corner smack into Jennifer Anniston, or Gwynneth Paltrow, or some other real superceleb. Anna is just as world famous to a silly fashion head like me. But seeing her there seemed so extraordinary I wanted to rush up and ask for her autograph, or her blessing, or a job ha ha ha.

But mostly I wanted to trail her for the rest of the day to find out what she was doing there. There were certainly no fashion shows in the vicinity. She was just walking along with a tall distinguished-looking man, who may or may not have been her ex-husband, the psychologist. He was wearing a tweed jacket and certainly looked very much the handsome academic.

If it was him, maybe they are considering sending one of the their children to study there and were checking out the colleges. It certainly looked like a private visit. Had it been anything to do with work, there is no way it would just have been her and one chap. She would have been surrounded by a coven of skeletal fawning harpies in black clothes and talon heels.

And that was what was so weird for me about the Oxford visitation. Miss Wintour stood out so boldly in the context of ‘real life’, it made me realise just how insane the microcosm of the fashion show season really is.

Because through that looking glass she looks quite normal.

Just to remind you that I won’t be filing a column this Saturday, as it’s Christmas day and you’ll all be too busy opening presents (and perhaps the odd bottle…) to read it.

So let me take this chance to wish you all a very very happy Christmas and to thank you all for making my new venture into the blogosphere such fun.

You totally rock.

  1. So true, it’s amazing how things in the world you’re currently inhabiting can look so “normal” and then with a different perspective they obviously aren’t normal at all. I find whenever I arrive back in Australia or back in Doha I have a couple of days where nothing everything is out of place until I adjust. My fascination with Anna Wintour is the hair. How does someone who monitors fashion so acutely never get sucked in to the “Aniston” Friends or “Gweneth” sliding doors faze like the rest of us?!

  2. “Like seeing a unicorn in a shopping centre.” – I love this.

    Great blog!

    Have a great Christmas,


  3. I utterly adore this piece from the past. I squealed when I read it and gave my partner quite a start! It literally would have blown my mind to have spied Anna under such circumstances, I would have talked of nothing else for months.
    I love that you are blogging your articles and allowing the rest of us acess to your marvellous take on life.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  4. That would have been surreal and LOVE the word discombobulated. Must use it more often. Merry Christmas to you, Maggie. I predict I shall be reading your book come Boxing Day after I’ve finished with the champagne!

  5. you rock too Ms Alderson. Merry Christmas and the happiest new year ahead

  6. Love the Reality Bites of this post. Hope you Christmas is as wonderful as you.


  7. OK, I admit I’m a total covert now. After bursting into tears on reading (in car with noisy toddler on way to parents in the country) that your column was ending, I thought I just could’t enjoy it as a blog.

    How life surprises us. Just checked my emails to see my first style notes had arrived. Popped the kettle on, made a cuppa and read it (toddler sleeping, house quiet and still) on our new iPad at the dining table looking over the sunny garden. Even more enjoyable than a rushed weekend read.

    Thanks for being brave Maggie and for such a fun spirited column(?). Happy Christmas x

    • This makes me very happy… it’s just how I hoped people would embrace this new world of column blogging. I keep saying this, but please tell any friends you think would like to get it each week. Best Maggie x

  8. I love this post, very much! Merry Christmas and all the best for 2011. I look forward to more blogs, books and quirky twitter comments in the future. YOU rock.

  9. And a very, very Merry Christmas to you too, Maggie. May 2011 be a wonderful year for us all!

  10. I too was devastated when your contribution to Good Weekend ended. So now I”m reading you on my iPhone. Feel like I’ve entered the millenium (finally). Great post…….have missed you, but I like your new context.

  11. Love this post! Spotting Anna “out of context” must have been like seeing your teacher, or doctor, doing “normal” things when you were a child. So weird to think they have a life outside the one you imagine them in.
    Bought your book at Dymocks on Tuesday – was chatting to the saleslady about you – she knew your column had ended and was devastated, as was her daughter. So there I was in Dymocks, attracting a crowd, while urging her to follow your blog, tell her daughter and all her friends. I was doing such a good sell that I felt the need to reassure everyone that I wasn’t related to you or profiting in any way from promoting your blog! So be patient, this will take off, I’m sure of it.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  12. Merry Christmas to you, Maggie, and to all your readers!

    Thank you for starting this blog; I enjoy your words immensely. The addition of audio-visual media is wonderful (photos, film clips!). And I am really, really enjoying the comments of other readers and your replies.

  13. I ran into Suzy Menkes in Milan once. I was so excited I did a terrible fan thing and told her I thought she was wonderful. She didn’t seem to mind, she smiled and spoke to me and was very gracious.
    I’m so glad you are writing the blog. I have all your books ( I have just finished the latest one) and love them. I will tell all my friends about your new venture.

  14. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see Anna in person, let alone in the ‘out of context’ way you did. Awesome restraint not to stalk her, not sure I could have done mustered the same resolve. The September Issue was both a confirmation and a revelation – excellent movie. I still think Grace came off better than all of the rest put together, but still Anna seemed more human, and yet more terrifying, than I expected. I’m with Kirsty on the hair though, I admire the stance to never fundamentally change it, but it seems a contrivance given the world she,I was going to say ‘inhabits’, but presides over seems much more appropriate.

    Anyway – enough rambling from me…except to wish you the merriest of Christmases and the most wonderful and successful of years in 2011.

    To all who read this – wishing you a safe and peace-filled festive season.

  15. You’re so right (still) about the dress code being out of context. I hate being out of context. By the way, I gifted your book to my bestie that you had signed for me and she was super excited to receive it and LOVED the idea that we were vintage friends. Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones Maggie. xxxxxx

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