Fashion's Other Anna
Meet Anna Dello Russo, the outrageous, glamorous, wild-child editor of Nippon Vogue. Paul Flynn talks to the fashion iconoclast about nudity, sex appeal and what she wore to her divorce.
Nippon Vogue’s Fashion Editor-at-Large Anna Dello Russo is on the phone from her vacation home in her native Puglia, Italy. What is she wearing?
“Darling, I am always naked on holiday! It is my break from fashion.”
Helmut Newton once described ADR as a "Fashion Maniac." Rather than take it as a slight, she splashed the tribute proudly at the top of her website, simply taking it as an upbeat twist on the snarky old put-down "Fashion Victim." After an hour of listening to Dello Russo squawking down the phone in her gloriously faulty, troppo-accented pigeon English, you simply have to concur with the description.
“I keep my eyes in movement for beauty,” she says. “Fashion is everywhere. Everywhere! Flowers are fashion to me. The sky is fashion. My garden is fashion.” A brief pause before the final, sacred annunciation: "My darling, the Sistine chapel is fashion." Of course it is. Fashion’s other Anna is a resident of Milan, 47 and childless, who over three decades has earned a place among the industry’s most fabulous characters. She spent 18 years at Conde Nast Italia, as fashion editor of Vogue Italia and editor of L’Uomo Vogue. An odd blossoming has happened since her departure from Conde Nast Italia in 2006. Upon arriving at Nippon Vogue she began to enter an elite set of women who turn runway fashion into a revolving carousel of glorious daywear. Her special ability is to parlay the best designer’s eye into the mundane realities of the day-to-day. She understands the sparkle it lends life.
Along with her counterparts Anna Wintour at American Vogue and Carine Roitfeld at Paris Vogue, under whom she trained, Daphne Guinness and the long-armed shadow of the late Isabella Blow, ADR has zipped up the fashion radar to become one of its true modern iconoclasts. The difference? There is no stony-faced seriousness to ADR. She does it all with a smile.
“When I start in the '90s the atmosphere was so severe,” she says. “You could not tell how much people love fashion. I was so frustrated. The atmosphere was so by-the-rules. You could not show enjoyment. Why not? Show it off! Minimal or whatever you want to call it, that was the worst time for me. Awful. I want to scream ‘Bella!’ when I see something on the runway. I do not want to sit and show no emotion. I shout ‘Ooh la la!’ Finally we can get out of control about fashion.”
Gallery: Anna Dello Russo
She embraced an upswing in fashion enthusiasm happening with the advent of fashion blogging. She is now its most voluble advocate. “Bloggers were a revolution because they started to tell the truth about fashion,” she says. “I do not know why people would feel embarrassed about fashion. Do you?”
With the support of her unofficial portraitist, The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman, she took herself from behind the camera out into the spotlight. On a recent shoot, she managed to accomplish both her day job and the work of self-promotion: she combined a session with the gorgeous Italian model Alessandra Ambrosio for Nippon Vogue with a portfolio of herself for Ten magazine. “There is this beautiful young thing,” she says. “And then me in some of the same clothes. And in my pictures I look like transvestite.” Again, “Why not?"
She prepares for her whirlwind, worldwide fashion week tour with inscrutability and perfectionism. She presents fashion as a visual fiction, working it as a metaphor for escape. She will catalogue the scores of looks she gets through in New York, London, Milan, Paris, and finally Tokyo as long as six months in advance. Junior stylists gasp as she emerges from the car she uses as a changing room between shows (her driver, she insists, is now almost un-shockable when it comes to the detailed aspects of her anatomy) in one of an endless succession of beautifully adjudged set pieces. “The point is not that I wear things that people have never seen before,” she says. “It is that I wear things that people have never seen me wear before.”
ADR describes her relationship with high fashion almost a youthful naivety. "You know like a child who gets more calm when they play? I am that kid,” she says. “Fashion is a therapeutic approach to life for me. I have a parallel life. It is a visual. I color myself in, that is how I get myself up, up, up. Since I have been born that is my therapy for life. It’s my version of survival. Without fashion I’m a very anxious person."
Not that her execution is anything less than adult. “Of course fashion is sexy,” she says. “I learned sexy from Tom Ford and Carine in the ‘90s for the Gucci. They talked about sex in a good way. In an ironic way. In a fashionable way. I love playing with this idea of sex. What I learned from Carine and Tom’s Gucci shows was not to talk about sex in a vulgar way. There was a little shock about the Gucci campaign with the G in the [pubic] hair but I like things that are uncontrollable. If fashion makes you feel more sexy, why not? Sometimes you feel sexy, sometimes you feel sensual, sometimes you feel aggressive, sometimes you feel shy. You should play with this rather than be frustrated about it. You should touch and feel these senses of yourself. You must enjoy them."
For ADR, fashion is all about empowerment. For every occasion there is an outfit. For some, there are many. When she married (“a long, long time ago,” she says, refusing to specify) she wore a gown crafted for her by the legendary hands of her friends Dolce & Gabbana. “It was not a good experience for me. Except for the clothes. The dress was fabulous.”
The day of her divorce, she opted for a black Balenciaga two-piece. ”Because I was feeling really, really desperate. Balenciaga, Balenciaga! The perfect divorce outfit. Perfect! I looked like the sad, grieving, how do you say ‘vedova’ in English?”
“[Marriage] was not a good experience for me. Except for the clothes. The dress was fabulous.”
”Widow! Exactly. At that time I was not laughing at all. Now? I am laughing every day. Each day is filled with laughter.”
Paul Flynn is a London-based writer. He is a contributing editor at Love and iD magazines