Is fashion queen Anna Wintour finally ready to abdicate?
Tuesday’s announcement of Condé Nast chief executive Bob Sauerberg’s impending departure from the financially challenged publishing company—with no successor in place—has prompted renewed speculation that Vogue doyenne and Condé Nast Artistic Director Wintour will soon follow him out the door.
Officially, Condé Nast continued to dismiss persistent rumors that the 69-year-old Wintour will soon move on. “She’s not going anywhere,” a Condé Nast spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
As recently as four months ago—ironically—Sauerberg himself insisted that Wintour would stay at the company “indefinitely.”
“She is integral to the future of our company's transformation and has agreed to work with me indefinitely in her role as editor-in-chief, Vogue, and artistic director of Condé Nast,” Sauerberg declared at the time.
Whatever her future holds, Wintour will not be working much longer with Sauerberg, who plans to stay on until a successor is named—a process that could take six months. A Condé Nast spokesperson disputed the claim of a well-placed industry insider that Wintour’s current employment contract runs out in January.
Yet unofficially, company veterans said Tuesday’s announcement makes Wintour’s exit more likely in the coming months. Among other factors, Sauerberg’s departure has coincided with a corporate restructuring that will combine Condé Nast’s U.S. and international operations under a single corporate umbrella, and install Jonathan Newhouse as the London-based worldwide chairman.
Newhouse, a cousin of the late Si Newhouse, the visionary chairman of the family-owned empire who died in 2017, has focused, since he moved to the U.K. in 1995, on launching profitable foreign editions of various Condé Nast titles in China, Russia, and Eastern Europe.
However, Jonathan Newhouse has never been a Wintour fan, and he and the Vogue editor are said to cordially dislike each other.
On the other hand, Si Newhouse’s nephew Steve Newhouse, who is chairman of Advance.net, the digital arm of Condé Nast’s corporate parent, Advance Publications, is said to highly value Wintour’s role as a creative force and business strategist.
Other members of the Newhouse family, however, have privately chafed at massive expenditures that they blamed on Sauerberg and, by extension, Wintour, especially the 2011 decision to move the New York headquarters from pricey 4 Times Square to the even more expensive location of One World Trade Center—reportedly costing $2 billion for a 25-year lease.
However, a Condé Nast veteran said the ultimate decider was Si Newhouse, who felt strongly about moving downtown as a way of helping to revitalize a Manhattan neighborhood that had been devastated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Meanwhile, Condé Nast, along with the rest of the print magazine industry, has suffered from eroding advertising and subscription revenues over the past decade with the advent of the digital revolution. According to The Wall Street Journal, Sauerberg only recently outlined a plan to return the magazine publisher to profitability by 2020.
“Until today, I was 100 percent confident that she was not going anywhere,” said one insider about Wintour’s future. “With today’s news, it may change things.”
A second well-placed source said Sauerberg's departure will inevitably hasten Wintour's.
Since he arrived at Condé Nast 18 years ago, Sauerberg had been a close ally of Wintour’s in a corporate environment famous for long knives and backbiting—and that even inspired a Hollywood movie, The Devil Wears Prada, in which a character loosely modeled on Wintour was portrayed by Meryl Streep.
The British-born Wintour, who has been working at Condé Nast on both sides of the Atlantic since she joined Vogue as creative director in 1983, quickly became a favorite of Si Newhouse, who ultimately fired Grace Mirabella as Vogue’s editor in chief and replaced her with Wintour.
She has held that position for the past three decades, adding the titles of publisher and artistic director supervising all of Condé Nast’s magazine titles.
“She loves the company deeply, and she has embraced her role as artistic director and as a leader of the editorial side,” said a Wintour fan. “But she understands that the business needs to change.”