what is fashion

Beyoncé, Anna Wintour, and What We Want to Believe

A scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Photo: Courtesy of FX

Fashion happens faster than ever these days. Each week, we attempt to make sense of it in a column called, “What Is Fashion?”

Gossip? In this economy? No, thank you!

As Vanessa Friedman wrote for the Times last fall, fashion is addicted to gossip. “It’s all hearsay, all — or most of — the time,” she said. Normally, I hate gossip. It makes me want to dig a Demogorgon-size hole and crawl into it. But with the recent rumors surrounding Condé Nast, our seemingly “indefinite” capacity for it (sorry) says a lot about what we want to believe, and why, which I’m willing to entertain for the moment.

When I first heard the rumor that Anna Wintour was retiring, I scoffed. Anna? No way! But as I started spitballing the rumor’s merits with more and more people, I didn’t just believe it — I wanted it to happen. I became the kind of person who has “theories.” I re-watched The September Issue not once but twice, and bought a very-unofficial biography on Amazon, which I was too embarrassed to read on the subway. I printed out articles from 2008 about the first time everyone thought she was going to retire. It had to happen, I thought. If it didn’t, I threatened to write about it anyway.

And then it didn’t happen. So, here I am.

This week, the Condé Nast rumor mill was working overtime. It started on Monday when HuffPost reported that Beyoncé was given “unprecedented control” over Vogue’s September issue. Her alleged contract allowed her to hire Tyler Mitchell, the magazine’s first black cover photographer in 126 years, and write “long-form captions” in lieu of an interview. By Wednesday, Wintour’s retirement had been debunked, and three of Condé Nast’s titles were reportedly up for sale.

When the initial excitement that comes with the prospect of Beyoncé doing literally anything wore off, the idea that a celebrity would be given the reins to a journalistic enterprise started to sink in. This is not how it works, right? We have rules! Standards! What’s the point of magazines, if they can’t give us more than what we already get on Beyoncé’s website and social-media channels?

Well, we let go of that a lot time ago. When Beyoncé covered Vogue in 2015, she declined to give an interview, making her the magazine’s only celebrity cover star ever to do so, according to the Times. Celebrities — even minor ones — don’t need the platform a magazine cover used to provide; magazines need them. Or, this is at least the narrative celebrities have us believing. Even if Beyoncé doesn’t actually have a final say on anything in Vogue this time around, there is still truth to her power.

Beyoncé sneering “I can do anythinggggggg, yeah,” played on repeat in my head this week. As I listened to Everything Is Love in preparation for her and Jay-Z’s stop in New Jersey on Thursday night, her ability to control narratives is what stood out to me most. Throughout the show, she and Jay-Z held hands, slow danced, and gazed into each other’s eyes. But it was clear who was leading who.

The only person capable of rivaling Beyoncé’s media prowess is Anna Wintour, which is why their tacit battle for the last word this week was so much fun to watch. At the end of the day, all anyone could talk about was them and their work together. And if there’s one thing about journalism that remains true, it’s that all press is good press.

A decade ago, the answer to “What’s Wrong With Vogue?” was that it felt out of touch, especially during the recession. Now, I wonder if what’s really wrong with Vogue is that, in an age of personalized news feeds, it’s lost its grip entirely. How can a singular entity speak to such decentralized interests?

Maybe I don’t want Anna Wintour to retire, then. Someone has to keep fighting. Or, maybe I want the whole thing to come crashing down — if only to see how we’ll build it back up again.

Beyoncé, Anna Wintour, and What We Want to Believe