Because political fashion is a thing
The short version
British Prime Minister Theresa May is going to be on the cover of American Vogue in April. Photographer Annie Liebowitz snuck across the pond and took the PM’s pictures at May’s country estate. This is the first time any British Prime Minister has appeared on the cover of the American fashion magazine.
A little more detail
Vogue magazine’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, seems to be getting a little more politically involved of late. Just earlier this month she was seen leaving Trump Tower after a meeting with the president-elect. Now, the Guardian is breaking news this morning that UK Prime Minister Theresa May is going to be the cover girl for the April edition of the American magazine. This is kind of a big deal on two different fronts.
First, the April issue of Vogue is not its largest. March holds that title. There are a lot of people who only buy the March and September issues because that is when all the fashion labels buy multi-page ads for their upcoming seasonal collections. After that big issue, April comes in pretty thin and doesn’t get a lot of attention. Putting the PM on that cover could do a lot to boost sales, especially if there’s anything in the content that might prove controversial.
Second, this has never been done before and wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to make happen. Ms. Wintour was directly involved in securing the Prime Minister for the shoot. Rather than taking the pictures at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the PM, they waited until May was out at her country estate known as Chequers. This avoids the controversy of an American company using the Downing Street residence for profit, and also made it easier to keep the photo shoot under wraps.
To capture the Prime Minister, Wintour sent the woman who is arguably the best portrait photographer in the US: Annie Liebowitz. Liebowitz is the biggest photographic gun in the large Condé Nast arsenal and her choice is significant. Either British photographer Nick Knight or Italy’s Steven Meisel would have been more convenient, and probably less expensive. In choosing Leibowitz, Wintour makes sure the pictures have a distinctly American tone to them, something not duplicated in any of the other Vogue brands.
As for why the British Prime Minister would even be a candidate for the Vogue cover, Americans need to understand that May absolutely loves everything to do with fashion. She is much more flashy about her appearance than, say, the late Margaret Thrasher was. She’s been known to wear leopard print to official functions and has even been criticized by some in the Conservative party for wearing very expensive leather pants. We are all more accustomed to heads of state keeping their attire quiet and unremarkable. May breaks that mold in a rather strong way.
Still, the timing here is interesting. America’s soon-to-be first lady last appeared on the cover of Vogue immediately after her wedding in 2005. The magazine has a tradition of featuring the first lady at least once during her husband’s administration, going all the way back to Helen Taft. The current first lady, Michelle Obama, has appeared on the cover three times since 2009. Yet, when it comes to putting her successor on that enviable place, Wintour is having some difficulty finding a designer who is willing to dress Mrs. Trump. Because the magazine’s relationship with designers is critical, it cannot afford to dress the first lady, or anyone else, in a designer’s clothing without their blessing. While Mrs. Trump will certainly eventually get her first lady cover, it could be a while. So, the British PM gets to go first.
Are we making too much of this?
Absolutely. If Ms. May wasn’t such a politically controversial figure herself, given that whole Brexit thing, and if the political divide in the US weren’t as ferocious, then this would certainly be a page-six, one-column story. Politically, however, the stakes are high. Being in charge of Britain’s exit from the EU isn’t exactly a great way to make new friends and the PM can use all the moral support she can get, even if it’s not from her own constituents.
Ultimately, this is a brilliant power move by Anna Wintour designed with one purpose in mind: sell more magazines. That’s her job and she does it better than anyone else. While other magazines have been in decline, the Condé Nast titles Ms. Wintour oversees have all seen increases in revenue. Now, she’s taken one of the least read issues of the year and made it a must-buy. Every other publisher is green with envy. Fortunately, green is a good color for April.