From Underdog to Top-Dog: 20 years at the helm
Anna Wintour. Jo Elvin. Franca Sozzani. In terms of Fashion Editors, women rule the roost. Their names are uttered with reverence by those who recognise their cultural and social influence. Their publications are viewed as reflections and extensions of our lives. The name Graydon Carter might not be as well known to the masses; but he should be.
Next month will mark Carter’s 20-year stewardship as Editor-in-Chief of Vanity Fair. While that in itself would be an impressive achievement for anybody in the world of media, an environment constantly in flux, Carter is even more impressive than he first appears on paper.
Under his leadership, Vanity Fair has blazed the way in revolutionary journalism. Carter’s style of combining high-profile celebrity stories with serious journalism showed that the two were not mutually exclusive ideas; but highly compatible genres of the same coin. Not bad for someone, whom upon succeeding former Editor Tina Brown in 1992, was dismissed as a lightweight. Those who believed that severely underestimated Carter.
He is truly the definition of a self-made man, envisioning the kind of life he wanted for himself and then doing everything possible to create it. He invented himself. He invented the current incarnation of Vanity Fair; an on-the-pulse, witty, politically and socially engaged, glamorous piece of journalism. For example, the most recent publication features Marilyn Monroe on the cover in honour of the uncovering of previously unseen nude photographs of her from the set of her final film, Something’s Got to Give. Also present in the magazine are features of exemplary analysis and intelligence focusing on some of the world’s most riveting current events: Rupert Murdoch and Co; American politics and the metamorphism of both parties; breath-taking architecture in India; the potential CEO successor at Goldman Sachs and many others.
It is under Carter’s direction that the magazine has continued to develop and stay relevant throughout an extremely turbulent time in journalism. It was Carter who came up with the idea of an annual post-Oscars bash; yet personally, he is a man who dislikes sit-down Park Avenue dinners – despite adoring Manhattan life. He is a man of seemingly incompatible desires; yet one who blends these apparent conflicts together easily; much like his magazine.
Also, rather unusually given his gender, Carter saw the happy relationship that could exist between celebrity interest and more intellectual pursuits. I imagine that in a reflection of his own tastes, he didn’t see why people could not and should not be interested in both. None of us are one-dimensional and as such, our interests aren’t. Our lives aren’t. So why should our magazines be?
It was Vanity Fair at the helm of Carter that blazed the way for people like me; those who proclaimed loudly an interest in fashion and politics; celebrity and current affairs and that I shouldn’t be ridiculed by either side for courting one or the other. They are all relevant and important in their own way. Many may still find that ridiculous; tell it to Carter. Tell it to me. And tell it to every other trailblazer who sits with a wry smile, remembering those who told them it couldn’t be done.