Anna Wintour could teach Dan Brown a thing or three about secrets.
Anna's inscrutability is as famous as her owly sunglasses and tawny bob. Yet after watching the Last Empress closely at Fashion Week, I think I've cracked her code.
She has the best poker face on the planet. She didn't so much as flicker a frown when an anti-fur activist dumped a dead raccoon on her plate one day in the early '90s during lunch at the Four Seasons in New York. Nor did her features betray a hint of hurt in the summer of 2006 as she left the Manhattan premiere of "The Devil Wears Prada," the movie based on the novel that portrayed her as a scheming monster. And, last week at Zac Posen's show, she didn't emote a speck as a phalanx of photographers ignored her while furiously snapping Rachel Zoe, the scarecrow-skinny blond reality show stylist to the stars who once bragged that she was way more influential than that other super-slender woman running Vogue.
Grace Coddington, the no-nonsense, red-headed Vogue creative director made famous by her star turn in The September Issue, the documentary about the vagaries at Vogue, is easy to read. When she is interested in an outfit, she scribbles on the program, as Anna sits beside her, Sphinx-like. Still, like her doppelganger Miranda Priestly, the editrix played by Meryl Streep in Devil, Anna lets everyone know what she thinks, "in her way,'' as her colleague Nigel (Stanley Tucci) notes, whether it's a purse of the lips or tilt of the head.
At the start of every fashion show, Anna dons her sunglasses, frustrating those who would seek clues in her sparkling eyes. After observing her last week, though, I think I've discerned Anna's Seven Deadly Tells, to borrow a poker term, those subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes in her demeanor that signal what's really on her mind.
1) Arms crossed.
Not to worry. You've still got a chance. Anna just wants to make it clear that in order to get her approval, you'll have to "lift it,'' as she says in The September Issue documentary, to meet her stratospheric standards.
2) Whispering in the ear of her daughter, Bee Shaffer.
Don't panic or preen. This may simply mean, as some Vogue insiders believe, that Anna is trying to inculcate her lovely daughter with a passion for fashion so that she can succeed Mom -- even though Bee made it clear in The September Issue that she felt the Vogue clackers take mere sartorial matters way too seriously. Bee is obviously learning to hold her cards close from the master because, when her mother whispered to her during the zippy Zac Posen show, Bee replied, "We'll talk about it after the show.''
3) Elegant nail nibble.
A delaying tactic. Anna has doubts and is waiting to see if the designer is going to Lift It.
4) Running a perfectly manicured finger down her neck and caressing her necklace of antique citron beads, a gift, as an associate said, from "one of her men.''
Anna's mind is starting to wander. Not a good sign.
5) Twisting her long legs like the braided trim on a Chanel jacket and gazing at her Blackberry.
Uh-oh. We're talking "dreckitude,'' as Anna's operatic editor-at-large, André Leon Talley, would say.
6) Leaning forward to see if anything more interesting is coming down the runway and checking her watch.
This body language is like dry ice being dumped on the runway. Anna has lost interest, as she did while watching the endless parade of earth-tone shorts and culottes coming out during the Maijorca socialite show of Caroline Herrera, normally a favorite of Anna. In this mode, confided a friend of the editor's, Anna is thinking about how long she has to get to the U.S. Open to see her darling Roger Federer play.
7) Taking a phone call and leaving before the show is over.
Fashion fiasco. Unfortunately no designer doing predictable work can compete with Federer. Anna is his biggest fan. At the Donna Karan show, when the last model was still on the catwalk, Anna checked her watch, took a call, and slipped discreetly out the back. It was 2:40 p.m. and she needed to get to Flushing Meadows, where Federer was playing his final match at 3.
Anna glided out into the sunshine. It was a beautiful fall day. The leaves on the trees shimmered like green silk; the whole world had a stylish glow. She settled in the back seat of her silver chauffeured car and headed toward Queens. The Queen of Fashion has her priorities, after all.