Women Rule

What Anna Wintour taught me about being a boss: Amy Astley

Episode Summary

Amy Astley, the editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, tells us why style is worth thinking about and reflects on the decisions she made while editing Teen Vogue to not have articles that teach young women to define themselves "in relation to men."

Episode Notes

The name Anna Wintour immediately calls to mind an image of a woman at once both cool and cold, her face framed by an perfect bob haircut, her eyes inscrutable, hidden behind oversized sunglasses. You imagine the mind behind those glasses — the mind behind VOGUE, the woman whose hard-charging leadership style was the basis for Meryl Streep’s titular character in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

But if you’re able to escape the gravitational pull of that image, you’ll find something else: A model of how women can lead, and a cautionary tale of the double-standards they face once they do.

“They’re caricatures, they’re stereotypes,” said Amy Astley in an interview for POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast. “This is a businessperson successfully running a business. It’s not easy. And some of those things that were heaped upon her, you don’t see it heaped upon men as much.”

Astley is the editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest and a longtime Wintour protege who has led AD through something of a renaissance — dramatically expanding its digital business, launching new products and rejuvenating the century-old magazine’s brand.

Working in the world of style and fashion journalism, Astley sees her role as reflecting on the culture and illuminating why certain things are important to society. And that makes politics an unavoidable topic — even if you’re not intentionally being political.

“I had Ricky Martin on the cover [of AD] with his husband and his two kids … in their house in LA. They were barefoot, casual. I didn’t really give it two thoughts because to me, they’re just a fabulous couple — beautiful family, great house,” said Astley. “I had a lot of letters thanking me for just presenting them as a gay couple without putting any politics around it or pointing it out in any way, and it didn’t really occur to me that we would single them out in any way; to me, they were a family. That’s political.”

She came to the job after 13 years as Teen Vogue’s founding editor-in-chief — a position she was hand-picked for after a decade spent at its parent publication, Vogue. Astley credits her success at the top of the publishing world to the lessons she learned from Wintour’s example.

“Anna is not only the hardcore businesswoman, but she is a person who works all the time … and I have tried to bring that to all my jobs,” said Astley. “You see that she’s in it with you working really, really hard. We all know of bosses who, like, don’t really come to work. And it’s not a positive.”

“I really learned watching her be relentless: Keep trying things; do new things. Don’t worry if people say negative things about you. If something fails, carry on,” said Astley.

For Astley, one of those “new things” was launching Teen Vogue in 2003 with a decidedly different perspective than other publications aimed at girls and young women.

“My thinking was feminist, to be honest. I wanted the magazine to be about the life and the well-being of the young woman,” said Astley. “It wasn’t about how to kiss or … silly quizzes or how to dress to attract boys. I didn’t want any of that. I didn’t want it to be about how you are in relation to men; how you attract them, how you make them happy, how you please them. [That’s] so dated, but that is still what teen magazines were largely doing at that point.

Young women responded, and the magazine quickly became one of the most-circulated in the publishing world and blazed a path for the rush of woman-positive media that followed — which Astley credits to the generation of people who followed her and “were able to deepen and continue that work.”

In that way, Astley herself became a model for young women pursuing leadership, much as Wintour was for her.

“I know what my staff thinks about me and they know what I think about them. I think they’re the best, and I support them and I feel that comes back to me, and that’s why I’ve had a good career and have been able to make good products,” said Astley. “My team that I built, they know that I’m working hand-in-hand with them, and they know that I respect them and care about them. … It’s that simple. Respect, it all comes to respect.”