The high priestess of fashion has (finally) spoken. After what seemed like months, Anna Wintour, Editor of American Vogue, uttered her first words of explanation about the fashion bible’s notoriously glowing profile about Asma Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator. Hailed as the modern face of reform in the Arab World, Assad was described by Vogue as “the “freshest and most magnetic of first ladies . . . a rose in the desert.” Not long after publication, the Syrian tanks started rolling and government-sanctioned executions of dissenters began.
Vogue writer Joan Juliet Buck initially seemed embarrassed to have written the article but was later oddly unrepentant. When questioned about the piece, her startling reply was that Asma Assad was “extremely thin and very well dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.”
Ice Queen Wintour finally caved in to a rumbling chorus from pressure groups asking what Vogue could have been thinking? Issuing a full statement on Sunday, she said in part, “Like many at the time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society… We deplore the actions of the Assad regime in the strongest possible terms.”
The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anna Wintour and Vogue, who turned the page on their faux pas. As the situation in Syria worsens, this was not going to go away.
PR Takeaway: Hindsight gives ample cover, and it’s always in fashion as a PR explanation. Why be embarrassed? Dictator Assad and his attractive, educated, investment banker wife were known to have actively pursued a PR profile in the West. Wintour and Vogue can hardly be blamed when much of the West was participating in the very same love-in. But in order to maintain credibility, it’s best to say “Oops” and move on. Vogue, along with many others, had the cashmere pulled over their eyes. Wintour says the “priorities and values”’ of the Assads are completely at odds with the values of Vogue. At least now, Vogue is on the right side of the debate.