Adweek’s Brand Visionary Anna Wintour Honors S.I. Newhouse at 2017 Brand Genius Gala

The inimitable Vogue editor on Condé Nast's legacy and future

"Condé stands for values," said Adweek Brand Visionary honoree Anna Wintour.
Photo: Yuliya Kim for Adweek

Anna Wintour accepted the 2017 Brand Visionary honor earlier tonight at Adweek’s Brand Genius gala awards dinner and thanked her mentor, the late S.I. Newhouse, during her acceptance speech.

Wintour was recognized for her broad influence and leadership in both the fashion and publishing realms. “In our ever-changing digital world, the market is chasing what money alone cannot buy: experiences,” Wintour said, addressing a roomful of fellow honorees and attendees at Cipriani 25 Broadway in New York.

The Brand Genius awards, now in their 28th year, salute 10 of the most talented branding and marketing executives for their efforts of the preceding 18 months. The Brand Visionary award, the highest honor the magazine bestows, recognizes a career’s worth of accomplishments in building a brand and making lasting contributions to business and the wider culture.

Wintour joined Condé Nast in 1980 when she became Vogue’s first creative director, rising to editor in chief in 1988.

Her first cover that November featured the now iconic shot of Israeli model Michaela Bercu walking down a street in a pair of Guess jeans. Though the printers called to ask if such a casual cover was a mistake (it wasn’t), the choice made clear that Wintour’s new vision for Vogue was one of aspiration with relevancy—or, as Wintour explained it in a 2012 story, “to take couture’s haughty grandeur and playfully throw it headlong into real life and see what happened.”

In the years since, Wintour grew to be one of the most influential executives in publishing and a leading tastemaker in fashion. Along the way, she championed the careers of designers like Sarah Burton and Marc Jacobs, and created the Vogue Fashion Fund to support diverse, up-and-coming industry talent. Wintour has also broadened fashion’s relevance beyond the runway by raising millions of dollars for AIDS charities and bringing mental-health issues to the cultural fore by associating herself with the Youth Anxiety Center.

Photo: Yuliya Kim for Adweek

In 2013, Wintour became the artistic director for Condé Nast, giving her creative dominion over all of the media giant’s brands, which together draw a cross-platform audience of 120 million. She pointed out younger titles at the company and the “explosion of interest around Teen Vogue for its bold, brave, activist voice.”

Wintour turned slightly to politics during her speech and noted that while “our country’s current leadership is destabilizing our core beliefs, Condé stands for values.”

S.I. Newhouse, Jr., who died earlier this month at age 89, built Condé Nast into one of the most prominent voices in magazine publishing in part through hiring illustrious editors. He helped establish those core values, said Wintour.

“Si was a man of few words, but his favorite was: extraordinary,” said Wintour. “His restless mind is our foundation of our willingness to take risks today.”

Demurring praise is characteristic of the surprisingly private Wintour, who told Adweek she doesn’t consider herself a living brand or a social-media influencer.

“I just feel that’s not my responsibility in terms of the job I have,” she said. “I work for Vogue and Condé Nast. I don’t work for Anna Wintour.”

The Brand Genius awards gala feted many other influential brand-builders, including another fashion luminary, Victor Luis, who was recognized for his dynamic transformation of the 76-year-old Coach handbag and accessories brand.