Posted on

This Year’s Black Friday Designer Fashion Sales May Not Be What You Think.

Fashion designers and luxury retailers have always had a complicated relationship with Black Friday.The super sale extravaganza doesn’t always fit right (no pun intended) with companies that make $890 shoes and $3,700 dresses. The pandemic only focused the issue: It wreaked havoc on supply chains and delayed the delivery of many items, potentially telescoping the amount of time products would remain on shelves at full price before the holiday sales begin.So back in May, designer Dries Van Noten and retailer Andrew Keith, now at Selfridge’s in London, convened a discussion over Zoom with other designers and chief executives …

Read More

Posted on

Second Epstein Investigation Begins at Victoria’s Secret, but What’s Changed?

It has been more than a year since L Brands, the owner of Victoria’s Secret, said it was hiring a law firm to investigate its billionaire founder Leslie H. Wexner’s close ties to the convicted sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein, but no findings have been made public and the review has seemed to fade from view.

Maybe a new law firm will fare better.

After Mr. Epstein’s July 2019 arrest, revelations about his sweeping power over the retail magnate’s fortune and how he may have used his link to the lingerie giant to prey on women prompted the company to swiftly declare that it had hired lawyers to conduct a “thorough review” of the matter.

The company enlisted Davis Polk & Wardwell, the white-shoe law firm that it had relied on for legal counsel for years, and which once employed Mr. Wexner’s wife, Abigail. But nothing about the scope of the investigation has been released since, and many former Victoria’s Secret employees, including two who had interacted with Mr. Epstein, said they were never contacted by lawyers.

Now, a second inquiry has begun at the company. A shareholder lawsuit filed in May suggested Davis Polk was too close to L Brands to be truly independent. The shareholder said they asked the board in February to replace Davis Polk or hire another firm as a “check” for its review of Mr. Wexner and Mr. Epstein’s relationship.

Last month, at least five current and former Victoria’s Secret employees were surprised to hear from a new lawyer with no affiliation to Davis Polk. Sarah K. Eddy, a partner in the litigation department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, said she was commencing a separate investigation on behalf of two independent L Brands board members: Sarah Nash, who became its chairwoman this year, and Anne Sheehan.

In an email obtained by The New York Times, Ms. Eddy said her firm was investigating “allegations raised in shareholder demand letters and civil complaints concerning, among other things, connections between L Brands and Jeffrey Epstein.” The former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing fear of retribution, all said they had received similar calls and emails. Shareholder complaints have also raised concerns about allegations of misconduct and a culture of harassment and misogyny at L Brands and its lingerie powerhouse, suggesting that the new investigation could be looking into those issues.

Ms. Nash, a former executive at JPMorgan Chase and chief executive of Novagard Solutions, and Ms. Sheehan, an expert in corporate governance, joined the L Brands board last year after an activist investor pushed for more diversity and fewer directors with business and social ties to the Wexners.

Ms. Eddy declined to comment. A representative for Davis Polk did not respond to requests for comment.

The new investigation is the latest jolt for L Brands and Victoria’s Secret, and comes months after the pandemic foiled a plan to sell the lingerie brand to a private-equity firm. Even before the revelations about Mr. Epstein, Victoria’s Secret was battling a decline while facing criticism that its lingerie-clad models were out of step with current views of beauty. That put fresh attention on its management and the board of L Brands, which also owns Bath & Body Works.

Image
Credit…Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Fragrance Foundation

Mr. Wexner, 83, has sought to distance himself from Mr. Epstein, who died in prison last August in what was ruled a suicide. But L Brands has also faced intense scrutiny about its workplace environment. An article by The Times in February showed that Mr. Wexner and his former chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, presided over an entrenched culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment at L Brands and Victoria’s Secret.

Mr. Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. and chairman of L Brands in May, but nearly all of Victoria’s Secret’s remaining top leaders are men he hired or promoted, including the brand’s interim chief executive, who was appointed to that role despite an extramarital affair with a subordinate that became widely known inside the company. The scarcity of women in the highest ranks of the company has frustrated some employees.

“This year, we have amended our board governance, made significant policy changes, initiated a robust diversity and inclusion strategy, and greatly enhanced associate communication,” Ms. Nash said in a statement. “It’s truly a new day for L Brands and I’m excited about the progress we continue to make for our associates, customers and communities we serve around the world.” She said she was proud that half of its board was now women.

Two current employees said they were cautiously optimistic that Wachtell’s independence could allow the new investigation to address the company’s workplace culture.

In May, the company’s board said that Stuart Burgdoerfer, L Brands’ chief financial officer for more than a decade, would also become interim C.E.O. of Victoria’s Secret. Some current and former employees wondered how significantly Mr. Burgdoerfer could improve the company’s culture. Several years ago, while he was engaged in an extramarital affair with an L Brands employee, fliers with both of their photos were placed on car windshields in a company parking lot, saying in part: “Hope you two can buy enough lingerie to make up for the damage you caused your families!!!”

News of the affair and the fliers spread through the company and even reached at least one Wall Street analyst. The matter was never addressed internally with rank-and-file staff. Mr. Burgdoerfer and the employee, who left the company this year, were recently married.

Charles McGuigan, the longtime chief operating officer of L Brands who departed in July, was also in a serious relationship with an employee who worked in store design and construction. Five current and former employees said that the situation was viewed as particularly egregious because Mr. McGuigan also oversaw human resources for a time while in the relationship.

Brooke Wilson, a company spokeswoman, said that the relationships “were fully and thoroughly disclosed to the appropriate people, including the board.” She said that there were no reporting relationships between the individuals or violations of company policy.

Image

Credit…Pool photo by Dia Dipasupil

Until last year L Brands had given investors few reasons to complain. Mr. Wexner previously had a sterling reputation as the longest-serving C.E.O. in the S&P 500 and was a major force in shaping the American mall through L Brands, which once owned chains like Abercrombie & Fitch and Express. He and his wife are prominent in Ohio as the biggest donors to Ohio State University. (Davis Polk, the law firm the company first enlisted for its investigation, has contributed money to Ohio State’s Wexner Center for the Arts.)

But the ties to Mr. Epstein, who had unusual control over Mr. Wexner’s billions and obtained assets like a New York mansion and private plane through their connection, dented the tycoon’s legacy. Earlier this year, three former L Brands executives told The Times that Mr. Wexner was alerted in the mid-1990s about Mr. Epstein’s attempts to pitch himself as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret models, but the C.E.O. did not appear to act.

In February, L Brands announced a plan to sell a majority stake in Victoria’s Secret to the private-equity firm Sycamore Partners, whittling the public company down to Bath & Body Works. Once the sale closed, Mr. Wexner planned to step down as C.E.O. and chairman of L Brands but remain on its board.

Then the pandemic hit, dealing an outsize blow to mall chains, especially apparel sellers, and Sycamore backed out of the deal after some legal wrangling. In May, there was a management shuffle at Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, which are still being run as separate companies within the publicly traded L Brands, and Ms. Nash replaced Mr. Wexner as board chair. Mr. Wexner and his wife remain on the board but three directors retired, including a former Ohio State president as well as two who had served for more than three decades.

Morale has been low in a difficult year that has included hundreds of layoffs in New York and Columbus tied to the pandemic.

While L Brands’ shares soared 92 percent this year through Monday, they remained 64 percent below a 2015 peak.

L Brands will report quarterly earnings on Wednesday.

Posted on

Tiffany Deal Is a Signature Move by the Sun Tzu of Luxury

The soap opera also known as the largest deal in luxury, the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-Tiffany acquisition, finally has a happy ending.

The two companies originally announced their synergistic engagement in November 2019 only to later engage in months of public mudslinging after the pandemic hit the luxury market and LVMH’s commitment turned wobbly. But on Thursday they said they had agreed to new terms. LVMH will acquire Tiffany for $131.50 a share, $3.50 less than the original price but $1.50 more than Tiffany’s reported bottom line. That will save Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, and his shareholders the relatively low amount of $420 million off the original $16.2 billion price and it will keep Tiffany from being left to fend for itself in an uncertain luxury environment.

It has been a drama-filled relationship, however, beginning in September when LVMH went public with the news that the French government — the government! — had asked it to wait on closing the deal.

Tiffany charged delaying tactics. LVMH accused Tiffany of being a “mismanaged business that over the first half of 2020 hemorrhaged cash.” Tiffany shot back that “LVMH’s specious arguments are yet another blatant attempt to evade its contractual obligation to pay the agreed-upon price for Tiffany.” Tiffany filed suit in Delaware court for breach of obligations. LVMH countersued, saying the damage to Tiffany in 2020 meant it was no longer the same company it had agreed to acquire. Luxury watchers looked on in slack-jawed astonishment.

But for anyone who has tracked Mr. Arnault over the last three and a half decades as he built the biggest luxury company in the world and became the richest man in Europe, the Tiffany mini-saga was not exactly a surprise.

Though he has crafted his 75-plus-brand empire largely by peaceful means, wooing families and seizing opportunities, Mr. Arnault has engaged in such high-profile public battles at least three times before. Extremely competitive, unafraid of a fight and undaunted by public opprobrium, he did not always emerge with the brand he wanted — though he always made money, solidifying his reputation as the Sun Tzu of luxury.

Image
Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Mr. Arnault’s journey to the pinnacle of luxury began with one of the biggest and most vituperative boardroom battles France had ever seen, in a nation where it was long considered unseemly to show naked ambition.

In 1984, Mr. Arnault, then a young real estate developer, heard that the French government was set to choose someone to take over the Boussac empire, a textile and retail conglomerate that happened to own Christian Dior. Mr. Arnault had just returned from the United States, where his neighbor in Westchester County was John Kluge, who made billions by taking his company Metromedia private and then liquidating it. Mr. Arnault had also closely watched the success the investment firm KKR had with its aggressive leveraged buyouts. With that in mind, Mr. Arnault won the bidding war for Boussac, buying the group for a symbolic one franc. He then acquired a nickname — “The Terminator” — after he laid off 9,000 workers in two years and offloaded most of the group’s assets, with the exception of Dior.

Image

Credit…Eric Piermont/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A flurry of new nicknames — the Wolf in Cashmere, the Machiavelli of finance — came in 1989, when Mr. Arnault stormed the LVMH citadel, two years after the merger between the fashion house Louis Vuitton and the Champagne and cognac producer Moët Hennessy.

LVMH had been created on the premise that the combined group would be too large for a hostile raider. Instead, the siege came from within. Mr. Arnault, who had invested in the business in 1988, had a divergent vision from Henry Racamier, Louis Vuitton’s revered septuagenarian president, and ultimately turned on the executive, stripping him of his power and ousting him from the board. The French press was aghast but a pattern had been established.

“He’s not a gambler; he’s a strategist,” said a luxury executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Mr. Arnault. “His approach is not unusual in the M&A game — it’s just unusual in this industry. He acquires brands the Wall Street way, but then he holds them. He thinks in generational terms.”

Image

Credit…Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

In 1999 Mr. Arnault turned his eyes to another prize: Gucci, the Italian leather goods company then run by Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole. He quietly amassed a 5 percent stake before what Vanity Fair called “an Ali-Frazier fight for the recherché set” broke out.

Gucci called it a “creeping takeover.” Mr. Arnault upped his stake to 15 percent, then 27, then 34.4 — all while insisting he wanted to be a supportive and passive partner. The two sides finally agreed that in return for board representation, Mr. Arnault would freeze his stake. Mr. De Sole faxed him the paperwork. It came back unsigned. Then the guerrilla warfare began.

Mr. De Sole discovered a loophole that allowed him to issue shares with only board approval, and for every share LVMH bought, he created more for his employees, diluting Mr. Arnault’s stake. Then he agreed to sell 42 percent of the company to François Pinault of Pinault-Printemps-Redoute so he could “save” Gucci; LVMH sued in Dutch court, alleging mismanagement. Mr. De Sole announced his rival could “continue to torment us, but they’re not going to get very far.”

Then PPR filed a defamation suit in France, with Mr. De Sole accusing LVMH of “trashy, criminal behavior.” LVMH threatened to file a criminal defamation suit in response. The French media called it “La Guerre des Requins” or “the war of the sharks.” The New York Post called it “the bloodiest war in fashion.”

The fight dragged on into 2001, until finally, that September, they settled, and LVMH sold its shares — ultimately walking away with a $700 million profit.

“He was a really tough adversary,” said Mr. De Sole, now the chairman of Tom Ford International, who called the experience “brutal.” But afterward, he said, Mr. Arnault contacted Mr. De Sole through one of his bankers, and invited him to a private meeting, where he “was very rational and gracious.” The two are still in touch.

Image

Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

By 2013, Mr. Arnault had swept through much of Europe, snapping up bigger brands like Bulgari in 2011 and Loro Piana in 2013, as well as stakes in a slew of up-and-comers. But there was one long-term target that LVMH had coveted secretively for more than a decade: Hermès.

The super-luxe, wildly successful Parisian leather house is run by the sixth generation of its founding family, who have been fiercely protective of maintaining control. Although the company went public in 1993, the family retained a 78 percent stake.

In 2001, LVMH quietly bought an initial stake of 4.9 percent through subsidiaries, and continued to accumulate shares by buying equity derivatives through financial intermediaries, always in holdings below 5 percent. In October 2010, LVMH announced that it had acquired 14.2 percent of its rival. By December 2011, that had risen to 22.6 percent, prompting Patrick Thomas, then the Hermès chief executive, to react with a notoriously crude statement.

“If you want to seduce a beautiful woman, you don’t start by raping her from behind,” he said at a news conference, where he called on Mr. Arnault to reduce the LVMH holding to 10 percent in order to show that he was not intending a takeover attempt. Mr. Arnault did not, and in 2013 the LVMH stake in Hermès grew to 23.1 percent.

There was eventually a hearing before France’s stock market regulator, with Hermès claiming LVMH had built up its stake using a system that masked its true identity. The tit-for-tat legal battle gripped France, with LVMH again portrayed as the barbarian at the gate. In 2014, a French court ruled that LVMH had to sell down its stake and distribute its shares to investors. (Groupe Arnault, the largest shareholder in LVMH, retained an 8 percent position.)

Finally, in 2017, Mr. Arnault appeared to walk away swapping out the last Hermès shares as part of a wider corporate restructuring at LVMH, in part to help pay for the 25 percent of Dior that it did not already own. Dior minority investors could choose payment in cash or stock of Hermès, helping Mr. Arnault cash out without paying taxes on a sale. In the end, Groupe Arnault had $5 billion in profit.

“He’s not afraid of engaging in a fight, but it’s always with great calculation and a clear view of the long term,” said Serge Carreira, a lecturer at Sciences-Po in Paris. “He’s constantly evaluating the outcomes, and can put ego to the side in the service of the result.”

Consequently, said Mr. De Sole, “Even when he loses, he wins.”

Read More

Posted on

The White Issue: Has Anna Wintour’s Diversity Push Come Too Late?

Vogue’s September issue was different this year. Anna Wintour and her staff put it together when more than 15 million people were marching in Black Lives Matter protests nationwide and employees at Vogue’s parent company, Condé Nast, were publicly calling out what they viewed as racism in their own workplace. At 316 pages, the issue, titled “Hope,” featured a majority of Black artists, models and photographers, a first for the magazine.

For members of Vogue’s editorial team, the September edition came in the uneasy wake of an internal email Ms. Wintour had sent on June 4. “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators,” wrote Ms. Wintour, the Vogue editor in chief since 1988 and Condé Nast’s artistic director since 2013, making her the editorial leader of all its titles. “We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”

Black editors who have worked with Ms. Wintour said they saw her apology as hypocritical, part of a calculated play by an executive known for her ability to gauge the public mood. Other Black journalists who are current or former employees of Condé Nast said the email and the September issue that followed it represented an awkward, though heartfelt, attempt at genuine change.

More than any other institution, Vogue has defined fashion and beauty for generations of women, and the runway looks encouraged by the London-born Ms. Wintour, 70, have trickled down from haute couture houses to fast-fashion retailers and into the hands of everyday consumers. From Manhattan to Hollywood and beyond, she has helped set a standard that has favored white, Eurocentric notions of beauty.

Image
Credit…Will Ragozzino/Getty Images

The rare magazine editor who is known outside the publishing industry, Ms. Wintour — she is simply “Anna” to those in the know, or those who want to be — has become a singular cultural figure. After establishing herself in fashion, media and entertainment in the first part of a career that stretches to the 1970s, she has more recently become a political power player as a bundler for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And as the orchestrator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, better known as the Met Gala, she has transformed an affair for Manhattan’s society set into a full-blown East Coast Oscars, with luminaries from fashion, music, movies and sports on the Anna-controlled guest list.

As Ms. Wintour ascended, Vogue’s publication of “hurtful or intolerant” content rarely resulted in lasting negative attention for her. But Black journalists who have worked with Ms. Wintour, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said they had not gotten over their experiences at a magazine whose workplace mirrored its exclusive pages.

Under Ms. Wintour, 18 people said, Vogue welcomed a certain type of employee — someone who is thin and white, typically from a wealthy family and educated at elite schools. Of the 18, 11 people said that, in their view, Ms. Wintour should no longer be in charge of Vogue and should give up her post as Condé Nast’s editorial leader.

“Fashion is bitchy,” one former Black staff member said. “It’s hard. This is the way it’s supposed to be. But at Vogue, when we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’ and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white.’ How do you work in that environment?”

Many of the people interviewed for this article said the racism they encountered was usually subtle, but sometimes blunt. Their main accusation was that Ms. Wintour created a work environment — and there is no facet of Vogue that she does not control — that sidelined and tokenized women of color, especially Black women.

Many Black people who worked for her said they felt so out of place in Ms. Wintour’s domain that they created white alter egos — two used the term “doppelgänger” — just to get through the workday, reconditioning their presentation and dress in a way that was mentally draining.

Some Black editors did not want to comment on the experience of fellow colleagues, but offered another view. Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor of Teen Vogue since 2018, said she had experienced uncomfortable moments in the industry but that Ms. Wintour “has given me opportunities in leadership, and I’ve made inclusivity a deep part of the conversations we’re having.”

Three other people of color said Condé Nast had made positive changes and Ms. Wintour had promoted them to top roles. Naomi Campbell, one of the first Black supermodels, who was on the cover of Ms. Wintour’s first September issue in 1989, vehemently defended the editor.

Image

Credit…Condé Nast

“The first cover try I ever did, I had no idea she had to fight for me,” Ms. Campbell said. “She’s been a very important factor in my career and my life and has been honest about what she can do and what she cannot.”

The recent tumult at Condé Nast has knocked Ms. Wintour off balance. Inspired by the protests that arose after the police killing of George Floyd in May, employees have confronted their bosses at companywide meetings and in smaller gatherings. Their complaints have led to the resignations of key editors and pledges from the chief executive, Roger Lynch, and Ms. Wintour herself, to revamp Condé Nast’s hiring practices.

“I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them,” Ms. Wintour said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.”

Devoting the September issue — the most important of Vogue’s year — to Black contributors indicates Ms. Wintour grasps the intensity of the protest movement roiling the country. But in fashion, of course, appearances are paramount. During a large Condé Nast meeting on race in June, Ms. Wintour — who is the head of the company’s diversity and inclusion council — was conspicuously absent. Employees exchanged Slack and text messages during the session, asking the same question: “Where’s Anna?”

Long before Condé Nast employees went public with complaints about the company’s handling of race, Ms. Wintour has been criticized for Vogue’s portrayals of Black people.

For many readers, a 2008 cover of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen was reminiscent of racist images of Black men from a century ago. The basketball star is bellowing and gripping the supermodel around the waist, and some saw an unmistakable parallel to a racist World War I propaganda poster. Ms. Wintour also drew criticism when she helped the fashion designer John Galliano, who was fired from Christian Dior in 2011 after he was caught on camera making anti-Semitic remarks and declaring, “I love Hitler.” She continued to support Mr. Galliano even after he was found guilty of a hate crime by a Paris court.

Being indisputably the most important magazine in fashion means Vogue comes in for extra scrutiny — especially in its cover selections. Last year, The Pudding, a publisher of visual essays, used algorithms to analyze 19 years of the Vogue archives and measure the average “lightness” of cover models’ skin tones. In one span, from 2000 to 2005, only three of 81 women were Black. In a statement, Condé Nast said that from 2017 to 2020, 32 percent of Vogue covers featured Black women.

Former Vogue employees said that in recent years, Ms. Wintour has not kept pace with the public’s changing attitudes on issues of racism and discrimination. At a London fashion week party hosted by Burberry in February 2017, the reality TV star Kendall Jenner showed up with a new look: fake gold teeth. Vogue noted the choice in a breezy online story written by a white contributor: “The flashing teeth felt like a playful wink to the city’s free-spirited aesthetic — or perhaps a proverbial kiss to her rumored boyfriend, A$AP Rocky.”

A Black staff member contacted one of the magazine’s executives to object, saying the story insensitively endorsed an instance of cultural appropriation, according to emails obtained by The New York Times. Other staff members brought the article to Ms. Wintour’s attention, with one lieutenant explaining by email why some people on staff and on social media had reacted negatively: “If Kendall wants to do something stupid fine but our writers (especially white ones) don’t need to weigh in and glorify it or ascribe reasons to it that read culturally insensitive.”

Image

Credit…Backgrid

Ms. Wintour appeared not to grasp the issue. After several exchanges, she wrote: “Well I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Condé Nast said in a statement: “The coverage itself is not cultural appropriation.”

Vogue’s content has, though, been accused of being exactly that. The March 2017 issue showcased Karlie Kloss, a white model, in a geisha outfit, with her face in pale makeup and her hair dyed black — a blatant form of yellowface. Readers condemned the layout, which was shot in Japan by Mikael Jansson and included a photograph of Ms. Kloss with a sumo wrestler. New York Magazine’s fashion site The Cut was among the many critics, writing: “One thing’s for certain: Embracing diversity does not mean styling Karlie Kloss as a geisha.”

Image

Credit…Mikael Jansson

A Condé Nast human resources executive in charge of the company’s diversity program fielded numerous complaints, and alerted Ms. Wintour. According to three people with direct knowledge of the exchange, Ms. Wintour responded that she took full responsibility, but added the feature could not have been cut because of its “enormous expense.”

After an online outcry, Ms. Kloss issued an apology on Twitter: “These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive.”

The tweet angered Ms. Wintour, according to the three people, and Ms. Kloss sent a note in an effort to mollify her. “I imagine the feeling is mutual, that it was hurtful to see the criticism from our Japan trip,” the model wrote. “I had written a short piece on social media as I wanted to make known that it was never my intention to offend or upset anyone from this spread.”

Ms. Wintour’s reply the following day was icy: “Thanks Karlie another time please give us a heads up if you are writing about a Vogue issue.” (Ms. Kloss has continued to appear in the magazine’s pages.)

In the fall of 2017, there was yet another awkward exchange on race between Ms. Wintour and Vogue staff members. It concerned a photo shoot by Patrick Demarchelier that showed several dark-skinned Black models wearing head scarves.

As Ms. Wintour weighed whether to publish the images, she asked an employee by email if they might be misconstrued as racist. But she flubbed the attempt, using a dated, offensive term: “Don’t mean to use an inappropriate word, but pica ninny came to mind,” Ms. Wintour wrote.

Image

Credit…Patrick Demarchelier

In a statement, Ms. Wintour said: “I was trying both to express my concern for how our readers could have interpreted a photo and raise the issue for discussion, and I used a term that was offensive. And for that, I truly apologize.”

In the 2017 email, Ms. Wintour requested that a specific Black staff member evaluate the photo shoot. The employee, an assistant, told her superiors that the work was fine. The real problem, she continued, according to several people familiar with the meeting, was why a low-ranked person such as herself had been asked to assess it. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.

Image

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

For Ms. Wintour, who descends from British nobility and was recently made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the pace of the current moment of protest may be a challenge. But she is also the daughter of a London newspaper editor and has made a career out of anticipating and responding adroitly to cultural trends.

In 2016, Ms. Wintour made a change to her pool of assistants. (She had three aides for many years, but more recently has had two.) That year, according to three Condé Nast employees, she told the company’s human resources department that her next assistant should be Black. Eventually, most of her assistants were people of color, the people said. The job is highly sought after, a steppingstone to bigger roles in fashion and media, but because it is low-paying, it usually goes to women from wealthy families. The sight of Ms. Wintour’s new adjutants made for a vivid contrast with the usual Vogue hires.

In 2017, Ms. Wintour was part of the small committee that decided to replace the departing Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter with Radhika Jones, the editorial director of the books department at The Times, making her one of the few top editors of color in Condé Nast’s history. Ms. Wintour has since championed Ms. Jones against in-house naysayers who complained that she had featured too many people of color in Vanity Fair. “My experiences with Anna have been nothing but positive,” Ms. Jones said. “She’s supportive of my vision and she understands what I’ve been trying to achieve and she has helped me to achieve it.”

Image

Credit…Acielle Tanbetova for The New York Times

Last month, Ms. Wintour replaced Stuart Emmrich, a former Styles editor at The Times, as the editor of the Vogue website with Chioma Nnadi, a Black woman who had been the magazine’s fashion director. And in August, Ms. Wintour was instrumental in the hiring of the superstar book executive Dawn Davis, who is Black, as the editor of Bon Appétit. (She replaced Adam Rapoport, who resigned under pressure in June after staff members accused him of running a discriminatory workplace.)

In a statement, Condé Nast said that 42 percent of its editors in chief were now people of color — all of them put in place by Ms. Wintour — and that all photo shoots are ultimately overseen by Raúl Martinez, the corporate creative director, who is the son of Cuban émigrés.

Some of Ms. Wintour’s relationships with Black editors have been rocky. André Leon Talley, a fashion titan, was one of Vogue’s most recognized personalities, often seated beside Ms. Wintour in the front row at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York. She lavished professional and financial support on Mr. Talley, but the two had a falling-out, and he left the magazine in 2013.

This year, he published a memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” which reads in part as a scathing takedown of the fashion industry for its whiteness. During a promotional interview, a podcaster asked Mr. Talley about Ms. Wintour’s apology for Vogue’s “hurtful or intolerant” content. “Dame Anna Wintour is a colonial broad,” Mr. Talley replied. “She’s part of an environment of colonialism. She is entitled and I do not think she will ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege.”

Image

Credit…Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

Edward Enninful, a Black editor at Condé Nast who has led British Vogue since 2017, is among the next generation of Condé Nast leaders, and is often mentioned as Ms. Wintour’s potential successor at the magazine’s American flagship. The two are said to have a difficult working relationship, according to people in New York and London who have directly observed their dynamic. (In July, Mr. Enninful said that a security guard at Condé Nast’s London office racially profiled him, telling him to “use the loading bay.” Mr. Enninful described the incident on Instagram, writing “Change needs to happen now.” Condé Nast dismissed the guard, he said, and the post has since been deleted.)

When Ms. Wintour promoted Elaine Welteroth, a Black woman, to a top position at Teen Vogue in 2016, the appointment was heralded as a step forward for diversity. But the promotion was fraught, Ms. Welteroth wrote in her 2019 memoir, “More Than Enough.” Instead of running Teen Vogue herself, as the editor in chief, she was given a more ambiguous title, “editor,” and was asked to split leadership of the publication with two others. Ms. Welteroth felt that the structure effectively sidelined her, giving her less power than that of the previous Teen Vogue boss, Amy Astley. (A year after her appointment, Ms. Welteroth was named editor in chief. She left Condé Nast in 2018.)

“Would any of it have gone down this way if I were a White man?” Ms. Welteroth wrote.

The killing of Mr. Floyd sparked difficult discussions about race and diversity in magazines and newspapers across the country, including at The Times. Employees everywhere have become more vocal about what they see as racist attitudes in the workplace.

At Condé Nast, Bon Appétit, a rising profit center thanks in part to its popular cooking videos, has been the red-hot center of dissent in recent months, with many of its staff members quitting in protest. Before the hiring of Ms. Davis to lead the magazine, Ms. Wintour watched closely over its editorial operations, people who worked at the property said.

At the time, people of color who had been featured in the videos complained that they were paid less than their white colleagues and that Bon Appétit had whitewashed their recipes — a trend in food journalism where ethnic cuisines are recast from a white perspective. Readers flooded the comments section of Bon Appétit’s Instagram account with messages of support for those who complained.

In a post to Bon Appétit’s account, Priya Krishna, a freelancer who had accused Condé Nast of unequal pay, was quoted as saying: “I have been forced to think outside of myself and my identity my entire career. So why can’t white editors change their mindset now?”

Ms. Wintour asked to have the item removed, according to internal Condé Nast Slack messages. But by the time of her request, the Krishna post had been online for hours, and Ms. Wintour was warned that deleting it would only attract more attention. The social media team suggested posting new content that would push the item down in users’ feeds. Ms. Wintour approved the plan, according to two people involved in the discussion.

Marcus Samuelsson, a celebrity chef who signed a one-year agreement with Condé Nast as a Bon Appétit consultant, said the company’s history with diversity “was challenging,” but he added that Ms. Wintour had worked to create more inclusivity. “She championed it from Day 1,” he said.

Many people who have worked at Vogue or with Ms. Wintour said that despite her moves toward a more diverse staff, she was still responsible for a hostile workplace. They singled out two of Ms. Wintour’s best known lieutenants: Phyllis Posnick, a Vogue editor who styled the 2017 geisha and head scarf shoots, and Grace Coddington, another fixture at the magazine.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, as staff members were despondent that Mrs. Clinton had lost to Donald J. Trump, Ms. Posnick said, in a voice that three people could hear, “I knew this was going to happen. It’s all the Blacks’ fault. They didn’t vote.” The next year, when Rihanna showed up late for Vogue’s annual fashion conference — hardly an unusual occurrence for a musician — two people heard Ms. Coddington say, “Black people are late everywhere.”

In a statement, Ms. Posnick, 78, denied making the comment. “I have never and would never say something like this for the simple fact that I don’t believe it,” she said. Ms. Coddington, 79, also disputed that she had made the Rihanna remark: “Why would I say that when I am perennially late myself?”

Image

Credit…Leslie Kirchhoff

Ms. Coddington is perhaps the second-most visible figure of the Wintour era at Vogue, having stolen multiple scenes in “The September Issue,” a popular 2009 documentary about the magazine. In 2016, the year she switched her Vogue status from employee to freelancer, Ms. Coddington was photographed in her Manhattan kitchen, with a shelf of racist “mammy” figurines clearly visible in the background. The collection was roundly criticized.

In a statement, Condé Nast noted that Ms. Posnick and Ms. Coddington no longer contributed to the magazine.

Image

Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

To work at Vogue is to inhabit a kind of prep school dormitory where relationships are defined by family ties and social connections that span generations. For many younger people of color who came from less rarefied backgrounds, gaining a toehold was considerably more difficult.

Condé Nast assistants famously put up with grueling hours and humiliating tasks, a job satirized in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a best-selling novel by a former Wintour assistant and later a hit movie starring Meryl Streep as the demanding boss. The hazing is seen as a rite of passage, part of why the company has the nickname “Condé Nasty.” And while Black staff members acknowledge all that, they said that race complicates matters.

Black employees are often asked to participate, or merely show up for, high-level meetings — a corporate practice known as fronting, six people interviewed for this article said. At Vogue, they have been asked to weigh in on cover images or take part in discussions with advertisers, forums that do not typically call on junior employees.

In a statement, Condé Nast said, “Anna and Vogue and all the leaders at our brands have made concerted efforts to build inclusion into all we do every day.”

In 2016, the actress Lupita Nyong’o showed up at Vogue’s office at One World Trade in Lower Manhattan to discuss a planned photo shoot. Ms. Nyong’o sat down with top editors, who had proposed photographing her in her home country, Kenya, along with some family members. The accompanying article would also focus on her family.

Ms. Nyong’o expressed concern about how her family would be portrayed, saying she feared they might come across as cultural props, according to several people with knowledge of the meeting. After a long pause, a junior editor — the only Black staff member in the room — piped up. Addressing the actress, she suggested that the shoot would be an opportunity to showcase Africa, a rarity in any American magazine, let alone Vogue.

The shoot was a go. And the junior editor was never asked to attend a fashion meeting again.

Read More