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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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A Reckoning at Condé Nast

This was supposed to be Condé Nast’s year.

The publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker was going to be profitable again after years of layoffs and losses.

Then advertising revenue suddenly dropped as the coronavirus pandemic cratered the economy. More recently, as protests against racism and police violence grew into a worldwide movement, company employees publicly complained about racism in the workplace and in some Condé Nast content.

In response, the two leaders of the nearly all-white executive team — the artistic director, Anna Wintour, and the chief executive, Roger Lynch — offered apologies to the staff.

At an all-hands online meeting on Friday, employees asked if Ms. Wintour, the top editor of Vogue since 1988 and the company’s editorial leader since 2013, would be leaving. Mr. Lynch and the communications chief, Danielle Carrig, shot down the question, saying Ms. Wintour was not going anywhere, said three people who attended the meeting but were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

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Tumult has hit Condé Nast, a company built partly on selling a glossy brand of elitism to the masses, at a time when its financial outlook is grim. Last year, the U.S. division lost approximately $100 million on about $900 million in revenue, said several people with knowledge of the company, who were not authorized to speak publicly. The European arm also had losses.

Mr. Lynch said in an interview Friday that he was “not familiar” with the cited figures, adding that the company’s merger of its domestic and international operations, part of a recent restructuring, had been costly.

In April, the company instituted pay cuts for anyone making over $100,000. Then came layoffs — 100 jobs gone out of roughly 6,000.

Condé Nast is one of many media organizations, including The New York Times, whose employees have questioned company leaders as people around the world have taken part in protests prompted by the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died last month in Minneapolis after a white police officer pinned him to the ground.

The company has been led by the Newhouse family since 1959. Steven Newhouse heads the parent company, Advance, and his cousin Jonathan Newhouse is chairman of Condé Nast’s board. Advance also controls more than 40 newspapers and news sites across the country. Many of them, including The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and The Star-Ledger in Newark, have struggled. The Newhouse family has protected itself against losses with significant investments in the cable giant Charter and the media conglomerate Discovery.

Before the internet took readers away from print, Condé Nast was known for thick magazines edited by cultural arbiters who traveled in the same circles as the people they covered. As digital media rose, Condé Nast was slow to adapt. Budgets tightened. Magazines including Gourmet, Mademoiselle and Details folded.

By the time Mr. Lynch, a former head of the music streaming service Pandora, succeeded Robert A. Sauerberg as the chief executive last year, Condé Nast was in triage mode. After his arrival, it unloaded three publications: Brides, Golf Digest and W.

On Monday, Condé Nast reckoned with how the company deals with issues related to race. Adam Rapoport, the longtime top editor of Bon Appétit, resigned after a photo surfaced on social media showing him in a costume that stereotypically depicted Puerto Rican dress.

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He apologized to staff members in a videoconference. After Mr. Rapoport left the call, the staff voiced complaints about the Bon Appétit workplace. Some minority employees said they had been used as ethnic props in Bon Appétit’s videos, a growing segment of the Condé Nast business.

“It’s so hard to be a person of color at this company,” said Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, a black woman who worked as an assistant to Mr. Rapoport. “My blood is still boiling.”

She recalled a 2018 meeting of editors to discuss how to make the magazine’s Instagram account more diverse. In a room of about eight editors, three were people of color.

“And we’re all very junior, no power,” Ms. Walker-Hartshorn said in an interview. “I was like, ‘You’re asking us how to make our Instagram black without hiring more black people?’”

At a company forum on Tuesday, Mr. Lynch said Bon Appétit employees should have raised their concerns earlier, a comment that rubbed many the wrong way. In a closed-door session later that day, he apologized to a group of staff members who had pushed for Mr. Rapoport’s ouster.

“I want you to know I take this personally, and I take personal responsibility for it,” he said, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times.

A onetime banker at Morgan Stanley, Mr. Lynch spent much of his career at Dish, the satellite TV service. As a hobby he played lead guitar in a classic-rock cover band, the Merger. He moved from San Francisco to New York and updated his wardrobe to join Condé Nast.

Mr. Lynch, 57, has emphasized diversity efforts and environmental programs in emails to the staff. He said in the interview on Friday that he was developing an overall company strategy as he assembled his executive team. In December he hired Deirdre Findlay as the chief marketing officer, making her the company’s highest-ranking black executive.

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His former executive assistant, Cassie Jones, who is black, quit shortly after he gave her a gift she considered insulting, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

In November, after she had spent four months working for him, Mr. Lynch called Ms. Jones into his office and handed her “The Elements of Style,” a guide to standard English usage by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Mr. Lynch said he thought she could benefit from it.

With its suggestion that her own language skills were lacking, the gift struck Ms. Jones as a microaggression, the people said. A few days later, she quit. Before leaving the headquarters at 1 World Trade in Lower Manhattan, she placed the book on his desk.

Mr. Lynch said he hadn’t meant to insult Ms. Jones, who declined to comment for this article. “I really only had the intention — like every time I’ve given it before — for it to be a helpful resource, as it has been for me,” he said. “I still use it today. I’m really sorry if she interpreted it that way.”

Before Mr. Lynch’s arrival, David Remnick, the editor in chief of The New Yorker, objected to a plan that would have lowered the magazine’s subscription price and raised ad rates. He has brought aboard a diverse crew of journalists, including Jia Tolentino, Hua Hsu and Vinson Cunningham, while adding digital subscriptions.

Three people with knowledge of the company said The New Yorker was likely to surpass Vogue as Condé Nast’s biggest contributor to U.S. profits by the end of 2020. The people added that about 80 percent of The New Yorker’s revenue came from readers, which helped the magazine weather the advertising downturn. The magazine did not cut staff during the recent layoffs.

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Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

On June 4, Ms. Wintour sent an apologetic note to the Vogue staff. “I want to say this especially to the Black members of our team — I can only imagine what these days have been like,” Ms. Wintour wrote.

She added, “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. We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”

The British-born Ms. Wintour has been credited internally for championing Radhika Jones, one of few top editors of color in the company’s history.

Ms. Jones, the former editorial director of the book department at The Times who took over Vanity Fair from Graydon Carter in 2017, changed the magazine’s identity. The first cover subject she chose, for the April 2018 issue, was the actress and producer Lena Waithe, a black woman photographed by Annie Leibovitz in a plain T-shirt. Later covers featured Michael B. Jordan, Janelle Monae and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ms. Jones has put out 16 Vanity Fair covers featuring people of color.

When Ms. Jones arrived, she was pilloried by fashion insiders who questioned her style sense. Her choice of legwear — tights with illustrated foxes — drew stares, according to a report in Women’s Wear Daily. Ms. Wintour later showed her support for Ms. Jones at a welcome party by handing out gifts: tights with foxes on them.

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At a quarterly meeting of company executives in April 2019, on Mr. Lynch’s second day at Condé Nast, Ms. Jones presented her plan for Vanity Fair’s fall issues, a prime landing spot for fashion and luxury advertisers. (From September to December last year, the Vanity Fair covers featured Kristen Stewart, Lupita Nyong’o, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chrissy Teigen, John Legend and their children.)

Two executives criticized Ms. Jones’s plan, according to three people who were at the meeting and were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In particular, Susan Plagemann, the chief business officer of Condé Nast’s style division, challenged Ms. Jones at length, saying the plan would be difficult to sell to advertisers. To defuse the tension, Ms. Wintour banged her fist on the table, saying, “We need to move on,” according to the three people who were at the meeting.

Ms. Plagemann, who is white, joined the company in 2010 as Vogue’s chief business officer and worked closely with Ms. Wintour; in 2018, she was elevated to her current job. Three people with knowledge of the matter said she was vocal about her negative view of Vanity Fair under its new editor.

She had criticized Ms. Jones’s choices of cover subjects, telling others at the company that the magazine should feature “more people who look like us,” two of the people said. A third person said he had heard her use words expressing a similar sentiment. All the people said they interpreted the phrase and similar remarks as referring to well-off white women who adopt an aesthetic common among the fashion set.

Through a Condé Nast spokesman, Ms. Plagemann denied making those statements and denied expressing a dim view of Ms. Jones’s Vanity Fair.

In the interview on Friday, Mr. Lynch addressed Ms. Jones’s stewardship of the magazine more broadly. “The challenge with her taking that new direction would be alienating some of the traditional Vanity Fair audience,” he said. “I really applaud what she’s done.”

The uprising at Condé Nast was overdue, some staff members said. “We’ve been asking for change for months now,” Sohla El-Waylly, an assistant editor at Bon Appétit, said in an interview.

In the Tuesday meeting with Bon Appétit staff members, Mr. Lynch said he hoped to prove a commitment to diversity with the choice of Mr. Rapoport’s replacement. Later in the call, he suggested that some staff members wanted to hurt Bon Appétit financially to bring about change, a comment that irked some in the meeting.

“It felt infantilizing, as if we were teenagers rebelling,” said Jesse Sparks, an editorial assistant.

Mr. Lynch said in the interview that he had meant to underscore the urgency of the matter. “I wanted to make sure they understood the brand they worked so hard to build was actually being harmed, and I think I even apologized to them in that meeting,” he said.

A Bon Appétit personality, Claire Saffitz, has generated over 200 million views with “Gourmet Makes,” a show in which she makes homemade versions of Twinkies and other junk food. She represents a new kind of Condé Nast, one built on a kind of rough-cut authenticity, but her popularity has drawn attention to the problem of representation.

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Credit…Francesco Sapienza for The New York Times

Ms. El-Waylly, who was a regular guest on the show, said her addition to “Gourmet Makes” had been cynically motivated. “They just want me there to play the part to make it look like they have people of color on staff,” she said.

She said she was not paid for her appearances, as her white counterparts were. Condé Nast disputed that and said Ms. El-Waylly’s salary covered her video appearances.

On Wednesday, the company’s head of video, Matt Duckor, stepped down. Several employees had accused him of bias. Many people at the company are rooting for more change.

“What’s crazy is what it took for this stuff to happen,” Ms. Walker-Hartshorn said. “It took George Floyd.”

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Anna Wintour Made Condé Nast the Embodiment of Boomer Excess. Can It Change to Meet This Crisis?

The coronavirus chased the fashion industry across Europe in February, from fashion week in Milan to fashion week in Paris, where designers handed out masks and some nervous fashion editors left early.

On Saturday the 29th, the team from InStyle magazine, owned by the Meredith Corporation, decided it was too dangerous to stay. The same day, Anna Wintour convened Condé Nast’s fashion staff in a makeshift conference room at the Paris Vogue headquarters. “The message from Anna was: This is not a big deal,” one attendee recalled (though a company spokesman denied she sent that message). Her editors, some nervous about the coronavirus, didn’t dare ask to go home.

“You wouldn’t challenge Anna in a group meeting — that’s just not how our operations work,” another editor said.

Ms. Wintour, the Vogue editor since 1988 who now runs much of Condé Nast’s U.S. operation, played her usual central role in Paris — and more. She stayed, she made arch jokes about people who had fled, and her regal presence by the runways sent a signal of support to the industry. When she got back to New York, some of her competitors self-quarantined, but she went to work and her staff didn’t need to be told they were expected to show up, too. She and her lieutenants worked out of the otherwise largely empty Condé Nast offices at One World Trade Center until the mayor sent the city home. It reminded Ms. Wintour’s longtime employees of how she had stoically led them back weeks after 9/11, producing photo shoots of models with patriotic bunting on rooftops.

But the coronavirus isn’t that sort of crisis. It’s a more dismal affair, preying on older and weaker companies as well as people. The theatrical flourishes and lavish lifestyles of the great media figures of a generation — from Ms. Wintour to Donald Trump — seem ill suited to the moment. These days, even the most charismatic executives are doing Zoom calls in their sweatpants.

Paris, rather than becoming a moment when Ms. Wintour saved her two treasured industries — magazines and fashion — now looks a bit more like the last stand for her leadership style, for a personal brand larger than her company’s, and for Condé Nast’s long, legendary 20th century. The crisis is set to sweep aside the vestiges of a more luxuriant media age.

“There were trends that were already happening, some positive and some negative,” Ms. Wintour’s boss, the Condé Nast chief executive Roger Lynch, told me Friday. “And the crisis is just accelerating all those.”

The negative trends — the collapse of print and of advertising — arrived at Condé Nast in 2008, and haven’t relented since. Now they’ll hit Ms. Wintour and Vogue particularly hard. The fashion magazine is Condé’s most lucrative U.S. publication. But it is also almost entirely dependent on advertisements that Ms. Wintour, through sheer force of personality, has kept coming in from fashion houses as virtually every other print category collapsed. Clothing is now the hardest-hit sector of the devastated retail industry.

Mr. Lynch, 57, who spoke to me via Zoom from his house in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., is responding to the crisis with a mix of sharp spending cuts and some increased marketing for subscriptions as traffic swells to Condé’s newsier brands.

Still, the subscriptions to all the company’s magazines, other than The New Yorker, remain cheap, as they were when the goal was simply to pump up circulation numbers for advertisers. And nobody knows what will happen if they are forced to raise prices to compensate for lost ad revenue.

But the coronavirus crisis is clearly reordering the priorities at what the Condé chairman, Jonathan Newhouse, once referred to as “the Vogue Company.” Now its fortunes depend on whether The New Yorker — now the strongest business in the company — and Wired can keep pace with the red-hot Atlantic, and on Bon Appétit feeding and entertaining the homebound masses. Nobody is putting on a Givenchy cape anytime soon.

Mr. Lynch, the former chief of Pandora, comes from the alternate world of the tech industry. He talks passionately about corporate strategy and plays in a classic rock cover band called the Merger. He arrived in 2019 at a business still shaped by the legacy of the Newhouse family, which had turned a workaday newspaper fortune into a glamorous and glossy magazine publishing house. The company drifted through the internet age until the death of the magnate S.I. Newhouse in 2017, the same year Edmund Lee reported in The New York Times that Condé had lost $120 million.

Mr. Lynch’s hiring signaled Condé’s shift away from family passion project to a more professional era, suggesting to many observers that they will eventually sell the media company — though the family staunchly denies that. While the Newhouses still dominate the board of its parent company, Advance, they added outside directors for the first time last summer. Their billions no longer depend on Condé Nast — they have big stakes in the cable television businesses — and they have diversified further, even spending $730 million to buy the endurance sports company Ironman Group as the coronavirus shut down its events.

Mr. Lynch said today’s Condé Nast differed greatly from its outdated image.

I think most people think about Condé Nast in the context of the old Condé Nast. I mean, it’s a big magazine business, a lot of drama, a lot of excess,” he said. “That’s just not the company today.”

In reality, Mr. Lynch is scrambling to create a business model that does not yet exist, with no guarantee that there’s any way to stop the bleeding. Condé operates huge YouTube channels and considers itself the platform’s “largest premium publisher” — but the reason there aren’t many others is because those videos cost a lot to make, and often don’t earn it back. GQ China operates the biggest commercial channel on the social platform WeChat, publishing viral comics at a higher margin — but at a different kind of cost: British GQ pulled Xi Jinping off its “worst dressed” list last year for fear of giving offense.

And it is contending with broader social and generational shifts that make its culture of casual drama and cruelty seem a poor fit for the values of its unionizing, millennial work force. Ms. Wintour’s former editor-at-large André Leon Talley drew headlines last week for writing in his new memoir that she left him with “vast emotional and psychic scars,” prompting another designer to call her “santanic” in an Instagram screed. (Joseph Libonati, a Condé spokesman, said “Anna wishes Andre only the best.”)

Ms. Wintour has also been slow to adjust to changing cultural norms, playing catch-up rather than leading on everything from calling people fat to wearing fur to her friendship with Harvey Weinstein and his wife. She was said to be in line to be Hillary Clinton’s ambassador to London.

In 2017, those same cultural and economic forces resulted in the departure of the Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter after 25 years, leaving only Ms. Wintour and the New Yorker editor David Remnick from the ranks of imperial editors. (When Condé Nast promptly cut Vanity Fair’s budget by a reported $14 million after Mr. Carter’s exit, the lesson, said one Vanity Fair employee, was simple: “Protect your boomer.”)

The new editor, Radhika Jones, wrenched the publication abruptly into the politics of a new generation, away from baby boomer power structures and toward scathing pieces on surf mom influencers and Robert Kraft’s massage parlor scandal. Her bumpy transition, along with Ms. Wintour’s elevation to broader roles managing most American editors — her titles since 2019 include artistic director for the company and global content adviser — showed that the old guard wasn’t quite ready to ease its grip. And nobody has quite determined what a post-boomer-led Condé Nast looks like.

Ms. Wintour has backed Ms. Jones, and regularly drops down from her vast office to the Vanity Fair editor’s smaller windowless one. When I asked Mr. Lynch whether he’d renew Ms. Jones’s contract this summer, he demurred, saying, “Radhika works for Anna.” (Ms. Wintour said, through a spokesman, that Ms. Jones was “the right leader for the title.”)

The bigger question may be what becomes of the glossy magazines in whatever new age we are entering. Condé Nast is the defining brand of American inequality; its original slogan was “class not mass.”

Now it is entering a grim period of austerity. Editors have drawn up lists of employees they expect to lay off, and are figuring out how to relate to them in the meantime so they won’t be surprised by the call from H.R.; its more tightly run rival, Hearst, has avoided those measures. Executives have taken salary cuts — 50 percent for Mr. Lynch; 20 percent for Ms. Wintour, who has also begun a campaign, A Common Thread, aimed at helping the fashion industry with which her future, and Vogue’s, remains inextricably linked.

The only people with nothing to fear appear to be the veterans of the glory days, when senior editors were promised pensions for life equivalent to more than half of their generous salaries. Three former executives, including Mr. Carter, who now runs an upscale newsletter called Airmail from the south of France, said the company’s current woes had not affected their paychecks. Robert Gottlieb, who was fired by his good friend Si Newhouse from The New Yorker in 1992, told me the checks have been coming steadily ever since.

“I get a notification every three years or so if there’s been some inflationary upturn in my income from a person I don’t know,” he said.

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