The Viscountess of Vogue

As a sittings editor—“It’s an old-fashioned term, in the ’30s a Vogue shoot was a sitting,” she explained—each time Ms. Kotur prepares for a shoot, she researches her subjects exhaustively: checking their previous photographs, coming up with an original way to portray them and studying such minute details as the length of their hair, how they like to dress, their hobbies.

“People think that you just arrive and take the photo, but it’s not like that. Everything is very thought out by the time we get there,” Ms. Kotur said.

 

AN ENIGMA IN PURPLE

Unlike some editors, who seem to positively hurl themselves in front of the lenses of party photographers (bonjour, Plum!), the enigmatic Ms. Kotur seems to hail from a lost time when people who worked on a magazine had little interest in seeing their own names in boldface. (Indeed, getting her to submit to an interview turned into almost a yearlong courtship.)

“She’s very shy and in the background, but she really makes things happen,” Vogue’s fashion director, Grace Coddington, said. “Alexandra is really an unsung hero. It’s the people that don’t have their name on the page that are doing the work, and the last person to get her name on the page is Alexandra. I think she doesn’t require the celebrity that so many other people do who actually don’t have anything to say or do.”

Asked about Ms. Kotur’s long-term ambitions, Ms. Coddington said: “I don’t know because she’s so quiet about everything! But I feel like there is a lot more in her yet to come.”

Of course, this has not been a good year for Vogue. The recession threatens to make the coverage of couturiers and socialites vacationing in Dubai seem crass and irrelevant. Ad sales are down, as they are everywhere. And last December, Ms. Horyn, The Times’ fashion critic, wrote an article addressing rumors that Ms. Wintour was to be replaced by French editor Carine Roitfeld, charging the magazine with being stale and predictable, its editor out of touch.

“I just fundamentally disagree,” Ms. Kotur said fiercely. “I think Anna is an amazing editor. Only if you work at Vogue can you understand what it’s like—how talented these women are that make up the team of Anna’s staff.”

She continued: “Look at André, Hamish, Grace, Phyllis [Posnick, executive fashion editor]—we’ve been here a long time, and I don’t think we all think about it. Then when the movie and all these articles come out, we’re like, ‘What’s all this analysis?’ We just carry on and do what we do. If someone wants to report on it, fine, but just let me do what I do.”

Continuing the magazine’s tradition, Ms. Kotur is known to take an interest in the younger employees.

“I see them sometimes in the fashion closet, and they are just brimming with enthusiasm packing up shoes. You can just see it, you recognize it,” she said. “I try to teach them some of the things I learned, which is that it’s O.K. to be an assistant. Sometimes people come out of school right now and they immediately want a job doing something. And there’s nothing wrong with just listening and learning and watching.”

Ms. Kotur was modest when asked about her own future at the magazine.

“I don’t have five-year plans,” she said, sitting outside of the Met. “I just like to do what I do and that’s as much as I can say about it.”

The style director’s style may be somewhat reserved during the daytime, but in the evenings, she can often be seen in floor-sweeping Carolina Herrera dresses (she wrote a tribute book to the designer in 2004), austere cocktail dresses and elegant blouses with flattering necklines.

For the Costume Institute Gala, Ms. Kotur will wear an original design, sketched especially for her by Ms. Herrera’s design director, Hervé Pierre. The purple dress with an empire waist is still in pieces at the moment. “I don’t think I’ve ever worn purple at night,” she said, “But Carolina said, ‘Wear purple,’ so I said, ‘O.K., I guess I’m wearing purple!’”

Ms. Kotur attributed her look to her mentor, Ms. Levin, who upon her arrival at British GQ told her to throw out everything and invest in one beautiful cashmere sweater. “She said, ‘I don’t care if you wear it every day, just make it a good cashmere sweater,’” Ms. Kotur said.

“I think a closet full of things would actually stress me out. I just think this whole thing about not wearing anything twice, I just don’t understand it. I think things should be worn. You should bond with your clothing. It should be yours. If you’re in this industry and you’re looking at clothes all day, I sort of just want to stay neutral. I respect trends because that’s our industry and I enjoy it, but for myself, I’m just not really interested.”

And she seemed amused at the idea that she was a beacon of self-effacement in a world of tiresomely popping flashbulbs.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Ms. Kotur said. “Maybe that is sort of the old-school way of doing things, but I just really like what I do, so that’s all I care about. I don’t think you lead your life thinking someone’s recording it.”

ialeksander@observer.com