Vogue editor Anna Wintour should turn down the British medal she's being offered for several reasons. First of all because the title-Officer of the British Empire-is ridiculously outmoded. It marks the 58-year-old fashion veteran as a member of an earlier generation of Brits who still hanker pathetically for approval of the fusty home-country establishment decades after moving to the US. But most of all Wintour should be embarrassed to take an honor a rank below that of her long-time rival, editor Tina Brown. The one-time Vanity Fair editor is a Commander of the British Empire, which means she'll outrank Wintour in the ridiculous "order of preference" of English society.

Though both women were plucked by S.I. Newhouse from similar backgrounds in the UK to run magazines in his Condé Nast empire-or maybe precisely because they occupied such similar niches in American publishing-their relationship was always testy. Tina Brown saw Wintour's hiring as a deliberate slight by the Condé Nast boss, according to friends. "He knows Anna's father and my father are mortal enemies! He knows!" she was quoted as saying.

Even though they were sufficiently chummy to lunch together with Diana on the princess' jaunts through New York, the rivalry was never far from the surface. Wintour had set up the lunch; but Tina Brown worked the private conversation into her obituary of the princess after she died in a Paris car crash. And, later, Brown ran a malicious profile on Wintour's then boyfriend, womanizing entrepreneur Shelby Bryan. "He asks nineteen-year-old girls and forty-five-year-olds at parties in Southampton if they want to fuck him," said one socialite.

There's a consolation: Wintour still has a job atop a glossy and profitable magazine and the power of patronage that comes with that; Tina Brown depends on the charity of gay mogul Barry Diller, who is funding her latest project, a "news aggregator" in a medium that she's never understood. The C.B.E. won't help her.