Most people have heard of Anna Wintour and unless you live under a rock in the middle of nowhere you’ve heard of Vogue. Nearly every major city in the world has its own version of the fashion magazine, from Seoul to Singapore.
Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue, is known for her steely manor and cold demur and in R.J Cutler’s film The September Issue we get a rare look behind the iron fist and under the skin of the magazine head-quarters in New York.
Around 13 million women in America will read the September issue of the magazine and it is the biggest in the Vogue year. September is like January in the fashion world and this is a time of year for change. To help breach this change, the magazine produces its bulkiest edition, packed with photo shoots and advertising. The issue takes about 10 weeks to produce and a lot of style fuelled stress and heart ache.
Although many famous designers including Oscar De la Renta, Patrick DeMarchelier and John Galliano pop up in the film, the real star of this show is Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director. She is more approachable and friendly than Wintour and appears surprisingly down to earth.
At one point in the documentary Coddington includes the camera man in one of her shoots. Wintour immediately checks that his stomach is photoshopped and as soon as she leaves the room Coddington vetoes this decision, making the point that not everyone in the world is perfect. It’s enough to have pages full of beautiful models – can’t one person in the magazine who is clearly not a model look normal?
Coddington, originally from North Wales, started out in the fashion industry as a model in the 1960s. After a spell with British Vogue she moved to America and has worked with US Vogue for the past 20 years. The two women have worked together for a long time and share a strange love/hate relationship. Throughout the movie these tensions are evident but after working for so long together they can be brutally honest and Coddington seems tough enough to take it.
It’s pleasing to see that these two highly successful women are English. At the beginning of the documentary, Wintour says, in her strange southern English meets east coast American accent: “There’s something about fashion which frightens some people,” before holding the gaze of the viewer for just long enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
The film shows the reality behind the likes of the glamourised The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty. It is an interesting look into office politics and confirmation that every office in the world has an all important boss and many servants running around conducting menial tasks out of sight. At one point in the film a lowly assistant is sharply told “excuse me”, as the editor wishes to get past her to look at a photo spread. The young woman looks as if she’s just been slapped in the face while Wintour carries on regardless.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Coddington as she spends hours and hours shooting gloriously devised photo scenes only for them to be vetoed after a nod from Wintour, in place of a celebrity special Sienna Millar shoot. Although Coddington seems momentarily to fume with anger, it’s not long before she admits Wintour was first to use celebrities on the cover and this decision has been very successful in our celebrity obsessed world.
The issue features Miller in Rome and it’s interesting to see even the perfectly beautiful actress is photoshopped for the front cover and made to wear a wig because her hair wasn’t (according to Wintour), “looking its best.”
Real fur, size zero, pro-plus size and all other potentially controversial subjects are left out of the film and wouldn’t really fit in with the style of the documentary. It’s about looking past her trademark bob and glasses and into how the magazine prepared for the September issue.
Although Wintour appears harsh – how else can you become editor of the most powerful fashion magazine in the world?
In some slightly human moments, Wintour sits with her daughter who flatly refuses to enter the fashion world, preferring law school instead. Wintour’s father was the editor of the Evening Standard and her brother is the political editor of the Guardian – when asked what her family thinks of her career, a slip of emotion seeps though the steely exterior and she says, “they find it amusing.”
The film is a rare and interesting look behind the gloss and glamour of one of the world’s most influential magazines and gives a brief insight into how it’s run and the work behind this issue.
The woman behind the magazine has a cold exterior but behind the glasses she is a normal woman with a family. This is an excellent film for anyone interested in looking underneath the beautiful surfaces of the fashion world.