'The September Issue' Review: The Church of Fashion
Last night, I was one of the lucky ones who had the chance to preview “The September Issue”, at The Paley Center for Media in New York, before it hits theaters on Aug. 28. The film was followed by a discussion with André Leon Talley, the editor-at-large of American Vogue, Grace Coddington, creative director of American Vogue, filmmaker R.J. Cutler and cinematographer Bob Richman.
The documentary shows the preparation behind the release of Vogue magazine’s biggest issue ever, the Sept. 2007 issue, which featured Sienna Miller on the cover. This film gave insight into the world of Anna Wintour, prominent editor-in-chief of American Vogue, also called “the pope” of the “church” that is fashion by Style.com’s Candy Pratts Price and “Madonna” by designer Thakoon.
The brilliance of this film lies between the two opposite forces of nature: the fiery, red-haired Grace Coddington and the prim-and-proper bob-haired Anna Wintour, who have been working together for over 20 years in American Vogue. (Coddington joined Vogue on Wintour’s first day as editor-in-chief in 1988).
While Coddington is the creative genius behind styling Vogue’s notorious fashion spreads, Wintour is the decisive critic, who quickly ‘kills’ any photos that do not live up to her high standards. Coddington, the endearing, dedicated, model-turned-editor, comes across as personable and admirably passionate for her work, which she truly sees as a form of storytelling and living art. Wintour, on the other hand, is an editor in every sense of the word — she decides what stays and goes, and there are no “buts” about it. Together, they may clash oftentimes, but as Coddington says,
"I think we both respect each other, or at least we both say that in the movie. I infuriate her, she infuriates me, and we're both a bit stubborn, but we're always respectful… I think she's an amazing editor."
Apart from this fascinating relationship, this film is also furiously entertaining because of the real-life characters at Vogue. In the discussion after the preview, Cutler mentioned the distinct “culture” at Vogue. For instance, communication largely occurs through subtle unspoken gestures, such as the glare of Wintour, the rolling of eyes, and moments of silence where editors hesitate to speak because of the fear of making a mistake. Beside these tense occasions, there were many laugh-out-loud moments such as the scene where the outrageous André Leon Talley went to play tennis fully equipped with Louis Vuitton leather goods while adorning an extravagant Piaget watch.
With such a wide range of high-profiled professionals, including Burton Tansky, CEO of Neiman Marcus, famed photographers Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier, supermodels Coco Rocha and Raquel Zimmerman (whom I fell for when she stuffed a tart in her face during a photo shoot), and designers Isabel Toledo, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Oscar de la Renta, the powerhouse of the film was still the “Ice Queen,” Anna Wintour. Her power was evident through the example of designer Thakoon, who achieved enormous exposure, such as his collaboration with Gap, all because of a recommendation from Wintour.
Beside Wintour’s tough exterior, this film also balances her character with the undeniable devotion and sensitivity she exudes toward her daughter, Bee Shaffer. When asked what her greatest weakness was, Wintour stated “my children” with an accepting smile. Shaffer, like Coddington, seems like a surprising contrast to Wintour, as she declared that she has no desire to work in the fashion industry, and would like to become a lawyer instead (a well-dressed lawyer, perhaps).
With so many entertaining and memorable moments in this documentary, I’ll have to end with what I thought was the moment of the film — the scene where Coddington was standing in Versailles, taking in the beauty of Paris. It was a subtle, quiet scene, but her reaction toward the beauty of her surroundings, reminded me of why I love fashion and what fashion exactly is: it's energy, it’s art, it’s beauty, it’s a story — it’s life. Wintour knows this and she’s forever using its energy to propel forward, onto the next issue.
Here is a trailer of the "The September Issue:"
Photo of Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour by the Guardian Service