The Herald: November 2009
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The September Issue
Director: R.J. Cutler
The September 2007 issue of Vogue weighed nearly 5 pounds, contained 840 pages and was the single largest issue of a magazine ever produced. In The September Issue, director R.J. Cutler takes you behind the scenes at Vogue in New York to witness the nine months of frocks and frivolity (read: blood, sweat and tears) that go into creating this mammoth issue.
For anyone who has watched The Devil Wears Prada or the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie gets to play dress-up in the infamous Vogue closets, this documentary fulfills every dream you’ve ever had of Vogue – racks of clothes clutter the hallways, shelves are filled with color-coded purses and heels while make-up and perfumes stand to attention on other shelves. Even actress Sienna Miller (the September issue’s cover-girl) has a moment of girlish delight when presented with the racks of couture dresses she will be wearing at her shoot. When she asks in amazement how all the clothes come together (some that are not even in stores yet), she is frostily told, ‘Well, it’s the September issue of Vogue.’
The ‘Vogue world’ as Cutler presents it is an insular one. This world has its own sense of time – as Executive Fashion Director Candy Pratts Price says, ‘September is the January of fashion.’ Class is very clearly defined in this world, with members of the upper echelons spoken of in superlative terms – Fashion Editor Grace Coddington is ‘the greatest living stylist’, for example. However, class boundaries are porous and a word from grand doyenne Anna Wintour can move you several rungs up the ladder, as up-and-coming designer Thakoon finds when Anna slips his name and phone number into Oscar de la Renta’s hand. Editor Anna Wintour keeps a sharp eye over this world and is described as the fashion world’s ‘Pope’ – or if you’re not religiously inclined, Thakoon describes her reverently as ‘Madonna’.
Anna’s right-hand woman is russet-haired Grace Coddington. It is fascinating to watch Coddington work, as she builds elaborate fashion set-pieces, creating a fantasy around a girl and keeping the thousand-dollar clothes secondary. Her inspirations are varied and the resulting photo-shoots are works of beauty. Much of the documentary details the tussle between Wintour and Coddington – who incidentally started working at Vogue the same day, twenty years ago – as the editor brutally slashes through meticulously worked-upon fashion shoots. It is the classic tug-of-war between art and commerce and Cutler details the relationship between the two women skillfully.
The documentary starts with Anna Wintour explaining that fashion ‘scares’ people because it makes them ‘feel insecure…or excluded, not part of the cool group.’ A love for beautiful clothes does not ‘mean you’re a dumb person,’ she appeals. Cutler’s documentary sets out to dispel these notions by detailing the meticulous work that goes into creating an issue of Vogue. His privileged glimpse into the hallowed halls of Vogue gives us a sneak peek at the lives of the ‘cool group’ (including their petty fights). Cutler also sets out to quell another myth – that of Anna Wintour as Ice Queen or the Devil in Prada. We delve into Wintour’s family history, meet her daughter and even take a look at childhood photographs in order to warm up to the famously cool media mogul.
Cutler emerges from the world of Vogue with a simple rejoinder to all those who may think the world of fashion is frivolous – 1 in 10 American women bought the September issue. That’s thirteen million women. And with an audience that large tuned in to your every diktat, you wield considerable power. As Vogue publisher Tom Florio puts it, ‘if we get behind something, it sells.’