“The September Issue” Starring: Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Andre Leon Talley Director: R.J. Cutler A&E IndieFilms Grade: A-
The small screen has taken an increased interest in the fashion industry in recent years, indulging the pleasures of die-hard magazine readers and giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look with varying degrees of success.
“The Rachel Zoe Project” led us into the famed stylist’s catch phrase-filled world of celebrity-dressing hysteria, and for the most part, it seemed believable. “The Hills,” on the other hand, wasn’t even close at giving us a firsthand account of the magazine business. Unless, of course, Heidi Montag’s morning grooming rituals are considered insider information. “America’s Next Top Model” tried to convey what it takes to become a successful supermodel, but Tyra Banks’ self-branding agenda got in the way more often than not.
Luckily for those genuinely interested in gaining temporary access into the industry, the fashion gods have teamed up with director R.J. Cutler to give us “The September Issue.” Critically acclaimed at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, the film scooped up a win for cinematography and a nomination for the grand jury prize.
The film is bracketed around the creation of the behemoth five-pound September 2007 issue of Vogue. As the months and weeks whittle away, we watch as Anna Wintour — the editor of Vogue for over two decades now — and her Voguettes click-clack around the Conde Nast office in killer stilettos. Just a glimpse at these people, who arguably must be some of the most glamorous folks around (they are, after all, the tastemakers of the world), is mesmerizing in itself. It’s oddly reassuring to see them squirm to avoid Wintour’s wrath. Vogue editors are insecure too? Who knew?
The beginning scenes establish Wintour’s power in the fashion business — just in case, you know, anyone with a remote interest in style wasn’t already aware of this. One interviewee is asked if there’s any aspect of the fashion industry on which Wintour doesn’t have influence. He pauses for a moment, searching for a small glitch in the system that’s out of the reach of her manicured palm. In the end, his answer is simple: “No.”
Even viewers without an invested interest in the industry should have a subliminal understanding of Wintour’s character. Her rumored editrix nature is, after all, the alleged basis for Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Those looking for a similarly plot-driven gossip fest, however, should look elsewhere.
“The September Issue” is more documentary than chick flick. It reveals a glimpse at the hard-edged business side of fashion that so often gets pushed aside in favor of a portrayal emphasizing parties and glamour.
Wintour’s daughter, Bee, describes fashion as “a weird industry,” insisting that she’d rather “go to law school” than follow in her mother’s footsteps. It’s astounding to think someone would pass up such easy access to that impenetrable world, but as the film shows, fashion isn’t for the faint of heart. And for those who are hankering to score a job in the industry, it’s comforting to know there’s one less person with connections vying for the same position.
While the film certainly accentuates the toils and stresses of the industry, Andre Leon Talley, Vogue’s editor-at-large, serves as the film’s much-needed comic relief. Upon Wintour’s demand that he lose weight, he takes on playing tennis, decking himself out with Louis Vuitton and rolling onto the clay court. God bless a man with style.
And if Talley provides the laughs, then flame-haired creative director Grace Coddington provides the soul. The film follows her crafting a series of extraordinarily beautiful photo editorials that Wintour heartbreakingly tosses aside. Seemingly heartless moves like this make it easy to see where Wintour gets her reputation. Behind her platinum bob and oversized shades, though, Wintour isn’t cruel-hearted. She’s a hard worker with impeccable standards. It’s a shame, really, that being so passionate and skilled at what you do means a media-driven perception of soullessness and frigidity.
“The September Issue” is not without its faults. Just as Wintour harshly edits the pages of her beloved magazine, cutting out seemingly perfect photographs and articles, the documentary editors cut too much from this film. The credits roll after a mere 90 minutes, leaving viewers scrambling for more, searching for what sets these people apart from the rest of us mere mortals.