The September issue is the phonebook sized fashion bible Vogue magazine puts out every year which has the power to make or break designers and to ostensibly define what’s ‘in’ for the new fashion season. This film follows the production of the issue from concepts, to photo-shoots, to publication. Calling all the shots is Vogues ‘ice-queen’ editor Anna Wintour. Wintour was famously caricatured by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and has maintained her reputation as queen bitch of the fashion industry ever since. Good subject for a documentary.
Well, the trouble is she’s not really that much of a bitch. Anyone expecting this film to be full of behind-the-scenes fashionista infighting, and Wintour reducing interns to tears will be disappointed. The real Wintour is far from the bastardised version that Streep played. She is a petite woman, from a family of highly respected editors, who ruffles people’s feathers merely because she is in a position of power and must make tough decisions. Wintour isn’t nasty, like any editor she is just highly discerning.
Much of the film focuses on Wintour’s relationship with creative-editor Grace Coddington, a Welsh ex-model with a great mane of red hair. Towards the end the film becomes more about Coddington and it’s not hard to see why. She is everything Wintour is not, emotional, relatable and in essence interesting. The film plays on the inherent conflict between Coddington and Wintour, which is one of creativity vs. criticism. We side with Coddington because she seems like the only one who actually contributes to the magazine. Her often stunning photo-shoots when completed are lined up on a desk where all Wintour appears to do is yay or nay them.
This documentary is a great insight into the inner workings of Vogue magazine, however I can’t help but think the director RJ Cutler was expecting more meat. We never really get anywhere near Wintour, her ice-queen persona and designer glasses shielding any potential for intimate details. The confrontation between Coddington and Wintour never escalates far beyond Coddington complaining, and I frequently felt the film overreaching to try and make more of it. However, even without a great interest in the fashion industry The September Issue was an enlightening glimpse of the frequent absurdity of those in it, and the way in which a magazine like Vogue finds its way to the newsstand.