‘Fashion is a Religion. This is the Bible…’
(The September Issue, R.J.Cutler, USA, 86 Minutes)
…And every fashion-blooded female knows it. Welcome to The September Issue. Director R.J.Cutler’s answer to VIP entry behind the scenes of the ultimate fashion world: American Vogue. This is eighty-six minutes of well-documented film, stitched heavily with the glamorous thread of excess, and embellished with the finest fashion designers, from Oscar De La Renta to Jean-Paul Gaultier. While at the heart of the show, is supposed ‘Ice–Queen’, Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. We follow her vigorous and opinionated preparations for the 2007 fall-fashion issue of American Vogue, and are agog at the creative minds behind the shoots, covers and words that fill the pages of such an iconic magazine.
We’ve seen the snippets in the ultimate, all-time girly series, Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw freelance’s for Vogue and we noted the comparison between David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada of 2006 (Miranda Priestly’s (Meryl Streep) character is supposedly based on Anna Wintour). But, what’s really the story? Stand back and brush away the imitations, adaptations and gossip, and take a look for yourself. As Cutler’s documentary takes a raw, real look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the biggest magazines in the industry.
Sucked into Vogue’s world, one begins to see the reality: the effort that goes into the construction of those glossy pages one tends to flick merrily through. From the interns calling in Louis Vuitton hand luggage to an exquisite creation by Oscar De La Renta; to the creative and inspirational work of the ingenious photographer Mario Testino; sweat, blood and a whole lot of passion goes into every word published in the magazine. After every idea, sketch or plan is scraped by a resounding ‘no’ from Wintour, there is another idea, another sketch, another plan. Wintour decides what will be for the fashion world. Whether it’s putting a celebrity on the cover, or bringing back military style; her decision goes. The fashion world is always pushing forwards, and in the wise words of Grace Coddington: if you’re not careful ‘you’ll get left behind.’
I think every viewer fell in love with Grace Coddington; the ex-model turned Fashion Editor. From the very offset we feel emotionally attached to her. It’s difficult not to experience her stress when her photographs are scraped, or deemed ‘out’. She is clearly the ultimate creative mind behind many of the spreads we see luxuriating across Vogue’s glossy pages. She makes the clothes, whether it’s a ruffled gown by John Galliano or a silk ensemble by Prada, come to life and almost breathe. There’s something extraordinarily playful and explorative in her ideas and enthusiasm. Colleagues’ deem her ‘the best stylist on earth’, that there is no other stylist who makes a photographer ‘take more beautiful pictures’.
Coddington is a Romantic; someone who sees life from a different perspective. She provides an interminable depth to her pictures, and threads stories and heart through every one of her ideas. Her innovative implementation and creative eye, in this documentary, were perhaps best employed in her 60s shoot. Soft lighting, ingenious movement and playful compositions were built into every image. She intertwined a fairytale nature with every model; every outfit, every expression. Each person in a photograph was a character in her play, and the viewer never loses the sense of this. That is what a stylist is. That is what a stylist should be.
The backing music, on a different note (pun intended) for The September Issue has lent itself considerably well to my Spotify playlist. The accompanying music to a film, or in this case a documentary, is far from being unimportant, and this example serves to illustrate that. Bringing together tracks by The Fratellis, Ratatat, Electriclane, Ladytron and VHS or Beta, this is a particularly thought provoking backdrop to the emotions displayed in the documentary. Whether it be the stress of a missing colour-blocking outfit, or the delight in a successful shoot, the emotions all relax onto a safety net of stimulating music. The backing tracks also have a very calming nature that juxtaposes well against the busy, endless structuring of the employees’ work lives and proves to highlight this. The magazine industry isn’t easy. Far from it: there’s a hell of a lot of stress involved, whether you’re the intern or the Editor-in-chief. It’s all go, go, go. Or as the case often is, go, go, gone. Many, as Coddington explains, ‘can’t take the heartbreak.’
Cutler’s original direction creates a truly accessible documentary that though very film like, never loses its focus: Anna Wintour. The editing is beautifully implemented, particularly during the opening scenes. Wintour, is captured, talking one on one with the camera, these edits alternating with the opening credits. We catch a glimpse of the eyes that, so often hid behind the reflective sunglasses on the front row at catwalks, give so little away. This is a business woman, ‘going about her business.’ If she were extraordinarily warm and friendly, the magazine would not work like it does: a finely tuned machine with Anna Wintour at the wheel. Throughout the filming she appears beautifully dressed, her hair extraordinarily perfect, eyes – knowing, answering questions with an exceedingly decisive air…
…the air of a person who knows what she wants and when she wants it (and that’s no downfall). She is, after all, the most powerful women in fashion.
Ps. From New York to Paris, this is one whirlwind of fashion, Jimmey Choos and all; that every fashion-besotted individual is going to love.