The September Issue

The September Issue
Editor’s Note: Doc Soup is a monthly doc­u­ment­ary screen­ing pro­gramme run by the good folks at Hot Docs. It gives audi­ences in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver their reg­u­lar doc fix each year from the fall through to the spring, lead­ing up to the Hot Docs fest­ival itself.

The September Issue (Director: R.J. Cutler): Vogue’s September issue is its largest and most import­ant of the year, and work begins on it almost a year in advance. R.J. Cutler and his small crew were gran­ted unpre­ced­en­ted access to the pro­cess of put­ting the whole thing together.

The film begins with Vogue’s Editor in Chief Anna Wintour opin­ing that fash­ion intim­id­ates a lot of people, and there­fore those people mock it. She could very well have been speak­ing about her­self. Infamously lam­pooned by Meryl Streep in the film The Devil Wears Prada (based on a mem­oir by a former Vogue intern that por­trays Wintour as a bit of a tyr­ant), Wintour has a repu­ta­tion for mean­ness and ici­ness that has always seemed a bit undeserved to me. In fact, I’ve always had a bit of a crush on the so-called “Ice Queen.” My wife worked for sev­eral years as a copy editor at a fash­ion magazine here in Toronto, and her stor­ies have made me feel a lot of sym­pathy for Ms. Wintour. She seems to be someone who doesn’t suf­fer fools gladly, and the world of fash­ion seems over­pop­u­lated by fools.

Cutler’s film has only con­firmed my opin­ion of Wintour, although there are com­par­at­ively few fools on dis­play. When she’s asked late in the film what her greatest strength is, she unhes­it­at­ingly replies, “Decisiveness.” It’s what has pro­pelled her and Vogue to the top of the notori­ously fickle fash­ion world. She is an editor, someone who is called upon every day to decide between com­pet­ing cre­at­ive work, and that calls for a cer­tain ruth­less­ness. Fashion is cre­at­ive, but it’s also a busi­ness, and without someone mak­ing hard decisions, Vogue would cer­tainly fal­ter.

We meet two other types of people in The September Issue. The cre­at­ive and gen­er­ally hard-work­ing people who act as writers, edit­ors, pho­to­graph­ers, art dir­ect­ors and design­ers. And then there are the syco­phants, the air-kiss­ers and ass kiss­ers. The lat­ter type is refresh­ingly more absent than I’d feared, but the examples on dis­play (the buf­foon­ery of André Leon Talley, the spine­less­ness of design dir­ector Charles Churchward) add a healthy dose of humour to the film, even if we’re cringing as we’re laugh­ing.

The film actu­ally spends more time with Creative Director Grace Coddington than it does with Wintour. The fire to Wintour’s ice, Coddington is a former model who has has worked with Wintour at Vogue for more than twenty years. Despite the fact that she was ini­tially hos­tile to the film­makers, she ends up open­ing up the most to them, and her pas­sion, cre­ativ­ity and candor warm up the film con­sid­er­ably. One gets the sense that her ongo­ing battles with the editor over photo shoots are an integ­ral part of what makes the magazine so con­sist­ently excel­lent.

But back to Wintour for a moment. As she talks about her English upbring­ing and the achieve­ments of her sib­lings (“What I do amuses them, I think”), what comes through to this Canadian is reserve and per­haps shy­ness (why do you think she wears the sunglasses so often?) rather than any sense of hos­til­ity. I think Americans are simply a more gregari­ous people than most, and so her gen­til­ity comes across as some­thing more sin­is­ter. She’s con­sid­er­ably more relaxed around her daugh­ter, Bee Shaffer, and the scenes show­ing her sup­port of young designer Thakoon also showed me a more tender side.

I found The September Issue hugely enjoy­able, both for the inside look into the work of so many people com­ing together to cre­ate the magazine, and also for the reveal­ing por­trayal of the dynamic between a few of the people sur­round­ing Anna Wintour. Although she barely lets her guard down, the little bit she does show dis­pels the myth that she’s heart­less. If any­thing, it shows that she’s just incred­ibly busy, and her effi­ciency is a sur­vival tac­tic. The film has only heightened my respect and admir­a­tion for her. Which is just a fancy way of say­ing that my crush is not only intact, it’s increas­ing. When she does finally retire, I des­per­ately hope she’ll write a mem­oir. Maybe she can call it, Yes, I Wear Prada. You Gotta Problem With That?

The September Issue opens in Toronto on Friday October 23 at the Varsity Cinema.

Interview with Grace Coddington about the film

Official site of the film


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One Response to The September Issue

  1. Grace says:

    Love the trailer and can’t wait to see the film. Great write-up, I have a feel­ing that you’re spot on about Wintour.

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