On The Aisle
By Tony Macklin
Film can transport you into a world where you are an alien. It can enchant, bewilder and inform. The documentary film “The September Issue” is enchanting, bewildering and informing.
My fashion sense begins and ends with the 1960s Girard-Perregaux watch I wear on my wrist. But I’m game for knowledge.
“The September Issue” is a fascinating movie about the putting together of the 2007 issue of Vogue magazine, which turned out to be the largest issue of a magazine ever published. It’s a terrific merging of fashion and cinema.
That singular issue of Vogue stands as a symbol of its age. It is a time that is gone. It was a humongous issue (840 pages), but the quantity is not the movie’s focus; quality is.
“The September Issue” follows legendary editor Anna Wintour as she makes decisions about what will make the cut in her magazine — which photos, what arrangement, what emphasis. There are sections on texture, accessories and a photo shoot abroad of celebrity actress Sienna Miller.
The retouching of Miller’s cover photo — a new neck, different teeth — shows Wintour’s penchant for perfection. She cuts with a cold blade.
Wintour is like a general with fashion a war and Vogue a battlefield. She is in total charge. Both men and women cower before her gaze. Or mere presence. One of her lieutenants calls her a “pope.”
Anna is a real ovary-buster.
Wintour, from a family of British journalists, has been editor of American Vogue since 1988. She says that when she was young, her father said her goal should be to become editor of Vogue. She also says that her siblings in the British media find her job “amusing.”
Wearing signature sunglasses, her face often is expressionless. She has forged a frosty reputation. She was the model for “The Devil Wears Prada,” the movie based on a book by a former Vogue staff member.
She’s also a basis for Vanessa Williams’ character in TV’s “Ugly Betty” and even for an animated character in “The Incredibles.”
In the documentary she doesn’t have the flair of her fictional counterparts. She is not bigger than life. Only her power is. As were the times.
R.J. Cutler, like many viewers, knew little about fashion before he started the project. He’s a TV reality show producer of 58 episodes of “Flip That House,” 10 episodes of “The Greatest American Dog” and 13 episodes of “The Real Roseanne Show.”
From Roseanne to Anna … a bit of a fashion leap.
Cutler learned quickly. Perhaps his greatest good fortune was the creative director of Vogue Grace Coddington. Originally Coddington was disdainful, but eventually she allowed access to her participation in the magazine.
Next to Wintour’s diffident coolness, Coddington gives the movie warmth. If Anna Wintour is the head of Vogue, Grace Coddington is the heart.
She’s Glinda the Good Witch of Vogue. She struggles to keep creativity alive. Wintour is nearly 60, and Coddington eight years older. Raised in Wales, she was a beautiful young model in England, but a severe automobile accident ended her modeling career. She joined the staff of British Vogue, and eventually came to the U.S.
Together for more than 20 years, she and Wintour have made Vogue a force in fashion in America.
Coddington says she is a “romantic” beholden to the past, but she gives Wintour credit for “charging ahead.” Wintour revolutionized the publishing industry by putting celebrities on the cover of Vogue.
Coddington fights to keep her photos in the magazine; it’s a fierce, almost never ending conflict. When some are cut, she quietly steams “I’m furious.” She doesn’t always adhere to contemporary trends. She coughs mockingly at feathers.
Near the end of the creation of the September issue, Coddington is inspired to create a brilliant photo of a photographer jumping before a model who also is jumping and looking directly into the lens of his camera.
Wintour says to airbrush the slight paunch of the photographer’s belly, but after she leaves Coddington says not to change the photo.
Earlier she had said she likes a blur in some of her photos. She likes imperfection.
Wintour’s goal is perfection; Coddington’s goal is humanity.
As the magazine is finished, Coddington smiles slyly and says, “It will be my whole issue, just about, except for Sienna (Miller).”
In “The September Issue,” humanity prevails.