I will be the first one to admit that I am a bit of a magazine junkie. I will read almost any magazine, cover to cover. It doesn’t really matter how interested I ma in the topic, if it is in a magazine I’ll read it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I have learnt a lot from these articles and can often bring up facts that begin with ‘So, I read in some magazine…’ But it was a film that originally got me into magazines, and that film was The September Issue.
It is a documentary from R.J Cutler (executive producer of lots of TV shows) in which he documents the making of the September issue (duh) of US Vogue. Now, before watching this film I didn’t have any idea what kind of work that went into making a magazine. I didn’t even know that issues were dated a month after they come out (so the September issue will come out in August, the August one in July.) I definitely had never read a fashion magazine, but afterwards I went out and bought my first ever Vogue (US edition, of course.)
But The September Issue isn’t just about making a magazine. It is about the two key players – Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington (both Brits), the editor in chief and fashion editor, respectively. It is this constant push and pull relationship that makes this film interesting. The contrast of the two characters. There is the famously (or infamously) intimidating Anna Wintour, who can make fashion greats quake in their boots, and there is the more approachable and friendly Grace Coddington.
Wintour is the queen of fashion, and what she says goes. The trademark bob and sunglasses get a lot of outings in this film, but Cutler goes deeper than her public personality. Behind the closed doors of Vogue, Wintour is the boss. She is driven and passionate, and fiercely respected by all her colleges (if not slightly feared). Hers is the difficult job is to keep the magazine on the fine line between practical and fanciful. She can’t get carried away like any of her employees and is left to the task of cutting features out when everyone else wants to put them in.
It is Coddington who is Wintour’s main opponent. Not scared of her in the least, she will fight for her pieces as much as she will fight for others. It is her job to style the models for the features. It may be Wintour who decides what goes into the magazine, but it is Coddington who makes it desirable. Her dress is much more casual than Wintour’s, always a black dress and frizzy orange hair. Not something you would expect from a former model. She becomes the star of the show. You go in thinking about Anna Wintour, and leave thinking about Grace Coddington.
Cutler follows the key players around the globe on photoshoots and visiting designers. It is a glamourous life, but clearly one of passion. Everyone who is interviewed clearly loves their subject and enthusiasm near oozes out of them. The common debates about fashion are dealt with quickly here – Wintour is famous for her love of fur (“There is always a way to wear fur”), and photoshop is used freely (“She looks pregnant. We need to fix her.”) But the point of the documentary is not about those questions, it is about the relationship. And it does that perfectly.