Welcome to The September Issue, a frockumentary chronicling the genius behind the fattest ever edition of Vogue, weighing in at over four pounds, reaching 13 million readers and boosting the sinking morale of the $300-billion global fashion industry.
I don’t know about you but I don’t like my documentaries contrived any more than my fashion. Albeit entertaining, this one by R.J. Cutler smacks of high level spin and pretense.
Adding to the “entertainment value” was an art-versus-bottom dollar subplot pitting the painfully bored Vogue chief Anna Wintour against brilliant, model-turned-photo stylist Grace Coddington, both British veterans who have been with the magazine for more than 20 years.
Coddington makes a statement with her unkempt orange mane and naked, aging face, an appearance which defies everything that lets Vogue survive, namely stick-figured, cover-girl celebs with flawless airbrushed faces who are posed like Barbies in lay-outs specifically engineered to sell fashion.
True, it’s always been about the sales, but four pounds of retail pitching might be overkill.
Coddington cringes throughout the film as she battles her nemesis Wintour. We the audience tend to root for the vulnerable underdog in the power struggle as the boss eliminates various elements of Coddington’s romantic fashion spreads at her whim – images labored over with great attention to lighting and detail to add depth to the 2007 September book.
One comes away with little empathy for the emaciated Wintour, who, so taken with herself as a removed icon, keeps her trademark goggles on while observing the indoor runway shows. Guess she figures she has seen it all so missing a few nuances of color and texture shouldn’t be a big deal. Her vacant expression dares the wizards behind the curtain to try and impress her.
If Coddington is the magazine’s soul, Wintour emerges the cold-blooded business brain going through the tedious motions but never really responding to her vibrant environment. Never mind that hundreds of talented, unemployed journalists are waiting in the wings for that chance-of-a-lifetime job monopolized by Wintour for two decades.
Appearing even more bored that the overblown caricature portrayed brilliantly by Meryl Streep in Prada, Wintour seems desperate to pad Vogue and her paycheck at any cost – even resurrecting fur on the cover in the 90s to save the dying trade.
A longtime Peta target for her Cruella Deville attraction to pelts, Wintour is pompous in her disregard for the mission of animal rights groups who have fought hard to sensitize humans to animal cruelty and the absurdity of slaughtering for fashion’s sake alone. Recently, she told Sixty Minutes she needed to get security to protect her from anti-fur militants. She insisted she likes fur and that is the only reason she wears it. Right.
I find the most staged scene in the film is Vogue’s annual meeting in Paris with the movers and shakers of the retail world, such as the head of Neiman Marcus, who nudges Wintour to wield her influence to get couture houses to speed up delivery of gowns to an ever-increasing and demanding clientele. Hogwash! There was no increasing demand for $15,000 gowns even prior to the recession, and the only demanding clientele is the celebrity stylist crowd that manipulates its clout to borrow treasures for a day.
The only message I came away with is that it might be time for Wintour to hang up her Warhol wig, glasses and venti Starbucks paper cup and give someone else a shot at salvaging her doomed fashion rag. Perhaps it should be someone like Grace, who embodies her name while clinging to what matters most to fashion visionaries and fans – the process of creating and wearing desirable, three-dimensional art.