Fall is critical to high fashion, and for the editors of Vogue, the season starts about the time its youngest readers make plans for spring break.
“The September Issue” is a documentary that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the frenzy around the magazine’s flagship imprint, which serves to inform, entertain and shape fashion for readers, designers and industry insiders. The film screens Thursday through Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
For months, director R.J. Cutler’s cameras tracked every move, decision and argument the staff had while making the 2007 fall fashion issue, which ended up at 840 pages and weighing about five pounds.
Ostensibly, “The September Issue” is about editor in chief Anna Wintour, the much-buzzed-about “ice queen” who inspired the Miranda Priestly character in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
The camera gets close to Wintour, briefly exploring her upbringing in England, where she was influenced by her father, Charles, an editor at the Evening Standard.
Surrounded by the dynamic culture of England’s 1960s youth movements, Wintour explains her fascination with the era’s style and fashion, and the publications that promoted images of female liberation with photos of women acting and looking how they felt and wanted.
Wintour has been editor of Vogue since 1988, but the most compelling story line in “The September Issue” is Grace Coddington’s. She started her Vogue career at exactly the same time as Wintour, and has long served directly with the editor as the magazine’s creative director.
A stunning model from Wales who’s worked at both the British and American versions of the magazine, Coddington’s attentive eye is what sells Wintour’s vision, and it’s the tension between the two that sells “The September Issue.”
Wintour is the biggest single force in fashion, and Vogue’s insight is everything. But the same brand strength that inspires the readers’ imaginations elicits abject fear from designers, retailers and its own staffers. One-by-one, the documentary shows big-name designers like Oscar de la Renta and Jean-Paul Gaultier parade their collections in front of Wintour, nervously hanging on her every comment and pursed look. Fabrics are exchanged, sleeves are altered and no excuses are given. Vogue’s staff is similarly scared and well-tamed, and the job of arguing with Wintour is almost always Coddington’s.
“The September Issue” is revealing and fascinating. Wintour drama aside, the simple mechanics of assembling such an enormous and influential publication are spellbinding. Big-name photographers and models trek back and forth to Europe, and an endless train of clothes racks parades through the office, but the central focus is a wall of photos in Vogue’s Zen-like war room. The pictures, all printed and arranged on movable pucks, represent the battle plan for the issue’s layout. Tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours each, the troops of couture fight or fall by the delicate hands of Gen. Wintour.
Fashion may seem like a silly enterprise, but considering the images’ societial impact, “The September Issue” offers a worthy examination of how a cultural narrative is written and its authors. “Joe Wertz