The media’s image of American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is that of a mean spirited editrix, but R.J. Cutler’s The September Issue offers a different image of the editorial icon and her aids. This fascinating documentary captures Wintour’s influential fashion perch as well as the delicate relationships and negotiations involved in making the most important Vogue issue of the year.
Wintour is arguably the most influential woman in the high stakes multi-billion dollar fashion industry, a fact that’s reinforced by the film. There’s a scene in Paris during a summit for luxury retailers where Neiman Marcus CEO Burt Tansky calls on Wintour for help regarding shipments from the design houses—a role that is irrelevant to her position as a fashion editor, yet a request that she acknowledges because of her powerful relationships with fashion designers. She’s shown offering Stefano Pilati, the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, and Oscar de la Renta, guidance in direction and vision for upcoming collections, as well as playing the role of fairy godmother to talented upstarts such as CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner Thakoon Panichgul, who calls Wintour “Madonna.” Wintour’s suggested tweaks to the young designer’s products for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund collection for Gap collaboration helped it sell out online as soon as it was launched. This not only affirms how respected she is by designers, but also confirms her astute ability to forecast what fashion consumers want.
Throughout the film, Wintour balances a yin-yang relationship with flame-haired creative director Grace Coddington, who joined American Vogue around the same time. While Wintour has a chilly demeanor at times, Coddington, who is described by Sally Singer (the fashion news/features director of Vogue) as the greatest stylist in the world, is portrayed as a romanticist with a sense of humor—perhaps a tactic that helps her survive Vogue. Though Coddington is shown upset when some of the editorial images she produced were cut out by Wintour in the editing process, her disappointment has universal appeal. Regardless of viewers’ industries or interests, the film gets at an emotion we all feel when our effort isn’t met by reward in our professional lives. The September Issue also debunks the preconceived notion that girls are out to always get each other in the fashion magazine world. In fact the Wintour/Coddington editorial relationship is shown to be one of deep mutual respect.
When asked what surprised him most about Wintour, Cutler responded: “I didn’t go in with any expectations, so there were no surprises. However, what I found striking about Anna is that she’s decisive, yet she’s willing to surround herself with people who are strong minded.” For anyone who’s ever wondered about the enigmatic and private world of Vogue, this film should not be missed.