When I first heard that the documentary The September Issue would not be released in Montreal until the end of October, I thought: “How preposterous! Doesn’t that defy the laws of fashion? Won’t it be outdated by then?” And, you, dear readers, are probably thinking the same thing: “A review about The September Issue in November? Ridiculous!” Yet, after seeing the movie, I realized that while fashion may be about always looking forward and never looking back, as American Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour succinctly stated towards the end of the film, this documentary is very much about looking back in order to reveal the process behind the glamour and mystery which is the production of Vogue. Fashion may come and go but style and the creative process remain constants throughout.
Through interviewing and following Wintour, director R.J. Cutler has gone beyond fears of the seemingly flimsy and fickle world of fashion to dig deeper into the business, the politics and the process of creation. At times, Wintour reveals snippets about her life and her work. While The Devil Wears Prada had allegedly drawn from rumours of the Editor-in-Chief’s cold and exacting demeanour, Wintour comes across differently. Always stylish, the British grand dame of Vogue does cut straight to the point, yet does so thoughtfully. Maybe it’s the way of the Brits. She does not hesitate to ask direct questions or to sit in heavy silences considering her opinions. She isn’t vengeful, she is just incredibly exacting. Throughout the portrait of Wintour and Vogue, the audience witnesses the Editor-in-Chief’s stare, a considered and calculating glance.
While some crack under the pressure of having to perform and stand by their opinions in front of Wintour, longtime colleague and fellow Brit Grace Coddington, who is the Creative Director of Vogue, stays strong. Coddington shines in The September Issue with her creative energy, joking quips and moments of emotional fragility. We are treated to several shoots under her direction, seeing everything from clothing selection to historic inspiration, from dynamic shoots to final product. A former model, Coddington has refined her eye for fashion and creates truly inspiring and artistic works. In the end, the Creative Director with a head of wild red hair reveals herself as a diligent and unflagging worker and a true artiste.
Ultimately, the documentary follows the production of Vogue’s biggest issue through vignettes of fashion shows and shoots along with personal and day-to-day moments. As Coddington rolls a rack of clothes into Wintour’s office at the conclusion of the movie, the viewers realize that the process just starts all over again. The film produces a timeless portrait, revealing the creative and personal forces continually at work behind a fashion magazine that changes from month to month. And while I may have initially bemoaned the anachronistic release of the film, it makes no sense to speak of timeliness after seeing the film. While Vogue produced the biggest issue ever in its history for September 2007, the release of the documentary a year later comes at a time that is much different. Vogue goes on producing, creating, editing and publishing. And even though we have all gained a glimpse beyond the large VOGUE letters mounted on wood-paneled wall in the elevator lobby through The September Issue, the mystique continues and I wonder: “What are they up to now?”