On this day one year ago, The September Issue: Anna Wintour and the Making of Vogue was released, and fashion lovers finally got a glimpse inside the holiest of holies. Now, a year later, the documentary that chronicles the frenzied months at the magazine leading up to the September 2007 issue stands as a true insider pass into the world of fashion. Up until that point, speculation over Vogue’s inner workings had already proved to be a big draw for others such as The Devil Wears Prada (the book and the film) and TV’s Ugly Betty. The September Issue not only had cameras behind the doors of Vogue, but it gave the first peek behind the sunglasses armor of the magazine’s legendary editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. The movie’s tagline, “Fashion is a Religion. This is the Bible,” paints Wintour as a prophet of sorts, one who until now had remained a riddle.
Fashion magazines’ September issues feature the fall collections and are the most anticipated of the year, leading to repeated mailbox checks during August. For Vogue, September 2007 was slated to be a gargantuan issue that eventually topped out at 840 pages and nearly five pounds. In the finished product Wintour says, “Making the September issue […] is like making a movie.” If that’s true Wintour could be likened to a genius yet notoriously difficult director. As the press date looms, the cameras follow Wintour as she cooly dismisses ideas from editors and throws out entire fashion editorials to the tune of thousands of dollars. While Wintour is not painted as the dragon lady, the film does capture her unnerving silent disapproval and Cruella-Deville-like demands for more fur in every fashion spread. She is a perfectionist and a micromanager, but she also comes across as softspoken and shy. After holding her post for two decades, Wintour has learned that she can’t waste time with the niceties. While her directness may ruffle some people’s feathers, she has built an industry that bends to her point of view and become “the single most important person in American fashion.”
As nearly every reviewer of this film has rightfully pointed out before me, it’s Wintour’s right-hand gal and creative director, Grace Coddington, who emerges as the real star of The September Issue. A former model-turned-stylist, Coddington has worked with Wintour for her entire tenure as editor and may be the one person who is willing to trade barbs with her. Her fiery red hair matches her spirit and she weathers Wintour’s criticisms without backing down, even coaching younger editors to “be tougher” when they return defeated from Wintour’s office. It quickly becomes apparent that while the editor-in-chief lays down the law, Coddington is a bit of a rebel who fights to keep her voice in the magazine. She frets tirelessly over her shoots, pulling racks of clothes for approval at a moment’s notice, scribbling notes next to the runway after Wintour has left and dressing the models on her shoots herself. Only once, when Wintour blackballs shot after shot from a 1920s themed editorial of hers, does Coddington momentarily lose her composure and retreat to her office to collect herself. As editor Filipa Fino says, “It is always going to be Anna’s point of view. Vogue is Anna’s magazine.” The photos in question are cut.
The fashion in The September Issue, a whirlwind of runway shows and cameos from big-name designers, serves mostly as a background. The cover girl, Sienna Miller, lends some starpower as she fawns over her custom-made feather dresses and proves that modeling is not easy as she clomps around her Rome photo shoot, but even she seems taken aback by the reality of being at Vogue. In retrospect, it is the size of The September Issue’s September issue that will be remembered over any dress. The film catches Vogue and Wintour at the height of their power, a year before the beginnings of “The Great Recession” that would hit America and the luxury industry hard. The September 2008 issue managed a comparable 798 pages, but by 2009 it had been slimmed down by another 200. The internet-age means that the fate of magazines like Vogue is uncertain, but The September Issue captures a glorious moment in time when fashion was king and, despite all the stresses, a lot of fun. —Rachel Chambers
Cinemode is OTDIF’s ongoing compilation of the world’s most stylish films, a must-see list for fans of fashion. From Klute to Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Shaft, some of the greatest style inspiration comes from the characters and costumes in film. Bookmark Cinemode and check back often to read the growing list. The reviews, written with an eye specifically toward fashion, are added to On This Day In Fashion on the anniversary of the film’s release date.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.