Since it’s that time of year again I was prompted to re-watch The September Issue, directed by R.J. Cutler, the A&E Indie produced documentary follows Anna Wintour and the Vogue team as they prepare the 2007 September issue with Sienna Miller on the cover. Some argue that the documentary didn’t portray Wintour in the most flattering light in respect to her creative counterpart Grace Coddington. In the film, Wintour is seen cutting exemplary work from some of the most creative and talented professionals in the industry. Right in the beginning of the film, Wintour kills an editorial with models Chanel Iman and Hilary Rhoda and as the doc progresses it becomes clear that every aspect of the magazine – and most of the industry as a whole – is filtered through Wintour’s critical gaze.
There are no perfect relationships and to me, working partnerships are some of the biggest examples of this rule. The film makes it apparent that Wintour is the tastemaker, the trend forecaster, the influencer, all the social media era buzzwords that surround current social media fashion personalities - but on an epic scale. Coddington is the couture loving, romantic, creative “genius” as Wintour herself calls her. Together, the two are the perfect creative and branding balance that have kept Vogue as prolific and relevant as it’s been through the years. While many were quick to judge Wintour’s portrayal upon the film’s release, the fact remains that Wintour’s discerning tastes and no-nonsense business approach is the only way to be as the single most important figure in fashion. After all, the thrill of a no-holds-bared documentary on Wintour is not only exciting because of behind the scenes access to shoots and appearances from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Stefano Pilati, Patrick Demarchelier and others, but an insider’s view of just how influential Wintour is. Coddington shares that Wintour was the first to move towards putting celebrities on the cover rather than models. "Personally, I don't care if I never see another celebrity,” says Coddington, "but if the magazine doesn't sell, I don't have a job. You've got to have something to put your work in; otherwise it's not valid.” Interestingly enough, Vogue’s current September issue has not one but three models on the cover. Charging in to the future, as Wintour is apt to do, the headline declares “The Instagirls!” demonstrating the interesting shift in fashion culture that social media has given way to. More and more models are becoming household names and therefore are celebrities simply due to the sheer amount of off-runway exposure.
There are many fantastic scenes; a conceptual meeting for the cover shoot between Wintour and Mario Testino at The Ritz in London, a breakfast with Nieman Marcus executives at which Wintour tells those in company that she has spoken with Prada regarding more consumer friendly fabric choices for the new collection. The doc is also ripe with delightful vintage influence and tidbits; there are shots of Coddington’s early career as a model after she got her start winning a Vogue model search, a 1920s inspired shoot with Coco Rocha is depicted. In perhaps one of the most defining points of the narrative, Coddington incorporates one of the cameramen in an editorial that seems to homage Richard Avedon who was known for his action shots, leaping and prancing around the studio with his models.
Coddington’s astute creativity can in part be attributed to her great teachers, one being famed photographer Norman Parkinson whom she says told her to constantly observe the world around her. “Always keep your eyes open,” shares Coddington from the back of a car driving through Paris. “Keep watching because whatever you see can inspire you.”
(L) Jean Shrimpton and Jeanloup Sieff for Vogue by Richard Avedon, 1967. (R) Twiggy and Richard Avedon for Vogue US, July 1967.
(L) September Issue cameraman Bob Richman with Caroline Trentini, Vogue, September 2007. (R) Grace Coddington on the cover of Vogue.