She simply says yes or no without discussion.

The September Issue

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            The best documentaries usually zoom in on a person, place, or event. “The September Issue” does just that and does it beautifully. The event is the September issue of Vogue; the person, of course is the enigmatic editor Anna Wintour, referred to here as the Pope of the fashion industry. Lest we forget, Vogue’s publisher Tom Florio states at the outset – with the trace of an ironic smile – “It’s always going to be Anna’s point of view; Vogue is Anna’s magazine.” By the time R.J. Cutler’s film is over we see quite clearly the chaotic process of assembling a world class magazine against an immobile deadline. But we have to dig harder to understand Anna Wintour.

            Wintour proves the theory that the most intriguing quality a woman can have is mystery. She moves through the fashion world of New York, London, Paris, and Rome cloaked in reserve, restraint, and proven power. She is physically identifiable from any distance. A helmet of dark straight hair that comes together at the tip of her chin gives her a way to hide her reactions. This is a woman who doesn’t waste time or words on people she doesn’t need to see. She’s smart, accomplished, and busy. Hers is a life of deadlines and decisions. Decisiveness, she says of herself, is her best quality. She simply says yes or no without discussion.

            Having sprung from a family of accomplished British professionals, Wintour says, somewhat wistfully and defensively, that they are “amused” by what she does. Her daughter, heading for law school, sees fashion with a hint of disdain but still, her usually inscrutable mother looks at her daughter with obvious affection.

            Wintour’s love of color and texture and design – her targeted passion - is enviable by any standard. Wearing simple sleeveless or capped sleeve sheaths, multiple versions of the same dress reveal her love of color in marvelous abstract prints. She is the working woman of the fashion world in a uniform of simple elegance.

            The dramatic tension in the film is provided by Grace Coddington who started at Vogue during the same year as Wintour. If Wintour holds her cards closely, Coddington talks with quiet wit about her colleague and their business. While Coddington accepts Wintour’s icy decisions without protest, a measure of Wintour’s confidence stems from the fact that Coddington is an unsurpassed creative director who fashions the fantasies that float through the pages of the magazine. In typically few words, Wintour states her truth about Coddington: “Grace is a genius.”

            Though I am the least qualified person on this earth to comment on the fashion industry, I feel utterly entitled to recognize and appreciate passion in the workplace. People who love their work tend to soar personally and creatively. When work draws their passion, they can create magic in anything at hand. R.J. Cutler has caught the core and the process of two magicians at work at the top of a fantasy world.


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