Off-road: The September Issue

by Chris on October 2, 2009

A review of The September Issue, a documentary movie starring Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington

Anna Wintour

Travel has always been my love. But fashion – well, that has always been a more covert passion.

In my ‘tween years, I used to collect all the glossies – Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Elle and la creme de la creme, Vogue. Looking back, I’m not sure that my main interest was the clothes themselves (I’ve never been a particularly fashionable or stylish dresser). I was drawn more to the images and the glamour they evoked. I would tear out particularly striking pages – including advertisements – and pin them up on my closet door, next to the Duran Duran posters and photos of European castles. The fashion magazines, almost as much as the National Geographics which I also loved, made me realize that another world was out there.

So that’s why I found The September Issue, a documentary ostensibly about famed Vogue editrix Anna Wintour, so delightful. Much of the film centers around Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director, and her efforts to get her romantic, over-the-top and visually stunning images into the lineup. The juxtaposition between her and Wintour – seen brokering deals between young designers and mass-market outlets, assauging qualms of corporate retailers and publishing boardrooms – couldn’t be more stark.

Grace Coddington Always impeccably dressed, Anna swans around fabulous locales such as the London Ritz, Paris ateliers and her own gorgeous homes in the Hamptons and London. She clutches her arms to her sides protectively, yet peers out from under her heavy bangs with a ferocity reminiscent of a cobra. Whereas Grace, a former model whose beauty long ago transitioned into permanent chic, tromps around the Vogue offices and photo shoots in sensible shoes, her Raphaelite locks startling in their frizziness. She seems incapable of bluffing; even when she uses the film’s photographer to get her way, she tells him that she’s doing so.

Several reviews have posited Coddington as the “good guy,” with Wintour as her nemesis, out to destroy art in favor of commerce. Honestly, I didn’t see it that way. The intricately Baroque photo that Coddington championed so ferociously was indeed gorgeous. But Wintour was right when she noticed that it didn’t fit concisely with the other shots. It’s called editing – and someone always has the last word (and it’s rarely the creatives).

The two women do give each other credit. Wintour realizes out loud that she would never be able to conceive shoots like Coddington. And while Coddington gives Wintour props for keeping the magazine relevant, she really should recognize that she’d never be able to work publisher Tom Florio and Conde Nast czar Si Newhouse like Wintour does. One is the Hammer, the other is the Dreamer. You need both types to put out a magazine – or really, any publication.

I long to be a Grace; unfortunately, I fear I am more Anna-like in temperment, although hardly in style. The movie – which shows the women at the top of their game, the record-breaking September 2007 issue – makes you admire both.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

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