The September Issue


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The September Issue
"A disarmingly and deliciously unexpected celebration of matriarchs with attitude."

It may come as a surprise to many that this documentary, which tracks the putting together of the world famous fashion magazine's most important issue of the year - read by some 13 million people - comes to demonstrate why content almost always triumphs over style.

Although on the surface a look at the glossy end product - and Anna Wintour, the woman nominally behind it - this is also an exploration of the guts beneath the gloss and, by the end credits, its easy to see which are the most important.

Copy picture

Wintour is, perhaps, best known to the cinema-going public as the 'inspiration' for Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada, although contrary to Streep's accent in that film, she's British through and through. Her reputation as of an ice queen precedes her, but those around her are loyal to the point where the worst epithet anyone is willing (dares?) to use is that she is "not warm".

Certainly, she is all about business and doesn't have time to waste on sugar to help the medicine go down. An early exchange sees her picking out designs... "that's pretty," she says as though talking about a slug she has found on her shoe, as her attentions slip away to something more engaging.

Perhaps the woman who knows Wintour best is Grace Coddington - a former model and fellow Brit, who started working for the magazine on the same day and is now widely regarded as the best fashion stylist on the planet. And if Wintour is top dog, it is Coddington who knows where all the best bones are buried. Her pre-Raphelite looks are in stark contrast to Wintour's business-cut suits and clipped short bob and perfectly match her mindset, which favours the imperfect and romantic over hard lines and the pin sharp.

Speaking about Wintour, Coddington says with pixie-ish glee: "I know when to stop pushing her... she doesn't know when to stop pushing me." And yet, that is very likely the reason why their relationship is so successful. Wintour has driven the magazine forward with a vengeance and, if Coddington has little but thinly veiled contempt for the idea of 'celebrity' photoshoots, she is also smart enough to recognise it is their mag which (pardon the pun) brought them into vogue.

As the September issue draws closer, we join Coddington as she styles a series of quite breathtakingly arty shoots, accompany Wintour as she balances the business of the magazine with a keen eye for what will sell and watch a photoshoot with Sienna Miller threaten to fall apart at the seams.

RJ Cutler finds pleasures in the unexpected - a super-skinny model wolfing down a strawberry tart, Sienna Miller ignoring stylists' hints that she might want to do something (anything?) with her hair, the cameraman's own inclusion in the final magazine. Bigger surprises are that Wintour and Coddington appear to have had very little cosmetic work done, all things considered, and seem to be as unconcerned by the ageing process as they are with the comparative youth of those around them, which lesser mortals might view as a threat.

This is, unlike one of Grace's shoots, a snapshot without posing or airbrushing, which while looking at the magazine purely from the inside out is no worse for that. The end result is a disarmingly and deliciously unexpected celebration of matriarchs with attitude, who care deeply about their work.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2009
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The September Issue packshot
Fly-on-the-wall look inside Vogue.
Amazon link

Read more The September Issue reviews:

Val Kermode ****

Director: RJ Cutler

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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