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The September Issue Review

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A documentary following legendary editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her creative director Grace Coddington as they work on putting together the autumn issue of fashion magazine Vogue, traditionally the launching pad of fashion houses’ winter collections and the start of the new style year.

★★★★

Fashion is traditionally a subject for scorn, and anyone who takes it seriously is mostly deemed to be pretentious, superficial or both. The September Issue, however, throws such preconceptions out of the window. Ostensibly a fly-on-the-wall study of the making of the biggest annual issue of the famous fashion bible, it doesn’t have so much to say about magazine production as it does about the passion that feeds into it, and it will be a rare individual who doesn’t emerge from this film with newfound respect for Vogue’s editorial staff.

In the real world, Anna Wintour is seen as something of an Ab Fab caricature who hides behind shades and a bob, and can bankrupt designers with a mere wrinkle of her nose. This side of Wintour is hinted at in Cutler’s documentary, but the director mostly portrays Vogue’s editor as insiders see her: a shrewd, driven, but rather lonely character who frets over the tiniest detail. This Wintour cares so desperately about her field, that she seems to be constantly defending the very function of clothes, criticising couturiers for their materials and reining in her staff: in one telling exchange, she warns one of her ambitious stylists that she wants the clothes to look “more wearable than not”.

Wintour, though, is quickly upstaged by Grace Coddington, her second-in-command. With her frizzy red hair, chalky pallor and casual dress sense, Grace looks like the Virgin Queen might have looked if she’d gone to Glastonbury, and seems to be the last person you’d expect to find at Vogue. The September Issue, however, is a warning not to believe everything you saw in The Devil Wears Prada, the film that did for Wintour’s rep what Psycho did for shower stalls. Over time, Grace is revealed as a woman with a secret, and her past puts her work in a whole new light; she’s an artist, but her materials are the clothes and models.

In his bid to take this world seriously, Cutler turns the other cheek, especially when dealing with flamboyant contributing editor André Leon Talley. But he takes on a harder job, which is to find something of value in among the sequins, froth and air-kissing. It’s a film about two women who made their fantasies a reality and, in a world where fantasy now translates as Transformers and Hobbits, such a modest but significant achievement can only be applauded.

A splendid study of the forces and passions behind the world’s biggest fashion magazine.

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