On screen, with her perfectly coiffed bob and dark sunglasses, Anna Wintour (editor-in-chief of American Vogue magazine) radiates power and efficiency. She is easily one of the most influential and important women in the fashion world. And, in a documentary like “The September Issue,” an audience would expect the film to delve into Wintour’s complex psyche, getting at the underbelly of the fashion world.

“The September Issue”

At the Michigan Theater
Roadside Attractions

Director R.J. Cutler makes a mistake, though, by underestimating Wintour. Her whole life has been dedicated to the idea of image control, of retouching photographs and creating perfection in fashion and appearances. Cutler attempts to catch her with her guard down, and for that he is a fool. Through the film, her reputation as the devilish woman in Prada doesn’t materialize. Without capturing the real Wintour, the film fails to capture the true spirit of Vogue.

“The September Issue” attempts to explore the inner workings of Wintour’s empire during the creation of the 2007 September issue of Vogue. It was the largest issue to date, spanning 840 pages of ads and spreads worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For about the first 30 minutes, the film struggles to find a foothold. Wintour and her lackeys are polished and never once break a sweat in front of the camera. They know how to fashion their image too well. It is not until Grace Coddington, the creative director, comes into the picture that the film starts to really take off.

Coddington is the creative voice of the magazine, the self-proclaimed “romantic” in a world that has sold its soul for glamour. She keeps the movie from being as shallow as the industry itself and creates some of the most beautiful photographs in the magazine. For Coddington, fashion is not superficial — it’s art. The film explores her relationship with Wintour. The two women were hired at the same time and it’s their clashing personalities that drive the magazine to the success it has achieved.

Coddington slinks around making sarcastic comments and manipulating Wintour. She purposely discusses her budget in front of the camera crew because, as she later admits, she knew she’d get an increase in it. Coddington even brings in the film’s portly cameraman to model in a photo shoot then, in an effort to publish the image untouched by Photoshop, overrides Wintour. Contrary to Wintour’s desires, his protruding stomach will not be edited out of the magazine.

While the dynamic between the two women is incredibly entertaining, the film could still have explored other aspects of the fashion industry. Very little time is devoted to the politics behind the magazine and how what shows up in the pages is dictated by money and advertising. Companies pay to get their clothes in the pages of the magazine, regardless of how unpractical or ugly they are. Vogue’s job is to create a desire for them. “The September Issue” never delves into this side of the industry, and the film would have benefited if it had.

There are also many other personalities that add color to the magazine but are not developed in the film. Andre Leon Talley, the American editor-at-large, is particularly entertaining as he comes to represent the shallower, more ridiculous side of the magazine. He takes up tennis because Wintour snarkily told him to lose weight. Talley shows up at the court with six Louis Vuitton carrying cases for his accessories and refuses to take a Louis Vuitton sweat-towel off of his neck.

“The September Issue” manages to preserve a little spark of the beauty and glamour that exists in the fashion industry before it is branded with a label. The film keeps up the pretense that fashion is fun, but similarly, that it’s only surface-level entertainment. Cutler clearly had loftier ambitions but Wintour manages to pull the strings behind the movie and keeps him from delving too deeply into the world of Vogue.

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