American Vogue Magazine’s September Issue launches the fashion year (“September is January,” says one office minion), and in it, Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour sets trends for the coming season. You don’t need to be a fashionista to adore R J Cutler’s The September Issue. Granted unprecedented access to the editorial staff as they pull together the 2007 issue, he has crafted a film of elegance and bloody, cut-throat excitement.
To those unfamiliar with her, Wintour wields impossible power over the fashion world. Cutler’s camera follows her into the work rooms of some of the industry’s biggest names, and they positively cower before her. When asked her greatest attribute by the filmmaker, she says decisiveness, and it is fascinating viewing this in action. For September 2007, the woman obviously has a vendetta against the colour black, and God help anyone who places it in her path. The lovely Sienna Miller was the covergirl for this issue and Wintour’s observations about the toothiness of Miller’s smile and the state of her hair are priceless, and no sooner out of her mouth than a dozen folk are running around Photoshopping away the evidence.
It is widely known that the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada is based on Wintour, and perhaps not as widely known that Johnny Depp also based his Willy Wonka on her – part spritely pixie, part poisonous viper. The War Room director R J Cutler is a serious filmmaker, and while some may think fashion is a less than serious subject (Wintour’s daughter Bee being one of them, as we find out in one amusing scene), his film is a riveting insight. It is well shot, if occasionally washed out, but the real enjoyment is in his editing, which maintains a fine pace, and in its well-chosen and eclectic soundtrack.
The filmmakers obviously started shooting the various characters that make up the editorial team (the few scenes with Andre Leon Tally, the magazine’s Editor-At-Large, are deliciously wicked – he is everything you love to hate about the excess of the industry and great unintentional comic relief) but they soon discover that the real meat is in the cold war between Wintour and fashion stylist Grace Coddington. While Wintour allows the cameras in her life and answer’s Cutler’s questions, he never cracks her reserve, while the warm and emotional Coddington has her talent thwarted at every turn, and quickly becomes the heart of this film.