It’s actually quite a strange experience watching The September Issue, RJ Cutler’s documentary about Vogue. For one, there’s something fascinating about watching the mechanics of another magazine in operation. It would, of course, be self-indulgent of me to base an entire blog on magazine publishing – or, indeed, looking for parallels between the staff of Vogue and Uncut. But I suppose, to some degree, it’s inevitable. Still, I’ll try not to bore you too much with talk of RF1s or ed:ad ratios and concentrate, instead, on the personalities that make The September Issue absolutely fascinating viewing.
Principally, this is Anna Wintour, Vogue’s British-born Editor-in-Chief, a woman who’s already been sort of immortalised in screen in The Devil Wears Prada, where Meryl Streep played a character not a million miles from Wintour. Wintour comes with plenty of baggage: the daughter of an Evening Standard editor, she was in the heart of Soho in the Sixties (she dated Oz founder Richard Neville for a while), and has built a formidable magazine resume over the years culminating with the Vogue post, which she’s held since 1988.
Wintour’s rise has not been without controversy. She has been characterised as a cold and aloof figure, and her pro-fur stance hasn’t exactly endeared her towards activists. She was nicknamed “Nuclear” after culling most of the staff when she took over. On the up, perhaps, she was ahead of the curve in terms of predicting the rise of celebrity culture, and under her aegis Vogue has re-established itself as an iconic global brand, selling around 1.3 million copies a month.
Wintour’s foil in The September Issue (the film, incidentally, is named after the key edition of the magazine that covers off the Autumn fashion season) is Grace Coddington. Another ex-pat, Coddington is Vogue’s Creative Designer, joining the magazine at almost the same time as Wintour. If, to some degree, Wintour is Vogue’s head then Coddington is its heart. She is passionate about fashion but arguably lacks Wintour’s pragmatic approach to magazine craft. The two, it seems, regularly lock horns, and it’s their conflicts that provide much of the colour in Cutler’s film.
Of course, it’s debatable whether Wintour really is such a devil. Watching her here, you sense she has a forensic knowledge of how her magazine works. Her attitude towards junking entire shoots Coddington has worked on are based not on any enmity (she’s generous and forthcoming in her praise of Coddington) but instead are led by entirely pragmatic reasons. Maybe they disrupt the flow of the issue, or she doesn’t like the colour blocking. It’s just business, nothing personal.
Of course, this being about fashion, there are some priceless moments, of which the declaration in one editorial meeting that “Jacket is the new coat” is a highlight. Hilarious, and you’ll hopefully be pleased to know not the kind of discussions we have during our own editorial meetings.
Anyway, that’s me done for Edinburgh this year, though the Festival runs until Sunday. Hope you’ve enjoyed the blogs.