I used to wait on Anna Wintour. She ordered dry toasted bagels and black coffee. This was in the mid-90s – the Kate Moss era – in a New York City diner known for it’s oversized burgers and, you know, great service. There were lots of bold face names in the neighborhood; Katie Couric, Sigourney Weaver, and Michael J Fox and his family were all regulars. Anna was an enigma, but she wasn’t a bitch. Still, after watching an advance screening of The September Issue, the documentary about Vogue’s most colossal issue, I wish that it had been Grace Coddington there on the Upper East Side.
A thick, tweedy tension between Vogue’s editor-in-chief and Coddington, the mag’s creative director, drives September. There’s the push to get the issue together, sure, and my stomach sank to see the tall, model-thin editors working out features five months before the close date (in my world, it’s a small victory to be putting plans in motion two or three months ahead of deadlines), but the story becomes Grace vs. Anna, and not long into it, you’re gunning hard for Grace to take the win.
Where Anna is tiny, done-up, and minimal in her biting criticisms, Grace is almost manish, makeup-free, and frizzy – and she’ll dish. For her, the camera seems to be therapeutic. You watch the former model and 40-year Vogue veteran sort of clod-shuffle-sulk down a hallway filled with rolling racks of designer samples and slump, dejected, into her desk chair where she stabs at a salad in a plastic clamshell take-out container and complains about her boss the way you did at your first after-college job.
The woman is responsible for some of the most memorable editorial features in fashion and she’s still totally vulnerable. How can you not love her?
There are designer cameos and high speed chases in high heels and some really ridiculous and truly funny moments, and viewers who work in retail and fashion receive a very thorough introduction to their real boss. When Anna says jump, Neiman Marcus execs, YSL’s Stefano Pilati, and everyone else says how high and in what color – and does the exposed zipper go in the front or on the side?
Viewers like me who work or have worked in the publishing industry will enjoy watching how the Vogue office operates – and scrambles when Anna isn’t pleased. I’m not deluded enough to think my job is comparable to Coddington’s, but I’m glad to see that oftentimes, her favorite pieces and best photos end up on the cutting room floor, too. And like food freaks in front of Top Chef, those who devour publications will no doubt sit fascinated at this window on the work behind the scenes. Still, in the end The September Issue feels more like an hour and a half of really good TV than a cinematic experience. I imagine we’ll see it fitted for cable soon enough.
The documentary opens in Seattle on October 2.