There’s no denying the vicarious thrill of fashion and style, of watching beautiful people wear beautiful things. It’s no accident that we’ve had so many films, books and TV shows that if they weren’t actually about the industry itself–“Devil Wears Prada,” “Ugly Betty”–they still relied on it mightily like “Sex in the City” and its wave of imitators.
Reports of petulant, over-indulged behavior and the related melodrama make the whole business irresistible for a lot of people, so it’s only natural someone would eventually decide to forgo the fictionalized representations and head for the source itself, documenting the real Wintour and her editors making fashion happen as they prepare “The September Issue” of Vogue, the bible of fashion for the year.
Like fashion itself, it’s interesting in the way of a sideshow putting on their act on the side of the highway. You’re entertained while looking at it but it lacks the depth of life of say a car wreck. The moment you drive off you’ve likely forgotten all about. It certainly has no real impact on you, but it’s probably the whole world to the people actually doing it.
The real draw, it would seem, is to see Wintour prance around in a high dudgeon the way people expect of the reputed inspiration behind “The Devil Wears Prada.” Anyone looking for that is likely to be disappointed as it turns that Wintour is (surprise, surprise) an actual human being and not a film villain.
A human being who is always exquisitely dressed like a fur-wearing Chanel mannequin with an equally exquisite Greenwich town home and sprawling Long Island mansion, but a human being nonetheless. One who has enough perspective to realize what the rest of the world thinks of the industry and people like editor-at-large Andrew Leon Talley who proclaim ‘fashion is life.’
For most of the film, Wintour is restrained, probably more than in her actual life, offering up only a few rare glimpses into how she views the world. The most telling insight in fact comes not from her but her daughter who adamantly refuses to follow her mother’s footsteps into the fashion world, choosing to be a lawyer instead despite her mother’s obvious wishes.
Wintour comes from a family of journalists and public policy thinkers who are engaged in the world (which must make Wintour the gold lammé and Manolo Blahnik strappy sandaled sheep of the family) who, like Wintour’s own daughter, look at her world with slight amusement.
An amusement that Wintour acknowledges but quickly shrugs off and ignores, which probably says as much about fashion as any other moment in the film.
The real reason to watch “The September Issue” isn’t Wintour but the people who surround her and make the magazine happen. Particularly Wintour’s alter ego, Grace Coddington. She’s not Wintour’s opposite–if anything she’s a lot like her–but unlike some of her colleagues she is able to admit she is involved in fashion because she likes it and for no deeper reasons. And because she likes it she is willing to fight tooth and nail for what she considers good, and unlike the magazines passive-aggressive milquetoast create director Patrick Demarchelier (or pretty much anyone else at the magazine) she’s willing to take that fight to Wintour’s doorstep.
“The September Issue” Wintour is almost certainly kinder than the real life version, highlighting what she has done for the industry she loves and ignoring what that devotion costs other people.
That said, even at its most dramatic, as editors agonize over getting just the right cover out of Sienna Miller, there’s no helping the feeling that this is still just fluff. “The September Issue” is like the world’s most perfect accessory; pointless, but difficult not to look at. And look at it long enough, you might actually find you like it.