Saturday, September 19, 2009

The September Issue

Impress Me

Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada is rumoured to be inspired by Anna Wintour, the legendary editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Vogue, and it's not hard to see how so. A cup of Starbucks in hand, the bob hairdo, the cutting remarks, people going into a frenzy whenever her name is mentioned, and worse when dazzled by her presence. Even the vogue office does seem quite similar in terms of layout, and the number of assistants constantly scurrying around looking busy and executing to her every instruction.

It's hard not to see why Wintour and Vogue for that matter, became the subjects of a documentary, since both are very powerful in setting the agenda for an entire industry, with what's being said and featured in the magazine, goes. R.J. Cutler's documentary provided that sneak peek into the behind the scenes working of what's to date the largest single issue of the iconic fashion magazine (it's September 2007 issue), where little interesting nuggets of information get dropped around, such as the distinction and importance of the September issue (hence the title) in trend-setting what's hot and what's possibly not, over the next 12 months.

There are always people curious about the glamourous industry, filled with pretty clothes, flamboyant designers, glitzy fashion weeks in trendy capitals of the world, and of course, the beautiful clothes-horse models. It does seem to be this perfect little eco-system filled with perfect people on the surface, though those looking toward this film in digging out some skeletons from the closet will be sorely disappointed. This in part due to the power that Wintour wields, where you see not only new designers in awe, but veterans from the established fashion houses that come with reverence, for possibly fear of offending the almighty, the high priestess or so she's called, in charge of the bible of the industry.

But of course one editor a magazine maketh not. R.J.'s documentary provided a more holistic look at the making of the magazine. And not just any magazine mind you, but THE one brand that has been around for more than a century, and with that comes trust and influence to make or break designers. R.J. was provided unprecedented access into the behind-the-scenes look at the assembling of an issue, and with that comes plenty of photo shoots, jet-setting lifestyles, the pursuit of deadlines, and enough of office politics. The amount of work is just staggering.

However, the filmmaker does seem to fall short in eliciting a lot more from Wintour, aside from talking-heads styled short interviews which became the bookends of the film. In fact, it's more of the Creative Director Grace Coddington's show, where you will probably be won over by her sheer genius and eye for creative art form in directing photo shoots and dreaming up storyboards on the fly for the still pictures to tell a story. I admit I was more impressed with Coddington's story, wry humour and creative style rather than Wntour's cool demeanour, which often sets them up for clashes, for the good of the magazine of course, in constantly raising the bar, though at times it does seem that someone's creative spark do get unappreciated and often doused with cold water. Such is their love-hate professional relationship.

Which primes this film with a "villain" so to speak, but of course the boss always has the final say and calls the shots. We do get to see how both of them rose to power (they started off as models!) through their joining Vogue at the same time, and rise through the ranks based on their respective strengths. Filled with countless of fashion celebrities, clothes, accessories and the occasional cutting remark (I do think Wintour seemed to have held back her tongue a lot more since a camera is constantly in her way), The September Issue is a superb look into the sheer intense and immense talent and hard work that goes into the publication of every issue, and would likely induce you to grab a copy of Vogue right after the show.

I'll never look at this magazine in the same frivolous light ever again, as they are really taken seriously given the money made available and someone's career probably on the line too.

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