‘The September Issue’: The devil gets her due

August 28, 2009

Who’s the boss? No need to ask that question after seeing “The September Issue.” It’s Anna Wintour’s world – the rest of us are just accessories.


Wintour, in case you’ve been hibernating from the media for the past 20 years, is queen of the universe – or, rather, the fashion universe. Which appears to have as much to do with the real universe as Spongebob does to the plight of the dolphin.


But Wintour – she of the shield-like sunglasses, social x-ray physique and icy demeanor – rules nonetheless. As editrix of American Vogue, she’s Yertle the Turtle for fashionistas.


R.J. Cutler’s documentary, “The September Issue,” follows the creation of the annual issue of Vogue that – well, I don’t know, I guess it contains nuclear codes, the key to reversing global warming, the secrets of alchemy – something serious like that. So Wintour and her scraping minions spend months creating the hundred or so pages of editorial content that fit slimly amid the 400 or so pages of pricey advertising that Conde Nast counts on to cripple postal carriers annually.


I will admit that I have a serious problem with the whole idea of high fashion, which I view as the Emperor’s new clothes, writ large. Which makes Wintour one of the world’s great con men – more so even than the ludicrous designers she pimps in her pages (and who kiss her ass, such as it is). She’s so good that, over the years, she’s created this persona as the world’s greatest fashion arbiter, the woman who decides what we’ll wear when.


If you’ve ever had a bad boss – controlling, arbitrary, hypercritical, capricious – then you’ll get a sick thrill watching Cutler’s film. It shows Wintour – the model for the Meryl Streep character in the book/film of “The Devil Wears Prada” – in all her snappish glory. She tosses off withering one-liners without breaking a sweat; you can tell because beads of perspiration would show up as clearly as all those little lines around Wintour’s eyes and mouth in Cutler’s hi-def imagery.


In interviews with Cutler, Wintour is withholding and stand-offish, just as she is with her staff. The only one who stands up to her is her deputy of long-standing, Grace Coddington, the sole voice of reason in the film – except for Wintour’s daughter, who is also on hand to put the pin to the pretension. “It’s just fashion,” she says at one point, the sanest thing anyone in this film has to say.


Wintour herself has approved this film, both pre- and post-production. But anyone who worries about the future of print journalism can’t help but shudder at the waste of resources lavished on this shrewd moneymaker.


After all, it’s only fashion.


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