Monday, May 25, 2009

The Infamous September Issue of Vogue

(NEW YORK) "What I often see is that people are scared of fashion--because they're frightened or insecure, so they put it down. On the whole, people who say demeaning things about our world, I think it's because they feel in some way excluded or not part of the "cool group." Just because you like to put on a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress or a pair of J Brand blue jeans instead of something basic from Kmart doesn't mean you're a dumb person. There is something about fashion that can make people very nervous."

So begins The September Issue, the highly-anticipated R.J. Cutler-helmed documentary about Anna Wintour and her team's quest to put out the biggest issue of Vogue to date. The release date isn't until September (appropriately enough), but The Daily got a sneak peek-don't ask us how!-and are bringing you the blow-by-blow.

Anna sits in a car, fiddling with a Blackberry. She calls (presumably) an assistant, says to forward on that email from Tom Ford. Shots of the Vogue fashion closet packed tight with rolling racks, shelves piled high with shoes. We look at some shots for an upcoming spread, Chanel Iman and Hilary Rhoda jumping about. Anna doesn't want Chanel or Hilary. Chanel and Hilary are out.

"I wonder if Anna would like this one?" Grace Coddington muses, flipping through pieces. "It's black," someone points out. "That's true," Grace says. "You'd get fired for that."

"You belong to this," says Candy Pratts Price. "You belong to this church." "And would you call Anna the high priestess?" provokes the director. Candy thinks. "I would say...pope."

Anna goes to Fashion Week in New York, Paris...a media frenzy ensues. We watch her drop in for walk-through with Karl Lagerfeld and Stefano Pilati, with whom she is surprisingly (not so surprisingly?) short. What, no color in this collection, Stefano? No evening?

Anna joins the brass from top retailers for the annual Vogue/retailers breakfast in Paris; it's important for them to know that Anna's really pushing for jackets this year. Anna spoke to Miuccia Prada about changing the degrade jackets from a mohair/wool blend to a mohair/silk blend, to the delight of the retailers. "You've made our week!" they say.

During clothing pulls for the September issue, one assistant gets shut down by Anna. "I want to kill myself!" he cries to Grace, who gives him something of a pep talk: "You have to be tougher!"

Anna speaks about her father: a private man, a newspaper editor. He decided for her what she was going to be; when Anna was filling out some admissions paperwork, her father instructed her what to write into the "career objective" space: "Editor of Vogue, of course!" We see pictures of Anna as a young woman, she's pretty, much softer.

Thakoon Panichgul plays a recurring role in the film; he was a Vogue Fashion Fund winner at the time, and consults with Anna on the white shirt collection he's working on for Gap. Anna tells her team that she is thinking of recommending Thakoon for a consulting position at Mango. "It was like meeting Madonna," he says of his first time meeting Anna. "My hand was shaking the whole time."

Grace Coddington. Like Giancarlo Giametti in Valentino: The Last Emperor, Grace emerges as the true hero of this story. She tells of her childhood in North Wales, how she won a modeling competition at 17 and modeled for years before working at British Vogue and, eventually, American Vogue. Sally Singer calls Grace "without question, the greatest living stylist there is."

"I started at American vogue the same day as Anna did," Grace says. "I think we understand each other. She knows I'm stubborn, I know she's stubborn. I know when to stop pushing her...she doesn't know when to stop pushing me."

Anna and her daughter, Bee Shaffer, are at their Long Island home. They flip through old September issues; they have every issue of Vogue that Anna has ever worked on. While not particularly affectionate with her daughter, she does ask her advice on possible Charlize Theron covers. When the director asks Bee if she would ever work for the magazine, she immediately shakes her head. "I think I'm going to law school," she says.

"I really don't want to work in fashion," she says. "It's just not for me. I respect her, obviously, but it's just a really weird industry. It's just not for me. She wants me to be an editor. I would never put it down, but I just don't want to take it too seriously. People in there act like fashion is life. It's really amusing, but if that's your career-there are other things out there, seriously."

Back to 4 Times Square: September issue cover girl Sienna Miller drops by for a first fitting, browsing through a room full of feathered pieces. She doesn't understand. Is it just a coincidence that all these designers showed feathered pieces this season? Someone quickly corrects her: they were made just for this shoot. After all, they say, "It's the September issue of Vogue!"

Grace has been working on a '20s-inspired story. It's shot, but Anna is killing spreads one by one. Grace is not happy. This is not the first time the tension is apparent between the two. "I'm in a really foul mood right now because they've just killed another spread of my '20s story, and they're about to kill another one," she says. "And they're all lying to me about it. It's just incredibly boring."

She looks increasingly emotional as she thinks about it. "I care very much about what I do, or I still wouldn't be doing it. But it gets harder and harder to see it just thrown out. And it's very hard to go on to the next thing."

Anna meets with Mario Testino to go over ideas for the Sienna cover shoot in Rome. "Hello darling!" she greets him. "Did you see Roger's match?"

Cut to André Leon Talley, getting out of a car with a Louis Vuitton towel slung around his neck, a Louis Vuitton tennis racquet case in one hand, and a Louis Vuitton gym bag in another. He hits a few balls with an instructor. "Ms. Wintour inaugurated me into health," he says. "She saved my life I guess, in the long term. I was intervened about three years ago to lose weight. Naturally, what Ms. Wintour says goes, so I took up tennis." He's wearing Damon Dash pants, a Ralph Lauren shirt, and a vintage diamond Piaget watch-"his tennis watch."

Mario's film from the cover shoots comes back, and Anna is not pleased. There aren't enough clothes, there isn't enough Nina Riccia, and where are the coliseum shots? She looks through the cover options, and leaves a note on one, where Sienna is flashing a grin: "like this best, but teeth."

Anna talks about her siblings. Her older brother works to find low-income housing for people in London, her sister is active in supporting South American farmers, and her younger brother is the political editor of The Guardian. "My two brothers and sister...I think they're very amused by what I do," she says, rolling her eyes and laughing-but looking, if only for a moment, vulnerable, emotional, and even hurt. "They're amused."

"I remember when my father retired," she says, "and I asked him why he was leaving something he was so passionate about, and he said 'I get too angry, I find myself getting too angry.' So I do remember that, because I find that myself, at times I get angry. So I think when I find myself getting really, really angry, it might be time to stop."

There are now only five days until the September issue ships. Mario comes in to look at the Sienna covers, and they decide to put the head from one shot on the body from another; the neck is better.

Grace's colorblock story is killed and has to be reshot, but she gets an idea to use the documentary's cameraman in the reshoot. The result: an image of the cameraman, jumping with his camera, and Caroline Trentini, jumping in front of the camera. Anna like it, but points out the cameraman's paunch. "It needs a little bit of retouching," she says. "You need to go to the gym!" Grace is indignant. "Everybody isn't perfect in this world," she says after Anna has left the room. "It's enough that the models are perfect. You don't need to go to the gym."

S.I. Newhouse makes a brief appearance; right before the issue ships, Anna presents it to him via Powerpoint. He approves, Anna is applauded.

Grace looks at the issue lineup: "It will be my whole issue," she says, referring to the spreads, "except Sienna."

"I don't believe for one minute that I have a sense about what's going to happen, or a sense of real change, the way grace does," Anna says. "Grace is a genius. There's no one that can visualize a picture or understand the direction of fashion, or produce a great shoot - she's just remarkable."

The film closes with a moment straight from The Devil Wears Prada. A receptionist picks up the phone: "Anna Wintour's office." Anna breezes through, and when she's out of the frame, you hear her voice, quietly, drily: "Is anyone coming to this runthrough except for me?"


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