BEyond the Pages of Vogue


In The September Issue, Director RJ Cutler, finally! Takes us “behind the seams” at Vogue magazine, but, it may not be what you expected…

I must say that this was the first time I sat in a movie theatre, watching a documentary that garnered a number of laughs and general audience reaction. There was even a round of applause at the end. The film starts out somewhat unassuming, a rather intense and close up camera angle of fashion industry queen, Anna Wintour, explaining what the mystery of fashion is, the allure, why people are intimated by fashion. Her answer pretty much sets the tone for the entire film.

Back when I was at Vogue, in 2001, they were in the middle of working on the September 2001 issue, Linda Evangelista was on the cover announcing her return to the fashion industry. I know first hand, the insanity that transpires while putting together the issue and things has not changed at all!

More than anything, watching the film was more like stepping into a time machine. Part of what makes the film so great is the sort of “stripped down” look inside its subject, Vogue. Audiences will get to see that the folks behind the scenes at Vogue, with the exception of few interns and assistants, are all normal looking woman. They aren’t 6 foot, anorexic women, in 6 inch Manolo’s, strolling through the office pretending to be fabulous, which is how the majority of the public view fashion insiders. The way Sienna Miller’s body parts get “swapped” out via Photoshop during a cover meeting with famed photographer, Mario Testino, I felt was also an interesting and poignant moment. This also shows the audience that “this is not real, none of it is” fashion and Vogue in particular is fantasy, someone’s incredible creativity and imagination at full force. No one looks like that in real life.

Personally, I was disappointed at the portrayal of Fashion Editor at Large, Andre Leon Talley. This is a man who is a fashion legend in his own right! I mean, he was mentored by the iconic Diana Vreeland, former consultant to the MET Costume Institute as well as Editor in Chief of Vogue during the “Swinging Sixties”, yet he comes off as a caricature. The immediate laughs from the audience that take place upon his screen presence will attest to this. I was very friendly with his assistant, Tara, during my time there and I sat in on a number of shoots with Andre. One shoot in particular had me traveling throughout Manhattan with a life-sized, stuffed toy Giraffe that I had to pull out of FAO Schwartz’s window and hop in a cab, all the while the giraffe’s neck and head sticking out of the window for the entire ride down to the shoot. He certainly has a sense of humor but NO ONE makes it as far as he has by dilly dallying and being aloof like he is shown to be in the film. Mr. Talley is incredibly intelligent and happens to be one of the few faces of color in the industry; I felt he deserved to be delved into as much as other staff.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak entirely out of confidence since we don’t know what ended up on the cutting room floor.

Creative Director, Grace Coddington’s brilliance and creativity shines through every time the lens is on her. One of the only people who can actually go head to head with Wintour and come out victorious as they show during a run through (magazine jargon for reviewing a selection of key outfits and accessories for use in an upcoming shoot) where Grace is very adamant about her clothing edits while Wintour thinks otherwise. Grace Coddington came off exactly as I remember her, smart, funny and no nonsense with a bit of mystery and unknown to her persona. Honestly, who cares about unknown, the woman is genius.

That leaves me with Wintour. RJ did a magnificent job of portraying as many facets of this incredible woman as he possibly could on film. I can tell you personally, that yes, her presence can be quite imposing. My personal experiences with her are limited as I was just an assistant in the accessories department with the exception of a frightening experience as we both waited for the elevator on the 12th floor, while I was stared down and studied by her. I actually think she enjoys the fact that she is viewed in such a light. It is almost like she is in on it.

The Devil Wears Prada but Anna is no devil. Yes, she is short and has no time to mince words but this is what makes Anna Wintour. She is undeniably, the most powerful woman in the billion dollar fashion industry. There is only one way to reach that peak and Anna shows us all in her direct and candid nature. This woman has an eye. We learn this during her previews with designers such as Oscar De La Renta and Jean Paul Gaultier; most wouldn’t dare show a collection without her yay or nay. Her nurturing side is on display when we see her fondness towards designer Thakoon Panichgul, who has taken the industry by storm in recent years. She gets him in good with the folks at Gap for a design collaboration, which he is eternally grateful. We also are privy to private moments with her daughter, Bee Schaeffer. Bee has decided that fashion is not for her, much to Anna’s dismay as we see in the film during a scene at the Wintour home in Long Island. We also learn a bit more about our “stars” as the film offers vignettes into each of their past lives to present day.

Personally, my experience there is one that I will never forget. Whether the experience was good or bad, I learned more during that time than I had ever before in fashion. Many people have come and many have gone, including me. Working at Vogue takes an incredible amount of strength, patience and tenacity as you will see.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars. This is a definite must see for the “fashionista” but also an amazing lesson in business and what it takes to make it. It is well worth the price of admission and I hope that everyone who reads this will go and see it. But whatever you do, don’t expect to see a Meryl Streep like character, you will be disappointed.

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