The Real Star of The September Issue

Women are flocking to see The September Issue, a documentary about the making of Vogue's largest issue in history (840 pages!), to see if the real Anna Wintour really, truly is as scary as Meryl Streep's Americanized parody in The Devil Wears Prada. The answer is yes and no.

Wintour is pretty intimidating, though not so much scary as terminally bored. She doesn't send any assistants combing the city frantically for unpublished Harry Potter manuscripts. She does, however, make people tremble and stutter simply by staring blankly. There's an amazing early scene in The September Issue when Wintour views designer Stefano Pilati's new collection. All it takes is silence, and then a quiet question about the lack of color, for Pilati to start gibbering about neutral tones and unconsciously edging toward the door. This man is the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, for sweet potato's sake!

However, Wintour's perfect composure and dead-eyed gaze does not a gripping drama make. If this film were completely about her, it would quickly become just a boring feature-length promo about the fabulosity/unattainability of high fashion. (Wintour spends her allotment of talking-head time explaining that people who find fashion frivolous are really just jealous because they're not in the "cool" crowd. How revelatory and insightful!) The film is careful to not dig too deeply into Wintour as a person; otherwise, she probably would've squashed it before it ever saw the light of day. Luckily, the real star of The September Issue transforms the film into a rare treat.

Namely, we're talking about Grace Coddington, Vogue's longtime creative director and the impassioned yin to Wintour's icy yang. It's fascinating to watch the power dynamic between these two aging battleships, who started at American Vogue on the same day two decades ago.

Coddington is a pleasure onscreen simply because she's such a mess: she makes sly digs behind Wintour's back, clomps down the hallway in a very un-Vogue way, and mothers a waifish model into eating cake during a shoot. (What's worse, the calories or the fact that she might smear chocolate onto that outrageously expensive couture gown?!)

Whereas Wintour appears untouchable, Coddington is shown literally tugging and wrestling clothing onto her models' bodies. This frizzy-haired old lady is the brain behind those gorgeous photos of women in immaculate clothes? There really is hope for us all.

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