Three Imaginary Girls

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The timing of the new documentary The September Issue couldn’t have been more relevant at this very moment. Conde Nast, the publishing company of several notable magazines, recently went through an audit by a company called McKinsey. They were looking for areas where costs can be cut and reportedly told most of the magazines under Conde Nast to cut their expenses by twenty-five percent. In reference to this audit, Gawker ran a story with the post “The New Yorker Will be Sold for Scrap Before Anna Wintour Stays in a Cheap Hotel”.

Wintour is editor of Vogue magazine and at one point during The September Issue, she is referred to as the “most powerful woman in America.” She’s not, but she is the most powerful woman (and actually person) in the fashion industry. Reportedly, she has a salary of $2 million and an annual clothing budget of $200,000. This documentary, which is endlessly fascinating, goes behind the scenes of the September issue of Vogue from 2007, which was the largest magazine ever published at 840 pages. As a comparison, the 2009 September issue is 584 pages and still looks like a goddamn phone book. The tagline for the movie reads “Fashion is a religion; this is the bible”. The estimate in the film is that one out of thirteen American women will own a copy of Vogue’s September issue.

The film begins with an interview with Wintour, who says “just because someone wants to wear [something by] Carolina Herrera instead of something from K-mart, doesn’t make them a dumb person”. That is probably how she views the world and that quote keeps Wintour from fully rehabilitating her image – by all accounts, she was the inspiration for “The Devil” in The Devil Wears Prada. Still, the filmmakers do make it be known that Wintour is something of a visionary, hailing her for putting celebrities on the cover of Vogue and for putting an African American model on the cover of a September issue.

Grace Coddington is the creative editor at Vogue and the figure who comes across as the most sympathetic in The September Issue. She started working at American Vogue on the same day as Wintour and has been the most likely to butt heads with her. Coddington is a brilliant photographer and editor but knows she can only push issues with Wintour so far. She remarks in the film that both she and Wintour know each other’s buttons to push but only Coddington knows when to stop. In one important scene, she had two of her photo shoots deleted from the magazine on a whim from Wintour and remarks that $50,000 was wasted from that decision. Recently, staffers at The New Yorker have already lost coffee stirrers.

The film is not just important because of the relevant timing but it also has remarkable access to the fashion industry that filmmaker RJ Cutler was given. The cover of the 2007 September issue uses two separate photos photoshopped as one of cover girl Sienna Miller – one of her body and one of her head. The film quotes one fashion insider as saying that the fashion world is cutthroat because you “could do everything right in this business and still crash” and cites Isaac Mizrahi, a well-known designer who has had his share of busts and is now the creative director at Liz Claiborne.

In one important scene, Coddington has a great idea for a photo shoot that incorporates one of the cameramen filming The September Issue and when someone from Vogue suggests photoshopping his gut, Coddington insists on leaving the picture as-is. She says “not everyone in this world is perfect; it’s enough that the models are perfect.”