Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue for 20 years, is the most powerful and polarising figure in fashion. Director R.J. Cutler delivers a rare insider account of the nine months leading up to the printing of the highly anticipated September issue of the magazine, which promises to be the biggest one ever... At the eye of this annual fashion hurricane is the two decade relationship between Wintour and Grace Coddington. Through them, we see close up the delicate creative chemistry it takes to remain at the top of the ever changing fashion field.

Ladies with an attitude.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL / MELBOURNE FILM FESTIVAL: So feared and revered is Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour that Oscar De la Renta and Jean Paul Gaultier routinely seek her guidance about what to cull from their Fashion Week collections, the chair of Neiman Marcus enlists her help to overhaul the supply chain, and at Vogue HQ, her minions joke about being fired if they pitch her a fashion spread that features too much black.

The September Issue takes its name from the Conde Nast flagship's most anticipated and influential issue of the year. The film isn’t the hatchet job you might expect it to be when the central character is the real life devil in Prada, whose brusque nature and support of the fur trade has drawn comparisons to Cruella De Vil. This after all, is the same woman who famously suggested that Oprah – who appears on the cover of every issue of her own magazine – lose 20 lbs if she wanted to grace the cover of Vogue.

Apart from several icy glares and cutting remarks, the film paints a generally positive portrait of the formidable editor-in-chief (it's probably no coincidence that the film hinged on her full cooperation to enable unfettered access to her inner circle). Further, the Ice Queen thaweth in scenes dealing with her vulnerability over defending her passion for fashion to the jibes of her social justice-minded siblings.

But it’s Vogue creative director Grace Coddington who emerges as the film’s most sympathetic character, with her candid asides about Wintour’s modus operandi, and her genuine hurt when one of her sumptuous photo spreads is summarily chopped from the issue. Coddington and Wintour are of a similar vintage, and you get the distinct impression that the success of their 20-year working relationship hangs on equal measures of passive aggression and grudging respect.

All in all the film is a pretty broad overview of what goes on in the hallowed corridors of the iconic magazine. There are some last minute dramas when an Italian-themed cover shoot with a bad-hair Sienna Miller doesn’t result in an obvious money shot, and photographer Mario Testino declines to cough up the remaining digital negatives. The background is populated by a flurry of fashionistas wheeling hefty clothes racks, uttering aphorisms like "jackets are the new coats". It’s a fun and frivolous watch, but deeper insight into Wintour’s decision making and publishing nous would have added substance, and at least some token input from her critics or competitors would have provided balance.

The film was shot two years ago and it's with more than a hint of nostalgia that we witness the Vogue sales team (whose head count rivals some publishing companies’ entire workforce) mobilise to pitch the issue to the pre-credit crunch marketplace; the resulting tome weighs in at a whopping 840 pages. As magazine revenues fall faster than recession-era hemlines, it’s a safe bet that this year’s September issue won't be quite as buoyant as its 2007 namesake.


Watch 'The September Issue'

Tuesday 5 October, 2:35am on SBS / Streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand

USA, 2009
Genre: Documentary
Language: English
Director: R.J. Cutler
Featuring: Anna Wintour

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1 hour 30 min
In Cinemas 20 August 2009,
Wed, 01/20/2010 - 11