Have you ever wondered what was behind the bob and sunglasses; behind the fear of countless designers and quivering interns? I must say that the best way to sum up Anna Wintour’s identity is by comparing her to Gossip Girl. Having said this, if she read what I have just said I have no doubt that she would not just disagree but would probably coolly and decisively cut my opinion down and stamp on it with her high heels, but to be honest, as I will explain later, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I compare her (loosely) to Gossip Girl because of her ability to control those around her without breaking identity and when I say identity, I mean her Editor/owner of Vogue face which only changes expression slightly when she dislikes something. The ‘real’ Anna Wintour, -the human being with children and maybe a dog – has never been revealed before; inevitably letting the press take control of her image which as most people know is not the most likeable. In an interview with David Letterman, Wintour herself toyed with the idea of a press constructed identity: ‘I’m an ice queen, I’m the Sun King, I’m an alien fleeing from District 9 and I’m a dominatrix. So I reckon that makes me a lukewarm royalty with a whip from outer space. What do you think?’ The emphasis on the question, ‘what do you think?’ does not leave much room for audience satisfaction as she implies that one’s opinion of her would only add to the facade of other irrelevant opinions. As she suggests, Anna Wintour will never be uncovered.
The second reason I turn to a fictional character for comparison is because Wintour and Gossip Girl, are both feared, criticised and respected. One word from them and lives can drastically change. However, the enigma of Wintour is indeed a reality of our contemporary world and I just had to see it with popcorn and a diet coke, so rushing around frantically I finally found a picture house which was showing the long awaited ‘The September Issue’, directed by R.J Cutler.
I had heard that the The September Issue was out on the 11th of September but when I searched, it was nowhere to be seen. Neither my local Odeon nor Cineworld were showing signs of the film so I resorted to the internet. I finally found it showing in all the Picture House cinemas (trust Anna Wintour to make her movie difficult to find) and when I turned up I was pleasantly surprised at the old cinema with remarkably big chairs, and so I settled in to my seat quite contented for the 90 minute documentary. No matter how comfortable my surroundings, I was anxious throughout the whole film. It was like watching a horror show where my muscles would tense whenever Wintour entered the scene yet I laughed in disbelief when she told Bob the cameraman to go to the gym. The whole thing was so intimate that one would feel sympathy towards the characters but still be indifferent enough to judge. E4’s ‘Running in Heels’ looks like a walk in the park compared to American Vogue.
Before I had seen The September Issue, I naively thought that films such as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ were purely fictional probably derived from a lazy intern who was bitter because she was like many hopefuls insufficient for Vogue. I had already had my interview for my British work experience with Frances Bentley (Managing Editor) and after showing me around the office and assuring me that they were not gods but mere mortals like ourselves I began to feel hopeful and not as terrified as I had initially been- I mean what’s the worst they can do? Scream at you for not knowing how to fix a photocopying machine? …… I’m not sure if American Vogue is in a whole different league to British Vogue but I did not take into account that there was a higher level to the word ‘derogatory’ than the shouting that I had initially imagined. I had underestimated the power of the dismissive, cold one liners or facial expressions which were shamelessly displayed by Anna Wintour and proved to be much more effective. I was left gobsmacked at the designers and photographers, of whom for a long time I was in awe, diminishing into minions in the presence of one woman. What I previously had not understood is that the entire fashion industry revolves around her. Designers arrange their entire collection around Anna Wintour’s opinion, so in effect, she decides what we wear on a daily basis. In the space of 90 minutes I realised that I was experiencing an outer body Anne Hathaway.
Even though The September Issue confirms our worst nightmares about the fashion world, there are key moments and important characters that make it all worthwhile. To start, I had no idea that Anna Wintour had a daughter who did not want to join the Vogue royalty. It was clear that Katharine (Bee) Shaffer however much to her mother’s disappointment was sticking to her guns by ‘staying far away from Vogue’ (NY magazine). Another character who made Wintour’s world a little more light hearted was Creative Director of Vogue, Grace Coddington. Through THE style guru of the magazine, we see a magical, creative process that awards Vogue its exclusivity and more importantly Coddington is the one character who gives Wintour human infallibility. Highlighting the nature of their relationship, Coddington laughs, ‘I know when to stop pushing her buttons, she never knows when to stop pushing mine.’ It is through their extraordinary friendship that we are able to digest the fact that the ice queen is made of flesh and blood and understand Wintour’s ways as an innate part of her character which could be seen as dare I say endearing?
Leaving the cinema, I still felt unsatisfied as to who the real Anna Wintour was. R.J Cutler tackled the question but was left with the same woman who deep down we all knew her to be. However, there is a reason why the documentary is called ‘The September Issue’ and not ‘The Life of Anna Wintour’ just like there is a reason why I will still happily make tea as part of my work experience and apologise profusely if I am unable to get the correct type of scarves for a photo shoot. This 2007 September Issue was the single largest issue of a magazine ever published, containing 840 pages and nearly weighing 5 pounds (Wikipedia). The height of creativity and the inspiration derived from one magazine has shaped the dreams of numerous young women and Cutler’s documentary celebrates exactly this, as well as Wintour’s ability to conduct such a magnificent process.
As for Anna Wintour herself, from what I have seen, she is defined by her work as well as those around her. She is everything to which we aspire, hate, fear and respect at the same time because she rules the creative development of the entire fashion world, and that is something inescapable to everyone who thinks before choosing a garment. If she acted any less than god like and superior, I would be thoroughly disappointed even though I am writing this in the comfort of my home in a pair of tracksuit bottoms.
Key moments: Andre Leon Talley (Editor at Large) playing tennis in Ralph Lauren shirt, Damon Dash trousers, diamond Piaget watch complete with array of Louis Vuitton accessories for the fundamental necessities including bag, racket holder and towel.