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That Anna Wintour smile

March 23, 2010
tags: ,

There are some films you need to watch again and again to really appreciate. On repeat on my DVD player at the moment: The September Issue. An intriguing  documentary on the putting together of US Vogue’s bumper September issue for 2007. (Yes, I am, as ever, well behind the times…)

Much has been made by critics of the film’s representation of Anna Wintour, Editor of US Vogue, and of Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director. Commentators have argued that Grace, responsible for styling the vast majority of the magazine’s luscious photospreads, is the real “heroine” of the film. Grace emerges ultimately an artist, sensitive, engaging, and the creative genius responsible for such beauties as this image from a 1920s styled photoshoot:

Image copyright: Vogue magazine, Conde Nast

But to say that Grace is the heroine and Anna simply a tyrant risks underestimating the dynamic tension that makes the magazine so successful. For every artist there needs to be a decision maker, a ruthless strategist, a leader. (Which is probably a lonely and much misunderstood job.) Whatever your personal opinion of the gossip mill surrounding Anna Wintour, her policies and her beliefs, she is definitely a Leader. And it must be a constant source of frustration to be one of the most powerful women in the world, and clearly one of the best heads in the business, and constantly not only be slated as “an ice maiden” but undermined for the perceived “shallowness” of her job. There is a particularly poignant moment in the film where Anna talks about her high-achieving brothers and sisters with a wry and sad little smile- “they’re amused by what I do.”

(I idly surfed Ebay for this issue of Vogue, thinking it would be nice to get hold of a copy. But bidding on that issue seems to run into hundreds of dollars. So, if you have a copy of the September 2007 issue of US Vogue- hang onto it. Do NOT put it out for recycling, use it as cat litter or manufacture papier mache Easter eggs out of it. You’re welcome.)

Image copyright: Vogue magazine, Conde Nast

As a counterpoint to the September Issue, I also re-watched the Devil Wears Prada. It stars Anne Hathaway as a recent college graduate who gets a job as an assistant to demanding fashion editor of fictional Runway magazine played by Meryl Streep. A film adaptation of a novel written by Wintour’s former assistant Lauren Weisberger, it is allegedly not based on Vogue or Wintour. At all. Absolutely not. (I haven’t read the book, but I don’t think I really feel the need.) But some of the parallels took my breath away. From Meryl Streep’s mannerisms to the decor of the Runway-I-mean-Vogue-I-mean-Runway offices, (according to the Daily Telegraph so great was the similarity that Wintour had her office redecorated after seeing the film) I was left gobsmacked by the brazen similarities. How did they get away with it?

Although mildly entertaining from a shoes and clothing perspective I find the message (if indeed there is one) of the Devil Wears Prada bizarre and actually quite annoying. Anne Hathaway’s character whines and complains about how she hates the job at Runway, despite being told how many others would kill for it. How shallow it all is! How much better than it all she is! But although actually the experience changes her externally and internally, the implication is that she will always see the fashion world as deeply shallow and silly. Depending on your viewpoint, what she winds up with (and I’m trying not to give the ending away in case you haven’t seen it) is either really affirming or pretty depressing.

Although personally I’m less into fashion than fashion history, and less into consumerism than craftivism, the fact that the art of creating, photographing and writing about beautiful garments (as opposed to churning out high street “disposable” clothing) is still held as shallow and unworthy of being taken seriously amazes me. A fashion designer is an artist, and deserves the same respect that a composer, a painter, or whatever artist you name are given no questions asked. One could even argue that clothing fulfills a much more basic human need than music or paintings. Or is that perhaps why some people are so dismissive, or even downright negative, about the world of fashion design? That clothing fills such a basic human need that it cannot be considered an art form? Even the study of the history of fashion has constantly to justify itself as being of ‘value’ from a socio-economic or cultural viewpoint.

Ah, well might Anna Wintour smile that small sad smile…

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2010 10:54 pm

    Hi! I’m not stalking you (actually “stocking” IS part of the issue. . . sorry) but wanted to say “Don’t read The Devil Wears P. as a book!” I didn’t even finish it as the whining/complaining part of the heroine’s personality is too long and annoying–but then the movie was a lot of fun, despite the mixed messages you mention. The visual part made it work where the book just dragged.

    I want to see the other movie, too, despite being a completely non-Vogue person. LL Bean and Dansko clogs, that’s me. . . oh, and hand knit socks! Will email a pic of finished Charybdis.

  2. March 24, 2010 3:44 am

    I watched The Devil Wears Prada before I saw the September Issue, and although I love Meryl Streep, based on her character I was expecting the real Anna Wintour to be a complete megalomaniac bitch. I was suprised to find that Anna Wintour is actually a rather softly spoken and obviously very clever woman, who has to make some rather brutal decisions about what will make it into print. It was amusing how people quaked in her presence, but as you said, someone has to play the Leader to Grace Coddington’s (gloriously talented) Artist. I wonder if people would be criticizing her if she was a man? I imagine that instead they would be praising her for being an editor with a clear vision and the balls to carry it out. By the way, I loathed Anne Hathaway’s wussy, whinging character in The Devil, so annoying.

  3. March 24, 2010 7:26 am

    Totally agree that the ‘moral’ behind The Devil Wears Prada was really trite and depressing


  1. Haute and the City » Blog Archive » 6 Things I Learned from Anna Wintour in The September Issue

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