That Anna Wintour smile
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…