DVD Review: The September Issue

Feb. 23 2010, Published 9:00 a.m. ET

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Sumptuous, lavish and spilling over with a plethora of previously unreleased footage, The September Issue double-disc DVD feels as luxurious as the pages of the magazine it depicts.

The film, which arrives on DVD this week, offers an inside look at the making of Vogue and the chief forces behind it. Director R.J. Cutler obtained unprecedented access to the the inner sanctum of editor-in-chief Anna Wintour during the creation of the magazine’s 2007 September issue which, at 800+ pages, was the largest in its history. Cutler and his crew follow Wintour and members of her staff from New York to Paris, London to Rome and back again, capturing the upper echelons of the world’s fashion industry, while subtly illustrating the pervasive influence that Wintour maintains.

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At the heart of The September Issue lies a compelling dynamic between Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington. The two women joined Vogue on the same day more than 20 years ago and their relationship defines much of the film, as well as the magazine itself. While Wintour is practically legendary for her icy demeanor, Coddington is all romance, nostalgia and artistry. With her signature bobbed coif and large sunglasses, Wintour is the ultra-decisive engine behind the magazine’s function as a tastemaker, running meetings with efficiency that would make the Swiss blush, and gently brushing off sycophants and designers alike with mind-boggling focus and equanimity.

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If Wintour is all angles and coolness, Coddington is less contained, expressing fierce devotion to her work and even lamenting her heartbreak when it hits the proverbial cutting room floor. While the two women represent stark contrasts in aesthetics and demeanor, their symbiosis -- as Cutler describes it his DVD commentary -- hinges on a deep mutual reverence and a shared commitment to their professional avenues. The extra segments on the new release further illustrate their personal drives and their working lives, from the glamour to the hurdles. Behind-the-scenes moments in show rooms across global fashion capitols reveal, on an even more granular level, the mechanics of the fashion industry, and their enormous roles therein. (Thakoon gets gentle mentoring while Lagerfeld gets a pat on the arm. And Galliano? Adoration -- and a few jokes at his expense).

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In his commentary, Cutler also points out the unique moment in time that The September Issue captures. Both Wintour and Coddington contemplate -- albeit briefly -- the ends of their careers, while the extreme luxury captured in the title magazine issue was the last gasp before the economy tanked and haute couture largely lost cultural relevance. Only Wintour’s daughter Bee, a picture of youth and beauty, suggests vague distaste for her mother’s gilded world. Despite sitting in on meetings at ateliers across Paris, Bee insists she wants to become a lawyer -- to which Wintour’s response is barely detectable.

For fashion mavens, The September Issue DVD set is not only an aesthetic feast, but an intellectual one as well. For couture neophytes, it’s simply fantastic filmmaking that points an all-too-rare lens at women who are defined simply by their work.

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