R.J. Cutler's documentary goes behind the scenes at Vogue to show us the creative and logistical machinations that go into the "September issue," the fashion mag's annual, trend-setting doorstopper. (The 2007 issue in question weighed 5 pounds.) Front and center is Anna Wintour, Vogue's longtime editor notorious for her rigid, icy demeanor. She's predictably steely and inscrutable, but she occasionally smiles (gasp) and just once, there's even the tantalizing hint of insecurity (double gasp).
Yet among the gang of middle-aged women who create this editorial bible of style, only Wintour seems to practice what she preaches, always elegantly turned out in chic and expensive outfits. Vogue's very clever artistic director (and former model) Grace Coddington sports frumpy black dresses and a rat's nest of frizzy orange hair. Nonetheless, Coddington is the unfiltered delight of the film, infinitely more entertaining than the reserved Wintour.
Fashionistas will thrill to vicariously walk the (very crowded) halls of Vogue. Cutler mostly buzzes around with the top staff, so we only see glimpses of the less-glamorous drudge work (and none of what really matters: the ugly business of selling ads). Meetings with couture designers are tres glam, but Cutler never delves into these relationships. Do designers drive Vogue, or vice versa, and what are the ethics involved?
While Cutler elicits some of Vogue's past successful strategies (Anna was the first to see the ascendency of celebrities as fashion icons!), I wish he asked where Vogue might be going. The film predates our latest economic crisis -- and what of the ongoing collapse of print media, the vulgarization of fashion, an increasingly blobby nation that is 24-7 casual?
Wintour opens the film perplexed and musing why people can't appreciate the desire to wear a Carolina Herrera dress over, say, jeans from Wal-Mart. But my dear -- except for very few, Vogue and high fashion are simply another form of dreamy, spectator entertainment. (If we only had the money, the figure, the places to go.) More than ever, Vogue's edicts are simply shouts in the wind to an audience mostly happy to shop at discounters, even if millions do buy the September issue. I suspect that in the future, this film's value will not be as a testament to Vogue's influence, but as another document of how oddly content we were to live off the fumes of fantasy. Starts Fri., Oct. 9. Squirrel Hill