Powers of Persuasion
By Anne-Marie Guarnieri
To all outside appearances, Vogue is Anna Wintour. Her sensibility, her style, her friends, her favorites. But when director RJ Cutler set up camp in the magazine’s offices in early 2007 with the purpose of filming the process behind Vogue’s massive 840-page September issue (113 pages of which were not ads), he saw that while Wintour is very much the heart of the operation, its soul is longtime creative director Grace Coddington. “If you spend enough time at Vogue, you know that it’s all going on in either Anna’s office or Grace’s office,” he says with a laugh. “When Anna and Grace got together, sparks would fly.” The result is his succinctly titled, fascinating The September Issue.
Cutler, whose CV includes the critically acclaimed documentary The War Room about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, had originally intended to do a film about the Met Ball, but when logistics proved difficult, Wintour suggested he focus instead on the production process of what turned out to be Vogue’s biggest issue to date, giving him all access and final cut. “She embraced the idea,” Cutler says. “She got it.”
But the one person who wasn’t quite as welcoming was the publicity-reticent Coddington. “She was, from the moment we arrived, adamantly opposed” to being filmed, Cutler says. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘Go away.’ This went on for several months.” As Cutler explains it, she simply did not want anything to interfere with her job. “She wants to show up at Vogue and work—not be in a movie. She felt that this was another example of how Vogue was becoming focused on the wrong things.”
Cutler was able to win Coddington over by doing some homework: He read her now-out-ofprint 2002 book, Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue, currently going for around $800 on eBay. (“Talk about a moment of discovery,” he says.) And shared some of his own work with her. “I said, ‘We’re going to be here for five more months, and you’re here, and maybe we could just film with you for one hour one afternoon, and if you hate it, we’ll go away. And look at our films and see what you think….’ I think she was struck by me basically just falling to my knees and saying, ‘What can we do?’ And that was it.”
In the end, upon screening the film for the magazine’s team, Cutler says the overall reaction was that he’d captured the process pretty much exactly as it had played out. “Which is not to say that Anna didn’t have her suggestions. But one would expect nothing different of her,” he says. “I think it’s safe to say that had Anna been making this film, it would have been a very different movie…. But this is a movie about what I witnessed and what I discovered when I spent nine months at Vogue. I’m really only capable of telling the story I have to tell.”
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PHOTOGRAPH BY COLIN STARK
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