Just like its magazine subject, The September Issue begins and ends with Anna Wintour. R.J. Cutler's documentary appropriately opens with a close-up on the Vogue editor in chief, who dictates seemingly every aspect of the magazine's production as well as fashion itself. In the film, she lends her insight to designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and rising star Thakoon Panichgul, while one observer calls her the most powerful woman in the world. Vogue is fashion's bible, Wintour its god, and The September Issue captures divine inspiration as she and her staff craft the magazine's biggest issue yet: the September 2007 edition, which weighed almost five pounds and boasted 840 pages. "Less is more," declares Wintour in the months of preparation for the massive issue, but it's hard to see where this mandate fits in with the magazine's fashion or editorial philosophy.
However, as much as the film is about the iconic editor, it also focuses on Vogue creative director Grace Coddington. The Welsh model-turned-editor constantly engages the powerful editor in chief in debate, as Wintour wages a war on black and Coddington tries to introduce soft photography to the magazine's pages. The September Issue focuses on this battle of aesthetics, and Coddington is the only one who stands up to Wintour's withering glances. As creative director, Coddington seems more involved with her fashion shoots than her peers at other magazines, and she certainly takes it personally when Wintour removes her work from the final product.
Even though Wintour was the not-so-thinly-veiled basis for The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly, she comes across as more human in this documentary than she did in Lauren Weisberger's roman à clef or even Meryl Streep's portrayal. She is undeniably cold, but she is a remarkably successful woman in power. Scenes with her daughter add another layer to the much-talked-about persona, as do the moments where she discusses her upbringing and family situation.
Director Cutler began his career producing the Bill Clinton campaign documentary The War Room, before he moved into the director's chair with the Oliver North-focused film A Perfect Candidate. There's plenty of office politics in The September Issue, but this is largely a light, entertaining film. Juno's music supervisor, Margaret Yen, underscores the frantic energy of the action with a soundtrack featuring songs from indie rock bands such as VHS or Beta, LCD Soundsystem, and Of Montreal.
All the scenes featuring Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley prove that the best characters aren't necessarily fictional. The flamboyant Talley is as charismatic as Anna is cold, whether he is sharing his insight with fashion designer Isabel Toledo or taking tennis lessons wearing a Louis Vuitton towel wrapped around his shoulders. However, despite including footage of the editor at large, The September Issue remains remarkably focused and tight in its runtime. This is an entertaining, engaging look at both the fashion and magazine industries that rarely takes its gaze off the woman at the top of both businesses.