Sep 13, 2009

The September Issue

This is an extended commercial for Vogue, obviously done with the cooperation of Anna Wintour and the magazine. Even so, it was more interesting than I thought it would be, but not as interesting as it could have been. It's a puff piece.
However, I am grateful I was able to see Grace Coddington, the creative director, at work. She is brilliant and funny and long suffering, like all good creatives.
It's the same old story. Business vs. Creativity. Anna Wintour is very good at what she does, which is selling fashion to the masses and pages to her advertisers. And Grace Coddington is an amazing artist who does otherworldly fashion spreads that sometimes get killed by the Ice Queen, basically because they are too arty, or edgy, or moody. It's fun to see how they quietly, Britishly, butt heads. And it's inspiring to see that when Coddington is not around to direct the shoots, the result is ugly, mediocre and uninteresting. You can see her artistry and her eye and she is my new role model.
The film starts with Wintour saying that people (the commoners, the ugly masses, you and I) are afraid of fashion; they feel resentful, excluded and intimidated. Well, I'm not afraid of fashion but I am horrified by the prices. Most readers of Vogue could not afford half a designer gatke. I'm not saying that good clothes should be cheap, but some of the prices are capricious, inflated and obscene. Vogue makes us feel rejected, because we could never be so rich and so thin. So screw you, Miss Wintour.
It's a cynical industry. Who can afford the beautiful stuff? No one but heiresses. The rest of us are stuck with the sunglasses and the perfumes and the stupid bags that ruin your back.
The other issue that keeps people away (including Wintour's daughter Bee, as she herself says in the film) is the ridiculousness of the industry. They behave as if they had any relevance. As if any decision about a fringe or a ruffle is a crisis of international proportions. I once heard the exuberant André Leon Tally say "Fashion is hope". This is the kind of asinine pronouncement that gives the fashion world a bad name. I love the clothes, and I admire the artistry, but I hate the hype.
I've always disliked American Vogue. It's like watching porn. You get some sort of thrill at first and then you feel empty and slightly sullied and diminished by the whole experience (should I speak for myself?). My problem with Vogue is that it's boring and conventional. I hate the layout, which seems like it comes from the 80s, and is cluttered and inelegant. I don't particularly love the European editions which suffer from too much pretentiousness. At least in American Vogue you can see the clothes. But it feels like a fancy Sears catalog; bland, boring, unexciting; André Leon Tally notwithstanding.
I don't know why they bother with writers. The film never even concerns itself with any of the writing in the magazine. All it shows is the fashion. Understandably, because what could be more boring than showing wordsmiths at work, but then perhaps the magazine should do the same. Stop pretending they have something of substance to offer and just do the fashion.
Next, I have huge issues with the starvation policies of fashion. I think most of the women who work at Vogue could have a better working environment if they ate something. Most of them look like they are pinched with hunger (particularly Her Iciness). Not to mention the sacks of bones that pass for models these days. It is an ideal of beauty that is unsustainable, dangerous and horribly punishing. The "documentary" does not touch on any of this. It does show an impossibly thin model sinking her teeth into a French pastry after a shoot, and perhaps watching her ravenous, guilty pleasure is all you need to know about the issue.
Another thing I noticed was that absolutely everyone in that particular September issue was white. In one scene, Wintour looks at all her September books and she finds only one where she put a "controversial" Black woman on the cover.  Yes, they've had Salma Hayek, and once in a blue moon perhaps a woman "of color". But it is not right.
I'm afraid that we are going to be seeing more of this kind of infotainment that is cleverly marketed as film and is in fact an extended commercial for a brand, particularly in documentary format.
Viewers: exercise your judgement and beware.

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