Wednesday, 12:47pm
12 August 2009

Pin-sharp picture-editing

The September Issue goes behind the scenes at US Vogue

British magazine editors (and other BSME members) crowded into a smart West End viewing theatre last night for a preview of R. G. Cutler’s documentary (frockumentary?) about the making of US Vogue’s biggest issue, writes John L. Walters.

The September Issue is a fun film, pacey and driven along by a cod-1980s soundtrack, and it concentrates on two main protagonists: editor-in-chief Anna Wintour (below, centre) and creative director Grace Coddington (top, centre). There are memorable walk-on parts from photographer Mario Testino, Sienna Miller and design director Charles Churchyard (below, left), who sports a light suit and a constant expression of mild exasperation (somewhat like the fictional manager in This is Spinal Tap).

The September Issue (frame 2)

It’s full of great one-liners: ‘[Fashion] designers have a problem with editing and we’re right with you – less is more,’ says Wintour, empathising with US retailers at their annual Vogue breakfast. Larger-than-life editor-at-large André Leon Talley (below, right) sighs: ‘I am starved of beauty.’

The September Issue (frame 5)

Welsh-born Coddington is presented as more of an artist, less decisive, but more emotionally engaged than Wintour: ‘There’s always one shoot that’s a complete disaster,’ she says with a grimace. We see her hovering by the flatplan wall covered with miniature magazine spreads, and we’re invited to sympathise as her favourite photo-shoot is gradually edited down, and when Wintour rejects a picture of a rubber dress for her ‘texture’ theme. Coddington confides in the film-makers; Wintour keeps her distance.

Yet there are few technical details for magazine insiders – it’s not Helvetica (reviewed in Eye 64). The only reference to typography is a passing slap from Wintour: ‘So large and pretentious this type,’ she says, looking at a cover mock-up, ‘Like it’s for blind people.’ (Writing hardly comes into this story – The September Issue is all about pictures and people.)

The September Issue (frame 6)

The stylists despair of Sienna Miller: ‘Her hair is completely lacklustre and she’s growing it out.’ Comparing two possible cover shots of the actress, Testino muses, ‘Do you think I should use this body on this head?’

As ever, it’s left to Coddington, talking about her Brassai-influenced fashion shoot photographs, to sound a different note: ‘I like it when it’s softer, even if there’s a little blur … everyone wants things so pin-sharp these days.’

The September Issue is released in the UK on 11 September 2009, followed swiftly by the DVD version.

Thanks to the BSME and to Momentum Pictures.

Eye is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, For a taste of the magazine, try Eye before you buy,