Anna Wintour opens R.J. Cutler's documentary, "The September Issue," by talking about the fashion industry, although not in the way you might expect. In a defensive, almost wounded tone, the famously imperious editor of Vogue defends her chosen field against the Brunos of the world, the ones who mock fashion for its exclusivity, elitism and obscene excess. For a moment, you can almost mistake Wintour for a cultural outcast, like a comic-book fan or a pimply teenager whose online avatar wears chain-mail.
Within seconds, however, "The September Issue," which focuses on the making of a particularly humongous 2007 edition of Wintour's magazine, goes jet-setting through a glamorous world of Parisian catwalks, Italian photo shoots, Manhattan red carpets, barely there supermodels and couture savants ("The jacket is the new coat," one announces to a group of nodding heads). In this dazzling, daunting atmosphere, the winsome Sienna Miller, who graces the magazine's cover, looks like a backwoods yokel. (Well, almost.)
Among these walking cliches, though, stands an original: Grace Coddington, Vogue's creative director. Although few outside Couturestan know her name, she functions as the magazine's secret heart (and the film's secret star), a visual artist whose passion complements Wintour's steely brilliance.
Cutler never mentions animal fur, sweatshop labor or any issues that can make fashion seem less than fabulous. "The September Issue" is more about surface than depth, much like its subject. And in case you're wondering: Yes, this movie makes you look fat.