This morning I watched the documentary film The September Issue (for the first time, even though it came out a couple of years ago). It was fascinating to see what goes on in order to create a huge issue of Vogue (and handy for me, as there’s a magazine-related sub-plot in the book I’m writing). Anna Wintour seems to be freakishly controlled as a person, but the real star of the film was the fantastic Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director. Gawker.com summed up what happened very well (and it’s a good review of the film, if you haven’t seen it): Wintour agreed to the film being made, but Coddington became the star when she demonstrated through her interactions with designers, models, Vogue staffers and the camera crew that she is passionate, real and warm. Wintours suffers by contrast: she comes across as very focussed, but strangely dispassionate. And she seems to be entirely lacking in personal charm.
A great moment occurs when Coddington decides to feature members of the film’s camera crew in a photo shoot. Wintour likes the resulting photos, but she can’t resist making a snide comment about the less-than-svelte figure of one of the cameramen (while the same guy is filming her), telling him that he needs to go to the gym. She really gives the impression that she’s somebody who has been indulged to the extent that she is now slightly cruel just for the hell of it. It’s very unattractive – and she does it with a little smile on her face, as if she thinks that she can claim that she was only joking, if anybody takes offence.
Anyway, the cameraman is there when Coddington checks in to find out what Wintour thought of the shots. He mentions that Wintour asked for his stomach to be Photoshopped smaller and Coddington expresses such exasperation at Wintour’s attitude and the lack of recognition that normal people don’t look perfect (and that this isn’t a bad thing). She tells the cameraman that he doesn’t need to lose weight and she totally overrules Wintour regarding the re-touching, and gets her way in the end.
I particularly liked Coddington because she reminded me a great deal of my friend Sarah, who works with me at the firm. Sarah is older than me and has had a more interesting media background than mine. She’s worked at the firm for several years and is responsible for our in-house magazine, published four times a year. I like her enormously because she has all the qualities which made Coddington such a hit in this film: she’s hugely intelligent; she approaches her work with real integrity (it would be easy just to fill a law firm’s magazine with dull puff pieces, but Sarah takes her work seriously and always strives to create issues with genuinely interesting and well-written stories: similarly, Coddington seems to approach every part of her job with passion, wanting each photo to be beautiful because beauty is a worthy goal in itself, as far as she’s concerned); and she’s wonderfully droll and dry, always giving you the impression that she’s watching everything unfold around her and finding it gently amusing. It’s an admirable way to be; although she gets annoyed about work issues at times, it seems that she manages to keep things in perspective for the most part. And Sarah is a really nice friend and colleague – thoughtful, kind and interested in the people around her.
So I enjoyed the film very much, but a large part of the reason why was because it reminded me of how fab it is to know Sarah!