Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do We Care At All About The September Issue?

The September Issue, a documentary on Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue USA, is now available via Netflix and cable providers. In light of Jane's post here yesterday on New York Fashion Week, and Deja Pseu's musings, I wondered what you all thought about the movie. For those who have not seen it,

The September Issue revolves around:
  1. An industry which speaks first and foremost to itself.
  2. Creative and unpredictable talent.
  3. An imperious CEO.
Not unlike software. Except the clothing. Not a lot of fabric in the software business. But I digress.

Most noticeably, The September Issue reminds you how much the top of the fashion industry is about and for itself. We, the ostensible end users, aren't the consumers Conde Nast cares about. A long, long, long value chain lies between us and whatever Vogue, Ms. Wintour, Grace Coddington (admirable though she may be), or Thakoon (for example) create. Which is to say that this elite crew produce something rather like yeast starter, and we want bread. We can't wear yeast starter. We won't wear yeast starter. But it does appear that we can't have bread without it. Pick any industry, you will find a usable simile. In software, Anna and her minions would be the 6'2" Russian software architect who hangs his sleeping bag on the back of the door and subsists, miraculously, on Cheetos.

Luckily, the fashion value chain gets broader all the time. Thank you, Internet. I used to read Vogue religiously, and scour the 'Where to Buy' lists in the back. Now for fashion I also read, among others,
These days, we can form our own ideas, tailored to our life, our style, our sense of self. We can read the fashion magazines, but as an exercise in imagination, not a directive on where to shop. I ask Twitter who makes the best khakis. I am by no means alone or unnoted by the industry. Nor are you. I'm not saying anything here the industry isn't well aware of. As you probably know, fashion bloggers sat in the front row of shows last week.

I think it helps, looking through fashion shoots, to remember. These are the magicians in the back room, the guys in the lab, the ones inventing. Pay them as much mind as you want. No more. They want to scare you, that's how they get to get paid to make stuff no one ever buys. We, for the most part, care more about the engineers, the people who actually build, and the sales guys who actually sell. But the J. Crews, the Anthropologies, the Nordstrom Classiques Entiere, the Etsy vendors, the neighborhood boutiques, the Stuart Weitzmans, they know we need them. Less smoke, fewer mirrors required.

Creative and unpredictable talent is necessary, but what it produces, we are unlikely to touch, and do not need to bow before. Unless we want to. Fashion, despite its claims to near-religious status, is a business like any other. Similar structure, similar dynamics as software, steel, or sourdough bread-making, for that matter.

Finally, The September Issue shows us Anna Wintour, in all her glory. She's not very nice. But are we remotely surprised? I've never met a nice CEO. At least not a nice, successful CEO. They don't get where they are as a prize for nice. They get where they are because they are willing to make decisions and live by the outcome. Takes a tough skin. Sometimes takes outright megalomania. The only novelty about Anna Wintour, in my experience, is that somebody filmed her doing her job.

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Anonymous jane said...

i'm becoming a regular! i loved the september issue from the aspect of looking behind the curtain, as it were. it was interesting to me how the talent was framed: i loved grace coddington (how many times have i said this in the past 48 hours?) and i wholeheartedly agree that american vogue would not be dominant if anna wintour were trying to win an award for being nice.

it was also interesting to see some of the other creatives at work, and get a feel for their personalities. i did not end up liking everyone in the film, but was grateful for the behind the scenes so must give them credit for allowing the cameras.

February 25, 2010 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Jane, we're happy to have you as a regular:).

February 25, 2010 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Mardel said...

I saw it in theaters in September, with friends. Some friends were appalled at how mean AW was, but that didn't bother me, I've known corporate executives who were far worse, and as you said, successful executives are usually not nice. I was however surprised at how completely boring and flat she came across in that film. I expected mean with a sharp personality, which I did not see. I too loved Grace Coddington, she is a fabulous artistic director.

February 25, 2010 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Headbands and Hand Bags said...

I am looking forward to seeing this movie. I don't think much could shock me about the fashion industry after reading then seeing the Devil Wear Prada. Ok I know that is so Hollywood, and yes I did enjoy both the book and movie. Will hope to see it an be entertained, then continue in the fashion direction I have always been on. Great post! Have a lovely day!

February 25, 2010 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger living well said...

What a fabulous post. Not only because I've put The September Issue in my Netflix queue (and wondered if I really wanted to watch Anna Wintour be mean to people), but because I work in software and the parallels you draw are uncanny.

P.S. I adore your blog!

February 25, 2010 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Ha! I love it that others have worked with top executives, and even in the software industry, and that we mix our perspectives. Even with The Devil Wears Prada:). P.S. CambridgeChic you made my day.

February 25, 2010 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger DocP said...

The September Issue is at the top of my Netflix queue. I have no desire to be the 6'2" Russian softwear architect, understand what he is thinking or let him dictate my life. So why does it feel different with fashion?

February 25, 2010 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Coryanne Ettiene | Kitchen Living with Coryanne said...

really great blog suggestions, I love the September Issue, but have yet to see the film, dying to. Thanks for the sneak peak and your thoughts.

February 25, 2010 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Susan B said...

I love your analogy about the yeast starter vs. bread. That's probably the most apt comparison I've seen. It's funny how AW keeps talking about how certain items are "wearable" and I kept wondering, "by whom?" What I also found to be interesting is that she herself wears pretty much the same uniform (floral print dress with knee-length skirt, cardigan, heeled nude mules) and almost always the same necklace throughout the film.

February 25, 2010 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger LPC said...

Deja - I noticed that necklace too. I am going to have to go and see if it's called out anywhere. She does, exactly, have a uniform, and it's almost girlish. Doc, so why does fashion do to us what the software guys don't? Different magic being promised, I suppose.

February 25, 2010 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Susan B said...

And thanks for the shout out. :-)

February 25, 2010 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I saw The September Issue, too. I must say, I was overwhelmed with how unintelligent Wintour was. I was expecting ruthless, rude and fierce, but the picture that emerged was rude, yet hardly bitingly quick-witted in any way.

There's a terribly embarrassing scene (not a spoiler) in a meeting where Anna completely misunderstands the point being raised by another person and makes a silly comment.

And yes, I acknowledge it would make me super self-conscious to have a film crew follow me around while I work.

I was fascinated, then, by her real vulnerability that comes across, and really her very ordinariness. Which was a really refreshing portrait: I feel much more comfortable seeing her in that light instead of the deified, shiny bob in the front row of shows.

It's a great documentary. But it still leaves high fashion as a totally mystic entity for me.

February 25, 2010 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger Tish Jett said...

Having been in that world for many, many years -- all the shows, all over the world, all the adjectives, all the back-stabbing, all the outrageous gifts given to those in the industry, all the free clothes and on and on. The parties, the juggling for seats at the collections, the tantrums, the tempers. . . I could go on and on.

Instead of going to a very glamourous job in NYC, I stayed and married My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and never looked back. Well I guess I'm sort of looking back now, only it's different. I can do it without make-up, only a great anti-aging cream and a ponytail. And of course, most reward of all I don't earn a paycheck. . .

Did you notice the other day I left you a little something chez moi?

Oh yes, what has Anna done to her face? I would think she could afford the best of the best OR the best of the best would do whatever gratis.

Love every word you write.


February 25, 2010 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Tish Jett said...

Oooops, "most rewarding of all. . ."

February 25, 2010 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger the gardener's cottage said...

My 2 cents.

I saw the movie when it first came out so I don't have a lot of the details fresh in my memory. But I did like the film. I felt AW was very much aware of the cameras and did the best she could with them. She seemed uncomfortable. What I loved the most though were her own clothes. I found it so ironic that she fills the pages of Vogue with all this outlandish stuff and yet she wears beautiful, simply cut clothes that are available to all of us at just about every price point. Also, I think she looks great. I'm not sure of her exact age but I think she is beautiful and it does not look like she has had any work done. I say yeah to that.


February 25, 2010 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger ADG said...

I saw the docu-movie on the plane the other week when en route to London. I was completely drawn in...but drawn in like one would be when driving by a car can't help but look. Especially when the cars are astronomically expensive and the victims are either famous or freakish.

Brilliant writing by the way.

February 25, 2010 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Maureen@IslandRoar said...

Wow, all these comments make me want to see this. I like how you compare what they do to the yeast, and we want the bread.

February 25, 2010 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger The Daily Connoisseur said...

I really wanted to see this movie and when I finally did I was disappointed. I felt it was very 'held back' and restrained. It was entertaining and Grace was my favorite aspect of the film, but the whole thing left me feeling a little cold...

February 25, 2010 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree Lisa, I think all too much is made of Anna's personality--you have to be tough to be a CEO. That said, I think the movie is worth watching just to watch the way her mouth drops open when Mario Testino is describing the monumental shoot replete with soldiers on horses that he's planning in Rome.


February 26, 2010 at 3:08 AM  
Blogger Duchesse said...

Beware! On my way to see this movie I stopped in a luxury shop and bought a quiet, lovely necklace. After seeing the movie, I decided the necklace was too safe, and exchanged it for a big clanking piece that was wrong for me; Vogue brainwashed!

Anna Wintour stuck me as deeply introverted- which often comes across as not nice (and she may not be, too.) And insecure despite her spectacular sable trimmed suit.

February 26, 2010 at 6:18 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

ADG, thank you. Mary Jo, how about when Testino comes BACK from Rome with almost nothing to show for it? I could not tell, Tish, Kate, Connoiseur, what Anna has or has not had done. Except the iconic haircut, of course.

February 26, 2010 at 6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever asked AW about the difference between fashion and style? The simplicity of being a guy is that we can conceive of these two goals as separate and distinct - and only be peripherally affected by the Fashion Czar and her minions... (yes, I would acknowledge that this specific shade of CERULEAN in my semi-custom dress shirt may have been influenced - yes, from the cotton mill Albini - by AW... HAH).


February 26, 2010 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Sydney Shop Girl said...

I discovered your blog through the wonderful Fax Fuchsia.

Love this post, love your turn of phrase. Going to be up all night reading your blog whilst Coco Chanel the DVD is going. I borrowed the Audrey Tatou version, I am not quite ready for Shirley M in the title role.

Happy blogging and looking forward to reading more.

February 26, 2010 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger Caroline, No. said...

Massive thanks for the shout-out, LPC!

It's a fascinating subject. I'm enjoying seeing this previously very closed industry opening up over the last couple of years. I'm surprised by how much American Vogue is collaborating with the industry reveal, Wintour surely being one of the main protagonists in perpetuating the myth of inaccesibility and mystique that Vogue and the industry in general has previously surrounded itself?

The September Issue was really interesting, but didn't tell us much new. Wintour was virtually sitting in the laps of advertisers at the sponsors lunch they showed. Coddington an (unintentionally hilarious?) genius. Wish we'd seen more of André Leon Talley. Sally Singer looked ready to drop dead of exhaustion and despair. Loved it!

February 27, 2010 at 3:01 AM  
Blogger Audi said...

I'm so honored to have made your reading list! And how appropriate that you are reading it for fun. It is meant to be just that.

March 2, 2010 at 1:11 PM  

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