Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion featuring Grace Coddington, André Leon Talley, and William Norwich, all of Vogue magazine, and R.J. Cutler, director of The September Issue. Despite the blizzard outside, a large audience turned up to hear the four panelists discuss the film, with Norwich serving as the group's moderator.
Mr. Leon Talley was characteristically attired in a large black (weatherproof?) caftan, a fur ushanka-looking cap, burgundy velvet pants and duck boots. Ms. Coddington, ever her demure self, wore a black sweaterdress, black tights and flats, conservative silver jewelry, and - the only color besides her famed hair - a classic red manicure.
Mr. Norwich began by asking Mr. Cutler if he'd had any trepidation about making The September Issue, and if at any time during the filming he had been afraid there was no story to tell. Mr. Cutler assured the audience that he was certain "at every moment" of the process that there was no film, and he acknowledged that he had been "driven by the terror" that he'd find no narrative within the over three hundred hours of footage he captured. He never gave up, though, because he found himself so taken by the meticulous dedication of his subjects to their work. He found that the Vogue executives were "people who care about what they do, do it extremely well and they do it under high stakes." Using a baseball analogy to describe the caliber of work he saw, he likened going into the Vogue headquarters to "walking into the clubhouse of the 1927 Yankees."
Mr. Norwich then asked the resident Vogue royalty if they were hesitant to appear in the documentary, given the recent democratization, corporatization, and some might say bastardization of fashion. He made reference to the slew of fashion-oriented reality TV shows, and the overwhelming number of new "celebrity designers" each season that seem to cheapen the art and process of fashion.
Ms. Coddington replied, with much conviction, that the speeding up of fashion necessarily dilutes its quality. She expressed dislike for the frenzied push for a constant flow of new product and said in no uncertain terms that this hysteria was complicit in the recent and tragic death of Alexander McQueen.
Mr. Leon Talley agreed, saying he missed the old school way of doing things: "New school is good but old school is better." (Interestingly, he made no mention of his upcoming appearances on America's Next Top Model, but took a jab at reality TV stars-cum-designers, saying, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians? Why would I want to keep up with a family that looks like that?")
Mr. Cutler said, and his fellow panelists agreed, that his film successfully shows the connoisseurship at Vogue, and how to take a slow and deliberate approach to the creative process. Apparently the mutual appreciation for this deliberate, artful approach has paved the way for future collaboration: Ms. Coddington and Mr. Cutler acknowledged that they're working together on a upcoming project that will put her book, Catwalk Cats, to film.
Mr. Norwich finished the Q&A by asking each panelist to comment on personal style. Ms. Coddington said a person's personality should be reflected in his or her style and emphasized that "it's hopeless to dress like someone else." Mr. Leon Talley agreed and said, "Your personal style should remain with you; it shouldn't come from the pages of Vogue."
The September Issue is now out on DVD. Included in the DVD set is special behind the scenes footage of The Met Ball, and also footage of Anna Wintour's preparation for her touching eulogy to Isabella Blow.