Terrific documentary that offers a glimpse into the life of Anna “Nuclear” Wintour, the legendary editor of Vogue magazine, as she and her staff tirelessly prepare to release the all-important September issue. Wintour proudly proclaims that this, the 2007 tome, will be the biggest one yet, which is critical: If you’re a designer, Wintour can bury you.
Minions frantically gather couture, schedule photo-shoots, and edit their copy down to the Nth punctuation, all in the hope of pleasing Wintour, who presides over these activities with the watchful eye of a jury. There isn’t anything she doesn’t touch, and very little she misses, as when she proclaims a glorious 1920’s set as “too much” and swiftly banishes the photograph to the netherworld, never to be seen again.
Alongside Wintour is her long-time artistic director, Grace Coddington (with an incongruous mane of frizzy red hair), possibly more stubborn than Wintour herself, and the only person brave enough to stand up to the most powerful woman in the fashion world. After Wintour decides that a protruding belly must be airbrushed from a print, Grace commands a technician to leave the image untouched. He does, and the photo makes the spread, all without a word of complaint from “The Pope.” Here are two woman, each as bull-headed as the next, who have grown to understand one another–and dare I say, developed a certain mutual fondness?
If Coddington isn’t a sycophant, the designers certainly are: Watch (with glee, as I did) as legendary couture masters Oscar de la Renta and Jean Paul Gaultier practically quake in Wintour’s presence while revealing their Fall collections. Frock after frock is paraded past Wintour, with her signature bob haircut and vast sunglasses. She watches, unmoved, not a hint of emotion to betray her. The designers speak their passions in almost reverential tones. Will she nod her head or shake it? The latter, surely, means the end of a design.
All of this must sound as if Wintour is an axe-grinding bitch who wields her power like a weapon. Certainly, the images of Meryl Streep as the dominatrix Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada don’t help: If you recall, Priestly was allegedly patterned after Wintour. But here, the grande dame of the $300-billion-dollar fashion empire comes across as shy and insecure. There’s a certain awkwardness in her gait, her shoulders hunched as she walks. The moments when she speaks of her childhood in London, Wintour recoils, letting slip the hurt she feels over her siblings’ belief that her career is “amusing.” We even meet Wintour’s daughter, who has a clear affection for her mother, but absolutely zero interest in joining the family business. Wintour smiles, deeply: the affection is obviously requited.
This is a powerful woman, yes, possibly one with a slightly skewed reputation in the media. She knows what she wants, doesn’t need anyone to tell her otherwise, and makes her decisions quickly and with no regret; after all, her job is to sell magazines, and she does so with abundant success. If Wintour were a man, she’d be hailed as a genius. As it is, she’s merely a ball-buster.
Speaking of Wintour’s reputation: There’s a glorious scene near the end of the film where an editor cautiously informs the boss that a photographer failed to secure a critical shot in front of the Colosseum in Rome. Wintour was in no way unclear about this: Get…that…shot. The look she gives the editor upon hearing the bad news is worth the price of admission alone, and eliminates any doubt that Anna Wintour always gets what she wants–one way or another.