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September 27, 2009

Reality meets ‘The September Issue’

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


Ever since God made us clothes to cover our bodies, we’ve been obsessed with those coverings. But what is fashion? What is beauty? Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine, and her longtime collaborator, Grace Coddington, seem to know.

In “The September Issue,” a low-key PG-13 documentary, we not only get to follow Wintour and Coddington all over the world to fashion shows and fashion shoots and observe their interaction with the world’s top designers, we also get inside Wintour and Coddington’s heads and eyes as they work on the September issue of Vogue (a phonebook sized mag).

What’s the big deal with the September issue? It’s the time of year when women see what’s new and change things up in their wardrobe. And Wintour will have a lot to do with making or breaking what’s “in.” She is considered the world’s most powerful woman in couture.

If you read or saw and enjoyed “The Devil Wears Prada,” a novel-into-film said to be based upon Wintour (played to the teeth by Meryl Streep) and penned by a young woman who used to work at Vogue, you’ll want to meet the real Wintour. It’s fascinating to watch her work and carry herself with a sort of unquestioned absolute aesthetic moral authority.

Coddington, a former model from Wales, is a hands-on stylist and a warm complement to Wintour’s efficiency. If Wintour is the soul of Vogue, Coddington is the heart. Despite the tremendous respect, admiration and trust in each other’s ability, you’ll probably want to get out of the way when they go toe-to-toe over their differing tastes. Both are women of incredible resolve who love what they do. So much of what they do is simply seeing.

Wintour and Coddington’s eyes take us through “The September Issue.” Wintour’s fixate like a hunter’s, Coddington’s constantly dart around, gathering and creating.

Wintour’s choices tend to be classic rather than avant-garde like the New York Times Style Magazine. The ethos of Vogue is to tell stories through the photos, to create thematic worlds of fantasy and makebelieve.

So, do nuns care about fashion? Why not? We’re women, aren’t we? At World Youth Day 2000 in Rome, I was with 20 other congregations of religious sisters. We voted on the prettiest habit, and the Sisters of Life won. Designer? The late great Cardinal O’Connor, NYC.