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The September Issue

We speak to director R.J. Cutler about following Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington in the making of this long awaited documentary.

In his new film, The September Issue, documentary filmmaker R. J. Cutler takes us behind the scenes of American Vogue, and provides a fascinating insight into the most terrifying woman in fashion: Anna Wintour. An experience he describes as ‘hell’

Dazed Digital: You don’t look like a typical fashionista…
R.J. Cutler: Well I’m obviously not into fashion as a consumer (gestures to scruffy attire). But I appreciate beautiful women in beautiful clothes. And, having made the film, I have an appreciation for the characters and the importance of the industry. It actually helps to be naïve when making a movie like this. The questions you need to ask are so simple. You have to be like a child, which is a beautiful thing about it.

DD: How long did you spend filming with them?
R.J. Cutler: Eight months.

DD: They’re planning the September issue that whole time?
R.J. Cutler: They start when the fashion shows start, at end of January. They were going to Paris for couture and I thought going on that trip would be a good way to get the ball rolling.

DD: Sounds like a fun way to bond.
R.J. Cutler: Well it would have been, had we bonded! Grace (Coddington, US Vogue’s legendary creative director) couldn’t stand us. She did not want us around. It took many months before Grace let us shoot with her.

DD: But, in the film, Grace comes across as very open…
R.J. Cutler: She does, and she is wonderful. But it took her a long time to open up. She didn’t want cameras watching her work so, at first, we simply agreed to leave her out of the process altogether. We were respectful and warm towards her for four months but then I couldn’t take it any more. I went into her office and gave her two films: one was my political documentary A Perfect Candidate, and the other was a film that my cinematographer, Bob (Richman), was Oscar nominated for, called My Architect. I said, ‘If you don’t hate these films, let us have one hour with you.’ Luckily, she loved them. I knew that she and Bob would have a connection as Bob is a great artistic soul and Grace’s whole career has been about her connection to photographers.

DD: You had invested four months by then. What would you have done if she said no?
R.J. Cutler: We would have been fucked. The whole process is scary. In fact, it’s hell. Every day you’re on a tightrope, looking down thinking, why did I do this to myself? Grace responded to my desperation. I knew we couldn’t make the movie without her because you need one person who isn’t scared of Anna. There has to be that dynamic and, on a daily basis, Grace is Anna’s biggest challenge.

DD: What did they think of the film?
R.J. Cutler: Grace loved it. Anna had notes. I think that’s the safest way to put it.

DD: Did you have to change anything?
R.J. Cutler: She didn’t have any editorial control but we had thoughtful conversations about it. When Anna first saw it, she didn’t think that people would find her relationship with Grace all that interesting. With great respect, she and I didn’t necessarily agree on that point. But that’s fine. The surprising thing would have been if she’d have said: ‘Awesome.’ That would have been nice, but surprising.

The September Issue is released on September 11
Read Grace Coddington talking about her life as a Vogue girl in the current Dazed issue out now.