Eccentricity On Full Display In The New Vogue Documentary

Retired editors and ex-assistants tell Devil Wears Prada-esque stories. What’s not to like?

HBO’s new one-hour documentary about Vogue has the signature attitude and fashion of Vogue, the sass of the Golden Girls, and that sense you get when you watch the History Channel that the people on the TV are really getting off on ye olde things.

In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye premieres Thursday night on HBO in honor of Vogue’s 120th year of existence. Since documentary pieces about Vogue have already been made — the stupendous The September Issue, a 2009 60 Minutes segment on Anna Wintour, and a recent Web series about the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund contest — this new documentary focuses on the fashion editors who did photo shoots for Vogue over the past 100 years. These Vogue editors and former Vogue editors sit on tufted red velvet settees with artfully mismatched throw pillows and tell silly stories about the models and celebrities they photographed way back when, calling incredibly famous photographers like Richard Avedon just “Dick,” which seems a bit like saying, “Oh, Kate and I were just in Topshop,” when referring to the Duchess of Cambridge, as though it were nothing. But this is Vogue, so extreme fabulousness is just a given.

The movie opens with Anna Wintour saying, “I made a very big thing over the years of not celebrating anniversaries,” because she likes to look forward (like a certain reelected president who might make her an ambassador). She continues, “It was my sense when I first came to Vogue, people were a little bit embarrassed about it?” Meaning, they felt silly working in fashion, a seemingly insignificant, decidedly not-smart thing that retains its reputation for being vapid and crazy today. The CFDA has only christened Lady Gaga a “Fashion Icon” so you really needn’t think too hard about why this is. But it probably helps explain why Anna has let so many people videotape things that happen in the office of Vogue over the past few years — she wants to show that they’re serious, smart people who work hard and don’t just pitter-patter about gushing over dresses, making assistants cry, and throwing shoes at each other all day.

Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington writes in her brand-new memoir that Anna probably only agreed to do The September Issue “because she wanted to show Vogue is not just a load of airheads spouting rubbish.” She adds, “By then we had all had enough of The Devil Wears Prada, with its portrayal of fashion as utterly ridiculous.”

If you haven’t had enough of the ridiculousness of fashion, fear not! In Vogue has plenty of it. The film opens with the fashion editors trying to answer the question of what a fashion editor does. Anna calls them “producers, directors…psychiatrists.” Fashion editor Camilla Nickerson just says, “A fashion editor doesn’t do very much.” Nicole Kidman also pops up to spout platitudes about the importance of fashion imagery without answering the question.

(Here’s what fashion editors do: They come up with ideas for how to photograph clothing and then figure out how to pull off the shoots, putting together the right photographer, model, clothes, animals — whatever’s needed to create the images they see in their head.)

With that question left unanswered by the editors themselves, the movie gets into the business of trying to explain. First up is Grace, who talks about an Alice in Wonderland spread starring her favorite model, Natalia Vodianova, as Alice. Appearing in this segment is Nicolas Ghesquière, who was just replaced by Alexander Wang as Balenciaga’s head designer and remains unemployed. He talks about having just 30 minutes to move some ruffles from the front to the back of a dress modeled by Natalia Vodianova, which proves Project Runway challenges DO have real-life applications. (Ghesquière’s other best moment in the film is when he pops up to say that in the ’70s, “French people were laughing at American women wearing sneakers to work.”)

Natalia Vodianova as Alice in Wonderland.

Fellow famous designer Vera Wang appears to talk about her time assisting former Vogue editor Polly Mellen. She clutches her head with both hands and rocks herself as she remembers how “brutal” working for Polly was. Hamish says that Polly would make her assistants cry every day. And Polly herself, well — she did her interview wearing a navy-blue velour tracksuit, which made her seem like a real person. She remembered how she got to go to Japan to shoot a story with Richard Avedon, whom she calls “Dick,” and all the other fashion editors were jealous of her. She mentioned it to then-Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who replied, “Polly, who needs friends? Get on with it.” Which is kind of a huge downer, but overall indicative of the loneliness that might occur at the top of the fashion totem pole, which, if I may, The Devil Wears Prada explored rather poignantly.

Anna says when she took over Vogue, she wanted it to reflect how street style was influencing the runways more than the runways were influencing what people wore on the street. Fashion editor Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, another eccentric French person obsessed with that intangible thing called “attitude,” worked on the shoot that ended up becoming Anna’s first cover for the magazine. It was a shot of a blonde model wearing jeans and a heavily embellished Christian Lacroix top, midriff exposed. At the time, mixing jeans and designer sweaters was even more shocking than celebrities giving their babies normal names, apparently, so when Anna sent the issue to the printer, they were so shocked to see a girl wearing jeans on the cover that they called to ask her if it was a mistake. Ha ha, nope!

Other notable moments include Sarah Jessica Parker squinting thoughtfully at the camera and talking about the shoot she did for Vogue in the Plaza Hotel. And there’s a fun anecdote about Lady Gaga’s first visit to Vogue, and how she showed up to the office right on time wearing a dramatic hat that said “VOGUE,” which led Hamish Bowles to believe she was serious about that meeting!

And the credits roll to a track of the editors’ quotes playing rhythmically over techno music. I’d pay 99 cents for it on iTunes. Not $1.29, just 99 cents.

So, watch this if you like nutty fashion stories! I really enjoyed it. Plus, it’s a classy break from your after-work Bravo routine.

The image that appeared on Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover.

In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye premieres Thursday, Dec. 6, at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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