Fashion observers held their breaths in anticipation for The September Issue (2009), the documentary following the process of putting together the magazine's biggest (and heaviest) issue of the year.
Many people expected the documentary to reaffirm what they saw in The Devil Wears Prada, the movie and book based supposedly on Ana Wintour. However, this documentary is not just about Ana Wintour. Hogging the limelight instead is the rich, and often clashing, creative forces shaping Vogue magazine.
Set amidst the backdrop of loquacious and flamboyant personalities working in fashion is the hard work involved in producing fashion world's bible. One of the main creative forces of Vogue is Grace Coddington, who constantly pits against Wintour on which photos appear in the magazine's pages.
Their clashes aside, watching the documentary gave me a better appreciation of the visionaries setting fashion trends, and how Wintour and her colleagues at Vogue, along with fashion photographers, designers, models, artists, painstakingly capture the style zeitgeist.
While The September Issue shows the many collaborations involved in fashion, Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) zooms in exclusively on Valentino Garavani, the legendary designer of Valentino.
Here he is portrayed as the inexhaustible genius that created some of fashion's most unforgettable dresses, as well as the luxuries he surrounds himself with (how about traveling with your pugs in your private jet?).
The documentary also gives due credit to Valentino's dedicated partner, Giancarlo Giametti. Giametti manages the business side of the brand and is Valentino's staunchest defender against the investors to whom the fashion house was sold.
The makers of the documentary successfully lifts the curtain of Valentino and Giametti's rather amusing relationship (constant bickering, tantrums galore, endearing moments of intimacy). It is also a portrait of a steely designer at a time when he's quickly losing control of his brand.
(I read somewhere that Valentino: The Last Emperor is long-listed in the Best Documentary category in this year's Academy Awards.)
Both The September Issue and Valentino: The Last Emperor successfully demystify fashion; that behind the glamor one sees on the runway or fashion magazines are modern artists who tirelessly pursue their interpretation of beauty. Parallel to their artistic pursuits is the increasing pressure for these modern-day arbiters of style to become relevant and marketable as fashion after all is also a business.