Thursday, August 22, 2013


Image VIA

HBO documentary directed and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. 

Note: This film will be screening FOR FREE at ACMI as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Festival. Click here for more info.


In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye celebrates the women behind the iconic images of Vogue magazine. It explores how fashion has been a “reflection of our times” and how the images in Vogue have acted as mirrors “to the zeitgeist of the moment.” Following a timeline, the documentary takes us through the evolution of Vogue and introduces us to various notable fashion editors that have helped shape the magazine, keep it relevant and turn it into a household name.

Marc Jacobs aptly described fashion as being “…a fairy tale…a fantasy…it is about metamorphosis” and in many ways Vogue is the platform for people to engage with this concept. Its pages are filled with wonder and a seamless blend of reality and make-believe. Going beyond aesthetics, the editors highlight in this documentary that fashion (and as an extension, Vogue) reflects the changes in the world and is effectively “there to report on the world at large.” Fashion editors collaborate with photographers and other individuals to capture a moment in time that will resonate for years to come. Each has a different style or agenda but in the end they are all attempting to create something that is more than merely an image on a page.

Through interviews with fashion editors such as Grace Coddington, Camilla Nickerson, Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Tonne Goodman, Babs Simpson, and Polly Mellen, we are walked through the corridors of Vogue. The editors themselves initially find it difficult to explain their role within the magazine, however they essentially describe a fashion editor as being someone responsible for producing an image. The role of an editor however has undoubtedly changed over the years, and this is the result of technological developments and bigger budgets. Before Photoshop and airbrushing existed, editors went to great measures to achieve the perfect photograph. Susan Train, Editor at Vogue’s Paris bureau 1951, recalls the lengths she would go to for the shot. On one particular shoot, the model was told to run up the steps so that her scarf would move behind her with the wind. Adamant that she would fulfil her vision, Susan ended up tying some string to the scarf and waving it around while running behind the model. The final image then gave the illusion that the scarf was blowing naturally in the wind, and essentially this is what Vogue is all about - seducing its readers and capturing moments that appear natural and spontaneous, when in reality they are often anything but. The fashion editor is the one jumping through hoops to make sure everything runs smoothly. 

Current Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour explains that the fashion editors at Vogue “…all have genius in them and they all have a deep, deep understanding of what makes a great photograph.” Different fashion editors have injected their unique points of view and strengths in to the magazine over time and various directions have been taken depending on the vision of an editor. Hamish Bowles discusses Diana Vreeland and how she had a dramatic impact on the magazine in the 1960s when she was Editor-in-Chief - “Vreeland expressed a whole kind of giddy, liberated, crazy youth quake moment of the 60s.” While some fashion images are rooted in cultural movements or make comment on society, others engage more with fantasy. Grace Coddington is known for her enchanting story telling and archive of iconic images. She has “…an extremely romantic sort of poetic vision…she likes her stories to have a narrative thread, and there’s always going to be something magical about the way it’s presented” says Bowles.

A successful image is the result of a great collaboration, namely between the editor, the photographer and the subject. We are told throughout this film that the best images are those that provoke some kind of reaction, even if the reaction is critical or downright scathing. When Polly Mellen discusses the notorious set of bathroom images by Deborah Turbeville – which received wide criticism at the time - she notes, “sometimes you have to take a risk.” The best images are not always flattering or conventionally beautiful, but they demand attention and intrigue, or have a degree of authenticity. Alber Elbaz, head designer at French fashion house Lanvin, was initially unimpressed by his Vogue portrait, which was taken by the infamous Irving Penn. It wasn’t until his mother asked him why he looked so sad that he understood at this moment “…Irving Penn did not take a picture of me but he x-rayed me.” It is the editor’s responsibility to work alongside the photographer and the subject to ensure the end product is worth printing.

The group of formidable women profiled throughout In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye all appear to have a relentless passion for what they do / used to do. Tonne Goodman emphasises her gratitude when she says that, “Time is such a precious part of our life, and to be able to freeze a moment – whether it is conjured or whether it is spontaneous – is a kind of gift.” The women are depicted as being very strong, charismatic and outgoing, and Hamish Bowles notes that he admires them for being “very much larger than life, flamboyant, opinionated women.” It is their refusal to bow down to societal constraints and to subscribe to the norms that makes their work so noteworthy. Above anything, we are shown that they each have a keen eye for fashion and a great understanding of what makes an extraordinary photograph. 

“It is a family. It is a slightly dysfunctional family, but it is also a very close and warm and loving family.” – Anna Wintour
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