Aug. 28, 2009 — -- She's been called an ice queen, an alien and most notably, the devil that inspired Meryl Streep's frosty turn in "The Devil Wears Prada."
But according to the director of a new documentary, demonizing "Vogue" editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is so 2006.
"This is the real Anna Wintour," said R.J. Cutler of her depiction in "The September Issue," the film he directed about the meticulous making of "Vogue's" behemoth September 2007 edition.
Cutler condenses eight months of behind-the-scenes footage into a 90-minute fashion porn with Wintour, 59, serving as the immaculately dressed star. From New York to Paris and back again, he sought the answer to his central question -- who is Anna Wintour?
In keeping with her fictional versions, Wintour is unapologetically chilly. (Cutler called her corner office a "freezer of efficiency.") She subsists on Starbucks and reserves eye contact for a precious few, excluding even world-famous designers like Oscar de la Renta. She reduces her most amiable staffers to dramatic lamentations ("I want to kill myself!") and she isn't shy about her politically incorrect love of fur.
Not so fast.
Behind the ubiquitous bob and dark designer shades, Cutler claims he discovered - gasp! – a human being.
He said: "She's a mom and a boss and a business leader and a daughter… all rolled into one."
Indeed, during candid moments of "The September Issue," single mom Wintour is seen at home, dressed down in a Lacoste polo shirt, poring over back issues of "Vogue" with her college-age daughter, Bee Shaffer. Wintour appears as wounded as your average parent when Shaffer wrinkles her nose at the family business, saying she wants to pursue law instead.
"She wants me to be an editor … but I just don't want to take it too seriously," Shaffer said of fashion. "It's really amusing … but if that's your career, there are other things out there, seriously."
Throughout the documentary, the so-called devil wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to making her family proud.
Wintour speaks reverently of her late father, Charles Wintour, the exacting editor of London's Evening Standard newspaper, but there are hints of self-consciousness when she stacks her job against those of her accomplished siblings – who work in global labor relations, low-income housing and political journalism.
"My brothers and sister are very amused by what I do," Wintour tells the camera almost shamefully.
Cutler calls it a "richly human" moment.
"It is ironic that Anna Wintour, who is revered and feared and admired, imagines that she isn't taken seriously by the people who she most wants to be taken seriously by," he said. "That's Shakespeare."
If Wintour's influence is lost on her siblings, "The September Issue" will serve as a reminder of her totalitarian rule over not only "Vogue" but the fashion world at large.
A boardroom full of retailers takes notes as she declares, "the jacket is the new coat." Designers clamor for her approval in private showings, knowing her opinion can make or break a new couture collection. She deems Jean Paul Gaultier too gloomy, but anoints budding designer Thakoon Panichgul with a single world -- "gorgeous."
Presiding over a fashion bible demands much from Wintour. Perhaps that's why she's so, well, efficient.
"The principle on which she bases her decision making is almost always -- 'Is this good for the fashion business?' said Cutler. "If the answer's 'yes,' that's the decision she goes with."
Wintour herself admits it isn't easy being the b-word -- boss, that is.
"I'm not always warm and cuddly," she said during a relatively light-hearted appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" this week. "But I appreciate wonderful work."