The problem with the BBC’s British Vogue documentary

One of the most uncomfortable moments of BBC One’s Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue occurs on a shoot with model Georgia-May Jagger and the actresses behind Absolutely Fabulous. Documentarian Richard Macer asks Jagger about her father Mick’s rumoured romantic past with one of the actresses present.

Such is the clumsy and reductive nature of his approach to this two-part documentary, in which Macer was granted unprecedented access to British Vogue for nine months during its centenary year. The obvious hope is to produce the British answer to R.J. Cutler’s much-lauded The September Issue, the 2009 documentary following the magazine’s American counterpart. Macer follows editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman and the rest of her team to gain unique insight into British Vogue.

The main problem with Macer’s documentary lies in his inability to move past cliches, as well as an obsession with British Vogue as a female-dominated world. Shulman is the magazine’s longest-serving editor. How instrumental she has been and continues to be in its success cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, Macer instead attempts to place Shulman in the role of overpowering female editor. Mercer portrays a disagreement about a cover image and Shulman’s power to have final say as dictatorial. Where Cutler sought to eschew popular ideas about Anna Wintour and locate Wintour’s motivation behind her trademark sunglasses, Macer seems to want the opposite for Shulman.

A failed attempt to reveal a rivalry between Shulman and Wintour again highlights Macer’s inability to move past lazy clichés. Again, Cutler celebrated the long-standing working relationship between Wintour and Coddington, highlighting but not lingering on ordinary working tensions, rather than seeking to promote drama.

Luckily the women behind the magazine to shine on their own. Both fashion news editor Julia Hobbs and fashion features editor Sarah Harris field Macer’s banal questions about their most expensive piece of clothing and how many pairs of jeans they own with a wryness that seems to go unnoticed by Macer. Hobbs provides a dry wit which, alongside fashion director Lucinda Chambers’ contribution, decodes the myths about the fashion industry that Macer seeks to substantiate.

Creative director Jaime Perlman emerges as the star of the show in a manner similar to Coddington with her passion and ability to be frank with Shulman. Macer seems naively unaware at the international reach and renown of these women, who are among the most influential in the British fashion scene. He is shocked at the media attention surrounding Harris in particular. A simple Google search would have enlightened him on this matter. As it would for the one question he chose to ask Kate Moss, wasting his sole opportunity with the supermodel – “how many Vogue covers have you had?”

Macer’s almost obsessive focus on femininity is obvious in his obsession with the lack of men in the building. In the first episode, he recounts a moment where he saw a man in the corridor and they exchanged “a look”. As though they, the two lone males, outnumbered by women, are in some way in need for solace. That he feels the need to comment on a female-skewed gender imbalance at the magazine, rather than focus on the editors to a greater extent than how many pairs of jeans they own and any potential cattiness between the women, is perhaps the greatest failing of the two-part documentary.


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