An Issue of Relevance with “The September Issue”

Taking  a break from the rigours of standardized testing, I watched a documentary centred around Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine. If you haven’t yet heard of Wintour aka “the single most important figure in the $300-billion fashion industry”, check out The September Issue trailer here, winner of a 2009 Sundance Film Festival Award. I’ll admittedly say that as a UBC student I don’t tend to run in the circles of high fashion, but was curious about Anna’s established success and reputation.

The scene that motivated this post was an interview where Director, R.J. Cutler asked Anna what her family thought of her success. Anna responded, “they find what I do very amusing.” Anna goes on to describe her siblings and their respected career paths- a brother who works to find housing for those who can’t afford it, a sister who defends the rights of farmers in Latin America, and her brother, the Political Editor of The Guardian. Anna calls her siblings ‘geniuses’ but, clearly hurt, she is explicit that they do not hold the same acknowledgment of her work. Why not?

Anna’s controversial career and noted recognition within the industry is renowned and can be reviewed here. Is fashion too extravagant and frivolous a trade to earn success? Do the Arts suffer from this principle? What are the other factors that contribute to the perception of success?

Would your family’s, friends’ or industry’s acknowledgement and approval matter in your evaluation of self-success? Despite believing that my field is important, if my dad found my work ‘amusing’ I’m pretty sure I would be switching career paths. (He doesn’t, he’s proud, thanks dad).

With this reflection came the (kind of scary) realization that success is not benchmarked or universally recognized. I could do everything possible to be successful for myself, yet be ignored by entire segments of the population. How much does recognition and respect matter? How much of success is relevant to values, beliefs, or interests? How much of success is just…success?

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9 Responses to “An Issue of Relevance with “The September Issue””

  1. Nikki Rosychuk

    As a former Fashion Design major with minor in Illustration, I can honestly say I have been in Anna’s shoes. Well maybe not her exact pair of LV stilettos just yet!

    A personal story comes to mind to illustrate this . . . Two years ago as I was traveling home for Christmas, a charming young accountant intrigued by my new copy of the Economist initiated a flirtatious conversation we me (I know what you are thinking, Santa did give me an extra Christmas present!). We bantered back and forth on domestic politics and foreign affairs, until he asked me my major . . . needless to say his whole demeanor changed. I went from the feisty sexy female to the small town girl next door. Words like ‘cute’ became more prevalent and the discussion made a sharp turn to the light side.

    These situations seemed to happen to me all the time. I use to think it was all in my head until I changed majors. Now, as a current double major in Political Science and Philosophy, the cute persona rarely comes across, and boys seem to run away fearing looming intellectual domination. . . all because of my chosen academic focus.

    Ironically, my career path has remained the same. In the future, I intend to work with the fashion industry and in particular with their PR departments, which do raise awareness for human rights and other issues. One example is Gap’s Project Red.

    My dream has remained the same, my standards and interests the same. Eventually I too will be successful and wear the LV shoes – it maybe to a diplomatic convention but the fashionista with a passion for politics will always be there.

  2. ElysaHogg

    Thanks for sharing a personal story, I’m sure Anna got that a lot in her early career! I guess what I want to know is did situations like this contribute to changing your major?

  3. Kathleen

    Love this post and love this movie! Anna put herself in a vulnerable position allowing the cameras to follow her around. After watching the documentary I realized she is a BUSY lady who has her moments but at the end of the day Anna does what she does because she loves it … and don’t we all do what we do because we love it? The fact that the arts are not as recognized occurs all the time it’s like my boyfriend mocking my course material because it’s not engineering! Not everyone is cut out to be an engineer or scientist and people have to do what the love. Anna’s siblings are extremely accomplished in respected fields but as a lover of fashion I think Anna opens a lot of doors for young designers who dream big or photographers wanting to make a beautiful image stand out. I think success must be measured on your own because everyone has a different definition. This may be too idealistic but it’s what I think DO WHAT YOU LOVE.

    Nikki, I loved your personal story. =)

  4. ElysaHogg

    So true Kathleen. Sometimes I think the greatest success is coming home at the end of the day and being happy with your work and what you did.

  5. Andre

    I agree with Kathleen that ultimately, success should be defined by what our passion is. The trouble with that, though, is that sometimes we’re passionate about our family. I’m lucky, like Elysa, to have parents that are proud of what I’m doing, but I remember distinctly what it was like to tell them that I was switching from the Honours Physics program at UBC to Political Science! It was quite the shock, especially because I come from a culture that so strongly pushes to produce nurses, doctors, and engineers.

    Fashion is a funny thing. You could easily classify it as “high-art,” but at the same time, it doesn’t get the respect that dance, music, and theater tend to get. The Arts are underrated enough as a whole, but even within the art community there seem to be socialized hierarchies for what ought to be respected and what shouldn’t be. Who made those rules?

  6. Julia

    Great post, speaks to the internal drummings of the heart that students of all ages experience. I really like the question that you posed of “How much of success is actually success”? How possible is it to actually separate the reactions of others from someone’s personal conception of pride in one’s own line of work?
    I had a similar experience in first year after switching faculties from science to arts after the first two weeks of school. I distinctly remember flipping through the UBC calendar desperately trying to find a major in the arts that would placate my emotional parents who audibly voicing their regrets of crossing our family “over the ocean” if I wasn’t even going to be a doctor when I could have. I flipped to the major “International Relations” by chance and thought it sounded cool, not knowing that it would seriously alter my life path.
    After making them realize the opportunities within this field in the Arts, my parents are singing a different tune. But what if I didn’t get involved in the program and have something to show for it when I returned home? Would they still have seen my faculty switch as a success? Probably not.
    I think that it’s a natural part of us to crave recognition for our achievements, especially with family. It’s just interesting how blurred that line is from rendering something successful only if certain people believe it to be so.
    My high school English Literature teacher always told us that it’s primarily in North America where the Arts are underappreciated … she’s brilliant, and I ate up everything she ever said. I’ve held on to that little gem to remember: definitions of success are oh so very relative.

  7. ElysaHogg

    Andre: Not only who made those rules, but why do we reinforce them ourselves? Does it reinforce our confidence in our discipline to know that we are worthier than others?
    Julia: A great quote from your Eng Lit teacher, you should send this along to her and let her know that I will definitely remember what she said as well.

    Director R.J. Cutler told The Huffington Post four takeaway points he learned when filming Wintour. Interestingly enough, they’re principles that we can all live by- regardless of discipline.

    Also, no comments on this from the Sciences?! Florin, Dave, Sarah?????

  8. Dominika Ziemczonek

    Julia, I think I know the Lit teacher you’re referring to! I think she would most definitely appreciate this article, Elysa.

    I recall this Lit teacher always bringing up the devaluation of the Arts in our society. Lit classes would grow smaller and smaller over the years as students opted for “practical” classes like Physics and Chemistry over Lit, Creative Writing, and even History.

    As much as this perspective upsets me, I buy into it as well. Before embarking on the social sciences path, I was intent on getting a Music BA, not because I wanted to be rich (obviously), but because I loved it.

    Lately, I’ve noticed (in myself and others) a measure of success depending on the practicality or utility of a particular activity or path. I even caught myself questioning the “purpose or usefulness” of my friend’s music BA – the same one I wanted two years ago!

    Why do we measure success by practical application or usefulness? Why is a can-opener (stupid example, but the point still stands) seen as more inherently useful than a beautiful piece of music or poem that touches someone and uncovers something about the human condition? Also, how do we measure usefulness?

    I know I’ve deviated a bit from the original post, but I think this does relate to the overall post. Perhaps why we don’t value (some of) the arts as much as we should because we don’t see their inherent usefulness. The designer shirt I bought won’t help me walk faster or spell check my documents or file my taxes. Then again, I could be totally off-base here. Thoughts?

  9. ShawnForde

    I think that usefulness and success are both very subjective. Ultimately, people want to have an impact on the world around them; they want to serve some purpose – or at least I hope they do. If you are an engineer and you build a bridge it is very easy to see your contribution. The usefulness of the bridge and the person who built the bridge are obvious. If you get people safely across the river you have made a positive contribution – you could complicate things by brining in environmental degradation and habitat destruction and so forth, but I’ll leave that for now. If you write a book or paint a picture about a journey across a river, the impact and usefulness is determined by the interpretations of others.

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