"I have learned that documentary makers are incredibly sneaky people,” Anna Wintour told Today’s anchor Savannah Guthrie with a slight smile. “ They just follow you around until you make a complete fool of yourself and say something you deeply regret.” Wintour is the editor-in-chief of Vogue, artistic director for Condé Nast, and the helm of the annual fundraiser Met Gala. As one of the highest powers in fashion, Wintour has been portrayed in different documentaries, mostly showing her icy public persona.
The star-studded Met Gala, which has raised more than $150 million for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, became the subject of a new documentary called The First Monday in May. Wintour said she had so much respect for the Emmy-nominated filmmaker, Andrew Rossi’s 2011 work, Page One: Inside The New York Times. “I think we all felt we were in safe hands,” she explained of working with Rossi on the film.
Director Rossi’s gliding camera gave a sneak peek of both the party and the 2015 exhibition “China: Through The Looking Glass.” The idea was to bring together pieces from the Museum’s Chinese Galleries collection and Chinese-inspired fashion, including the works of John Galliano, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Chinese designer Guo Pei.
The documentary scratched the surface on a lot of topics: celebrating fashion as art, the mixture of art and commerce, the power of celebrities in high fashion, the politic with the Ancient Art Department, and the Chinese’s portrayal in Western culture. The movie also points out the stereotype of the Dragon Lady, a figure to describe powerful women who we project our fears onto.
“Let me say something about this Dragon Lady,” the Gala’s creative consultant and film director Baz Luhrmann shares his insight. ”I’ve seen [Anna] play the person everyone thinks she is. But it's a character; it's her work armor. But I do think that if Anna was a man, there might be less focus on that.”
Rossi captures Wintour as intimidatingly superior but also as a much-needed pragmatic decision maker. For him, it was not an easy journey to get Wintour’s trust, “The first time I shot with her one-on-one by meeting her at six o’clock in the morning, when she was getting ready to go to a meeting at the museum.” In an interview for the DVD’s special features, Rossi explains that he was waiting for Wintour to come out on the dark, cold November dawn, about eight months before the gala.
As with his other movies, Rossi tried to build up certain intimacy with his subjects. Half a year after their first meeting, Wintour finally lets Rossi and his crews film the inside of her house. The 66-year-old was boiling water while wearing a gray sweater, dark navy jeans, Tod’s blue flat shoes, as casual as Anna Wintour could be. Rossi captured the moment when Wintour was looking touched seeing her beautiful daughter Katherine "Bee" Shaffer put on a Sarah Burton’s dress. Even though Wintour still keeps her Gucci sunglasses on, that scene helps humanize the fashion titan’s public profile.
As expected, Rossi also gives the audience a The Devil Wears Prada moment, dramatizing the seating-chart planning as a power brokering. "We have to keep the numbers down and also the free seats," Wintour tells the former Costume Institute curator, Harold Koda. “There must be another way that we can accommodate people. You’ll figure it out,” the shot ended with Wintour’s smirk. Despite being labeled as the "Super Bowl" of fashion, the Met Gala is still an intimate party for A-list celebrities, designers, and politicians. Only 500 people made the guest list, and the price ranges from $30,000 per ticket to $275,000 per table, depending on the size of the brand and its relationship with Vogue. Some celebs, including Solange Knowles, ended up getting a bad table – unlike her sister, Beyoncé who has the best seat near the stage. Chloe Sevigny in her JW Anderson dress feels like she was an outcast in high school when her table is switched so the H&M one can be closer to the stage.
Of course, it would be inappropriate not to mention Andrew Bolton, the real heart of this documentary. With his less commanding presence, Bolton makes an excellent narrator guiding us through the whole behind the scene process. The viewers could picture the little kid from Lancashire totally in "awe" doing his dream as the curator of the Costume Institute. It's hard not to find him likable, after learning the incredible amount of creative thinking and hard work that goes into making the exhibition.
"Every year we get a lot of attention obviously for the party, but in the end, it's Andrew's work that we are celebrating," Wintour admits. The relationship between Bolton and Wintour is very supportive, they also seen sitting together in Comme des Garçons Spring 2016 Runway’s front row yesterday.
Bolton achieved his goal to outdo his legendary “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibition. More than 800,000 people visited “China: Through the Looking Glass.” The 2015 Met Gala raised a record $12.5 million for the Museum, thanks to Wintour.
The First Monday in May perhaps didn't show deep analysis of its subject, but it is breathtaking and easy to enjoy. One can’t help but wonder will there be a movie that documents Anna Wintour’s life? Will there be a documentary that finally breaks her Dragon Lady persona?