Apparently, shopping every day isn’t a very sustainable way of living! Who would have thought? I’m kidding of course, although the desire to buy pretty dresses and shoes is anything but a joke. I can’t, so I’m going to do the next best thing: watch fashion documentaries.
More than a juicy, deeply satisfying peek into all the drama that goes on, fashion documentaries are actually a good way to get insight into how the multi-billion-dollar industry operates. As someone who has spent several years working in fashion, I clearly understand its duality: on the surface, it can seem superficial and pompous. After all, dressing well is all about looking good on the outside, right?
Not exactly. Fashion is a very powerful form of expression, a way to match your outside appearance to how you feel inside. It’s also a very effective way of creating impressions and sending a message: you may feel like crap inside sometimes, but you can still show people that you are not to be messed with.
As these films will show, fashion can be both visceral and intellectual — something that appeals to the basest of emotions and the highest form of thought at the same time. Does that sound similar to how you would describe art? That’s because it is art.
If you want to have a look at how designers come up with their ideas and how people in fashion become powerful influencers in their own right, here are six fashion documentaries you should watch.
Dior and I. In 2012, designer Raf Simons was given the monumental task of being the artistic director at the House of Dior. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, he was also given eight weeks to produce his first haute couture collection for the brand, something that usually takes six months.
Spoiler alert: Simons and team pull off the challenge with aplomb, despite initial doubts about Simons’ appointment as artistic director.
Besides the tension and the fact that the entire thing is in French (with subtitles, worry not), what makes it even more interesting is the intimate look at the unsung heroes: the seamstresses who made Simons’ vision come to life.
The September Issue. If Vogue is the style bible, Anna Wintour is Jesus. Pardon the sacrilege, but can you really blame me for saying such a thing? Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue USA, is without doubt one of the most important and powerful people in the industry. She dictates what’s in and what’s out, and nobody dares to question her proclamations.
The September Issue follows Wintour as she and her team plan the Vogue September 2007 issue. September, if you didn’t know, is the most important month for fashion — it’s no coincidence that fashion week happens during this month in New York City, Paris, Milan, and London.
This film is not just important, it’s also extremely enjoyable. How can it not be? Its tone is exactly that of Wintour’s — crisp and with understated sass. Supporting cast includes, oh, no one that important, just Vera Wang, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, and Jean Paul Gaultier. As fashion documentaries go, this one is a perennial favourite and it never goes out of style.
The First Monday in May. The film documents the creation of “China: Through the Looking Glass,” the most popular fashion show that the Metropolitan Museum of Art ever produced. It was an exploration of the impact of China on Western fashions, headed by Andrew Bolton.
You’ll remember the Met Gala for this exhibition as the one where Rihanna showed up in that gorgeous yellow creation with the very heavy, fur-trimmed cape (it required three handlers).
Advanced Style. One of the best things about growing older is shedding all the inhibitions and insecurities that haunted you when you were young. Nowhere is this more delightfully captured than in Ari Cohen’s Advanced Style.
With most fashion documentaries inundated by barely legal models, this one is refreshing in that it follows the sartorial adventures of elderly ladies in New York City. They make accessories from recycled toilet paper rolls, falsies from their own hair, and dress outrageously simply because they can.
Iris. Iris Apfel didn’t give a damn about going to parties — she was all about dressing up for it. In the film, she recalls the moment when a woman told her, “You’re not pretty, and you’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. You have something much better. You have style.”
If all this doesn’t make clear to you just how interesting Apfel is, I’ll also remind you that she’s already 93 years old and still incredibly active and relevant in the industry. Oh, and she’s also got her own emojis coming out soon, which again goes to show just how embedded she is in the current zeitgeist. You know who else has emojis? Kim Kardashian. We should all be so popular.
Bill Cunningham New York. You may not recognise Bill Cunningham, but you’ll have seen plenty of his work. Cunningham has been called the “inventor of street style.” He was that unassuming man who rode around New York City in a bicycle, taking pictures of well-dressed people. So influential was his work that Anna Wintour herself has said, “We all get dressed for Bill.”
Even more interesting is the fact that Cunningham made the conscious decision to stay out of the spotlight himself. “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.” The man chose integrity and authenticity over money, a powerful message in today’s culture of materialism.
Perhaps the most apt of all fashion documentaries to watch this weekend is this one. Cunningham had passed away yesterday at the age of 87, leaving many in the fashion world grieving.
Looking for more movies to watch? Check out my eight favourite films about horses.
Track Mode is a horse racing and fashion site founded and curated by Nina O’Brien. Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive race day fashion edits delivered straight to your inbox, and find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google +.