Haute Couture. A fashion icon and a rebel. Two formidable fashion magazine editors and one fantastic art exhibit. They are the subjects from some of the best fashion documentaries around lately.
Fashion documentaries allow us the opportunity to see the most brilliant minds of the fashion world at work, up close. With unlimited backstage access, we also get to understand their motivations in striving to be the industry’s best. As a special treat for our fashion fanboys and girls, we single out six well-directed, well-produced documentaries, the personal stories and passion of which are sure to inspire you as well.
Here are 6 of our favorite recent fashion documentaries:
1. Dior and I (2014)
For fashion die-hards, Dior and I is a fascinating look at Raf Simons, the Belgium designer who was the creative director for the House of Dior in 2012. The documentary follows Simons and his team as he takes on the daunting task of creating his first-ever Dior haute couture collection. With unlimited access, we get to go behind the scenes of how Simons incorporates his aesthetics into a highly respected brand.
In one particular scene, Simons, a huge fan of contemporary artist Sterling Ruby, uses one of Ruby’s paintings as inspiration. The process begins with the creation of the fabric, which takes days to meet Simons’ satisfaction. Then, with Dior’s atelier team, they construct beautiful dresses from this one-of-a-kind fabric. With only eight weeks to finish the collection, Simons and his staff pulls it off with an elegant and emotional show in the film’s final scene.
The film pays homage to Christian Dior through rarely seen footage of him, but the star of the show is Simons, who takes on the responsibility of modernizing the brand for a new generation. Like Monsieur Dior, Simons is shy and reserved in person. But luckily for us, he slowly unveils himself in this film to be a regular guy and a designer with a point of view.
2. First Monday in May (2016)
The Metropolitan Museum in New York City unveils a new fashion exhibit every year on the first Monday in May. Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of In-Tween was the theme for this year’s spectacular show. But before the Comme des Garçon exhibit, the Met produced two hugely successful others: Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty and China: Through the Looking Glass.
First Monday In May is a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process behind China: Through the Looking Glass. Andrew Bolton, the chief curator at the Costume Institute, conceptualized this idea and was the genius behind the exhibition. With the support of Anna Wintour and famed Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai, he presents this lavish show with over 150 garments in a visually stunning environment.
Like Dior and I, here we have unlimited backstage access to see how an exhibit of large proportions is curated. The logistics of putting the show together is of course painstaking, and through each phase of the project we see Bolton and his team face different challenges (along with their overcoming). In the end, the exhibit was a massive critical success. For us, the film perfectly conveys its underlying message of fashion as art.
3. Iris (2014)
Iris Apfel isn’t a household name, but you’ve seen her in TV commercials and print ads, owning her signature bold, colorful look. In this quirky documentary, we get to know Apfel personally. We also learn about her fascinating past, her fashion philosophy and the loving relationship with her husband Carl.
Apfel openly shares with us her personal philosophies of fashion and style. She’s a woman who owns tons of haute couture, but she equally loves to mix flea market buys into her wardrobe. As fans, we adore Apfel’s unique approach to life. We also appreciate her being an unconformist throughout her time on Earth. She shows us it’s more interesting to create a sense of individuality than to revel in mass appeal.
4. The September Issue (2009)
The September Issus is all about the real goings-on at Vogue magazine. It’s comparable to watching The Devil Wears Prada but with real editors and celebrities roaming the magazine’s halls.
This doc follows Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, as her team preps September’s infamous fashion issue. She runs the magazine with her precise manner and has a team of talents executing her vision brilliantly. Grace Coddington, the mag’s fiery creative director, equally steals the show as we see her style several high fashion shoots with taste and wit.
The September Issue gives us a real opportunity to see Wintour at her best, reigning as the queen of a fashion empire. Because of her reputation, industry insiders respect her expertise. This documentary also demystifies the notion that Wintour is the real-life Miranda Priestly, as in the scene wherein she mentors new talent Thakoon Panichgul in building his new business. We definitely see a softer side of the publishing industry’s “dragon lady.”
5. Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer (2015)
On the surface, Jeremy Scott lives a fabulous life. He surrounds himself with A-list friends — people like Katy Perry, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus — he jets around the world for business and he works with glamorous models in fashion shows. It seems Scott has it all. But Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer gives us an honest portrayal of the eccentric designer. It takes us back to his humble beginnings in Paris, when he struggled as a burgeoning voice of fashion. He also takes the audience back to Kansas City, Missouri, where he grew up on a farm filled with cows.
Throughout his long career, Scott has created bombastic pieces of art, from his eye-popping Adidas high top shoes to his signature collection for fashion eccentrics. Recently he also took on the creative director role for Moschino.
To be sure, some people find Scott’s work tacky and tasteless. But like Iris Apfel, Scott marches to the beat of his own drum. Never a conformist, he follows his own intuition and a different narrative, regardless of whether the mainstream finds it safe. For this reason, Jeremy Scott is indeed the people’s designer.
6. Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue (2016)
As the brain behind British Vogue, Alexandra Schulman is as influential as Anna Wintour though she may not have the same name recognition. In this two-part BBC series, the fashion fan gets a one-of-a-kind experience into how Schulman has kept the magazine relevant for the past 25 years.
As in The September Issue, this documentary shows the hectic pace inside one of the world’s leading fashion magazines. Featuring interviews with different editors and staff, we get to see how Schulman leads her team in the most chaotic of environments. For fashion aficionados, you also get to see a ton of celebrities, from Hugh Jackman to Victoria Beckham. We nearly fainted with excitement upon getting a glimpse of Kate Moss in the middle of a photo shoot.
The series also presents the serious and competitive side of the business. In the final hours leading to the printing of the issue, Schulman discovers that Rihanna is on both American and British April Vogue covers. To avoid direct competition — and confrontation — from her American counterpart, we watch Schulman swiftly solve this problem within 24 hours. In the end, it’s easy to equate British Vogue‘s success to Shulman’s tireless leadership. She may not be as flashy as Wintour, but Shulman definitely has the respect and admiration of her peers.
These fashion documentaries are all currently available to stream on Netflix.
Featured image by powerofforever via iStock