What to Watch: 7 fashion documentaries to catch up with this weekend

For years the mystique and glamour of the fashion industry captured the imagination of many, but only a selected few got to experience the actual goings-on of this bizarre yet fascinating world. In 2021, the appetite to get a close look at the industry is still strong, with fashion films and documentaries booming (Halston premiered last week and went straight to Netflix’s top 10, and House of Gucci – set for release in November – has been highly anticipated).

After all, the fashion world is a visual one, designed to ignite desire, and it seems that the desire does not stop at the garments, but it’s also about getting that rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of its inner workings.

From profiles of fashion trailblazers to iconic supermodels and legendary photographers, to illustrators and history-making costume designers, we selected 7 fashion documentaries to inspire you and fire up your imagination.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco (2017)

Photo: Antonio Lopez / Courtesy of The Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, 2012. From Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco directed by James Crump.

Antonio Lopez was a fashion illustrator for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Interview and The New York Times. He worked with creative director Juan Ramos and together were responsible for a major shift in fashion: they pushed for the inclusion of models of colour in their work and discovered the iconic beauties of the 70s – Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Tina Chow, Jerry Hall. He didn’t live a long life as he died in 1987 of complications from AIDs, but in those four decades, he enchanted everyone in his orbit with the tidal wave of creativity he unleashed. The documentary is a warm remembrance of his fiery spirit and a vivid period portrait of 70s New York and Paris.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)

Diana Vreeland in Vogue Office 1965. Photograph by James Karales. Courtesy of the Estate of James Karales.

The fashion legend Diana Vreeland and the history of her legacy at Harper’s Bazaar and as Vogue’s editor-in-chief from 1963 to 1971. Pieced together from extracts of her memoirs, filmed interviews, and accounts of people who worked closely with her, the documentary is an enchanting celebration of Vreeland’s extraordinary life and outrageous passions.

Franca: Chaos and Creation (2016)

Franca Sozzani by Peter Lindberg (2012)

When Franca Sozzani took over as editor-in-chief at Vogue Italia, she turned the magazine into one of the most cultural and art-led publications under the brand’s umbrella. Directed by Francesco Carrozzini, her son, the documentary is an intimate portrait of the enigmatic Sozzani (a woman of famously few words). Driven and determined, she had a unique way of fusing social issues with fashion which provoked loads of reactions worldwide, which nevertheless made all eyes turn to Vogue Italia and the subject matters it touched upon.

McQueen (2018)

Courtesy of Bleecker Street.

A powerful and compelling insight into McQueen’s life and career, focusing on the man behind the darkness and the romance. His story has been highly publicised but through the documentary, we get to see closely who Lee was, through his collections and candid interviews of the people who knew him and loved him, culminating in the loss that left the fashion industry bereft ever since.

Ruth Carter: Costume Design – Episode 3 from Abstract: The Art of Design (2019)

Ruth E. Carter at a launch party for her H&M collection, Ruthless, at the Georgia Freight Depot (2020)
Photography courtesy of H&M.

The costume designer Ruth Carter has over 40 films to her credit and made history as the first-ever African-American costume designer to win an Academy Award in that category. A storyteller in her own right, Carter has mastered the look of multiple periods and genres envisioning the clothing and appearance of the characters in incredible detail. The episode is a fascinating close up of her upbringing, her work, her inspirations and her methods.

Helmut Newton: The Bad And The Beautiful (2020)

Helmut at home, Monte Carlo, 1987 (c) Foto Alice Springs, Helmut Newton Estate
Courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation.

A look at the life and the complex legacy of the controversial Helmut Newton aka ‘The King of Kink.’ His work was often accused of depicting women in a fetishist, or even misogynistic, way, so director Von Boehm was adamant on an all-female cast list to talk about Newton and their personal experience of working with him. Von Boehm even attempts to trace any possible biographical origins of Newton’s aesthetic – he grew up as a German Jew when Hitler came to power and was surrounded by idealised notions of beauty sold by Leni Riefenstahl in Nazi propaganda – but he leaves it up to us to ponder on the connections between the themes in his work and this formative influence.

Catwalk (1995)

Still from Catwalk (1995, dir. Robert Leacock)

Catwalk follows the supermodel Christy Turlington Burns over the course of the Spring/Summer 1994 shows, from backstage at Versace in Milan to attending fittings for Chanel in Paris. A rare glimpse into the lives of the very first supermodels (Campbell, Moss, Christensen, Evangelista all make an appearance), and industry titans such as Galliano and Gianni Versace.

More to come.


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