The Top 10 Fashion Documentaries

Documentaries are the perfect way to understand the world of fashion a little better. Whether it’s focusing on a particular individual or an institution as a whole, these documentaries function as both a historical guide and social exploration of the demanding and elusive fashion industry. Here is a list of the most compelling and well-made documentaries out there now.

The September Issue (2009)

Filming throughout the process of putting together Vogue’s largest issue in the year, The September Issue, is a remarkable insight into the work process of Vogue magazine. From pulling fashion shoots to choosing the face of the issue, you get to experience Anna Wintour’s hardened decisions, while also meeting lesser known contributors and stylist that make a huge impact on Vogue. The documentary is thorough and digestible for any level of fashion knowledge. For those interested in working in fashion journalism, this documentary is both realistic and engaging.  

Dior and I (2014)

Dior and I follows Raf Simons in his first collection with the brand. The documentary introduces the hype around the new designer and the viewer gets to see how his vision takes off, from sketches to the runway. The documentary also highlights the important work of the entire atelier as well, helping to viewer to understand the purpose of couture, compared to ready-to-wear. The film finished with the final runway show, a culmination of all the hard work throughout the season. The dresses and backdrop are absolutely mesmerizing, infused with the classism of Dior and totally worth the watch. 

The First Monday in May (2016)

The Met Gala receives a huge amount of hype running up to the event – who’s going to wear what? How will this suit the theme? Some may not realise that the entire event is to mark the opening of the Museum of Modern Art’s new fashion exhibition. This documentary explores the process of putting on such an elaborate show, how fashion is archived and included in exhibitions and what the Met Gala actually achieves. It covers the theme of East meets West, showcasing Chinese inspired western fashion. Following Andrew Bolton and Anna Wintour, the viewer experiences the time-pressured, artistic process – from organising the exhibition down to organising the seating plan. The whole feature is riddled with dazzling costumes, delving into the history of fashion, as well as showcasing the stunning interpretations of the theme on the red carpet.

McQueen (2018)

A dark and chilling documentary investigating this unbelievable talent and sad story of Alexander McQueen, from humble beginnings to the height of his success, and then to his eventual suicide. The documentary is executed with the upmost care and attention to detail – particularly the amazing skull graphics that introduce each chapter. This film is one of the greater biopics, in that it covers everything: the shows, his inspirations, how and why he is so popular, his character and his narrative. Everyone has heard of McQueen, but this film showcases the huge amount of work he was involved in yet he put everything into every design, and so his character shines through his work. Although harrowing in many ways, McQueen sets the standard for biopic filmmaking. 

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)

Similarly to McQueen Valentino: The Last Emperor is a biopic of the infamous Valentino. Framed by the eventual closing of his career, the film explores the events that influenced his fashion career, how he created his business empire and his legacy as one of the few brands retaining its original designer. Valentino is directly involved in the film, giving interviews and comments as he is followed through his work schedule.

Larger than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story (2017)

This documentary explores an unusual icon: Keyin Aucoin. As a famous makeup artist, rather than designer or institution, the biopic follows the success of his career and skill, particularly how he elevated the role of makeup artists in the industry. Kevyn Aucoin documented hours of his life on a handheld camera, and the documentary utilises this footage, so it feels like you’re experiencing his life on an intimate level. Kevyn Aucoin was afflicted by the rare disease of acromegly, as well as serious mental health issues, and so the documentary respectfully divulges the events leading up to his death. The documentary shows the darker side of such a glamorous industry, with his celebrity friends such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Andie MacDowell providing interviews on his character and why such a talented individual also suffered throughout his life.

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (2018)

As one of the few female designers making a huge name for herself, this documentary on Westwood makes an intriguing study into the rise and fall of the Punk movement, and how Westwood’s conviction and self-assuredness made her so popular. Although Ben Westwood, her son, denounced the documentary for being “mediocre” and “missing the real story”, the documentary does justice to Westwood’s cultural significance as well as her unique character. In her late 70s, Westwood is far from fading into the background, wearing flashy bright clothes and not holding back, her insights into fashion and punk are fascinating. 

Iris (2014)

At 97 years old, Iris Apfel is as iconic as ever, giving her no-nonsense opinions of everything and dressing exactly the way she pleases. The documentary inspires the viewer to dress for themselves and not for others, to see the potential and fun in fashion rather than its social pressures. There is something extremely adorable about the relationship between herself and her husband. With so many years in the industry, her wisdom and experience provide many insightful comments. 

Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards (2017)

This light-hearted exposition on the career of Manolo Blahnik gives a behind the scenes look at the icon’s success in the world of shoes. During the documentary, Manolo is quirky yet insightful, with an evident childish wonder at the world. The documentary interviews a variety of ‘big’ names in the industry as well as his close friends. There is something charming about learning of Manolo designing shoes for lizards as a young boy and going on to create a notorious brand. 

House of Z (2017)

Zac Posen, known for his illustrious gowns and appearing as a judge on Project Runway, delves into his climb to critical acclaim. The documentary stresses the influence and support of his family, working as a team for his brand, as well as journeying through the failures and decline of his brand and his recent comeback. As a young designer who achieves acclaim very quickly, the documentary focuses on how it’s hard to continue to meet expectations, providing a particularly realistic presentation of being a high fashion designer.

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