The fashion industry is one whose lacquered image can be as alienating as it is appealing, and so documentaries exposing its inner workings are often particularly alluring. They can offer behind-the-scenes glimpses into the hallowed French ateliers where unwavering devotion is hand-sewn into the bodices of couture gowns, or explore the human side of fabulous air-kissing; expose ethically questionable practices or openly parody the ridiculous. Equally, they can coin phrases that will forever remain on the lips of popular culture aficionados (we’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank André Leon Talley of The September Issue for giving us “it’s a famine of beauty, honey! My eyes are starving for beauty!”) Tonight, to mark the first day of New York Fashion Week, a new documentary leading us inside post-Raf Simons Dior will air, promising to conduct a comprehensive two-part investigation into the new identity of the house. In honour of the fashion documentary as a medium, here we’ve compiled a selection of our all-time favourites that you simply must add to your watch list immediately.
1. Dior and I (2014)
When Raf Simons took the helm of Christian Dior in 2012, the world was watching with much anticipation. Dior and I recounts the tale of Simons’ appointment and the challenges he faced while creating his debut couture collection in just eight weeks. Believe it or not, with the help of his wonderful team of seamstresses, Raf managed to pull it off to resounding acclaim (albeit whilst shedding some tears in the process).
2. Signé Chanel (2005)
Directed by Loic-Prigent, this five-part documentary series investigates the creation of another haute couture collection – but this time the limelight falls on the infamous Karl Lagerfeld and his labcoat-wearing atelier team, situated on the Rue Cambon. The documentary also offers a rare insight into the life of Raymonde Pouzieux, who has been making Chanel’s signature braiding at her farm in Loiret since 1947.
3. Notebook on Cities & Clothes (1989)
Notebook on Cities & Clothes is a Wim Wenders-directed portrait of Yohji Yamamoto, reflecting on the cities and people that inspire his work as the designer prepares for a presentation of his collection in Paris. A particularly notable scene is one in which the director observes Yamamoto rifling through old photographs, the designer noting how he is enchanted by the cut of Jean-Paul Sartre’s lapels in a snapshot by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
4. Unzipped (1995)
Isaac Mizrahi was dating Douglas Keeve in 1994, and from the loins of their relationship came Unzipped, a portrait of Mizrahi directed by his lover, chronicling the designer’s life prior to the unveiling of his A/W94 collection. Sadly, the documentary proved too much of a strain on their partnership, and the two split up over it. Luckily for us, it’s as strong as it ever was, including this clip of Eartha Kitt being totally fabulous.
5. Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (2010)
Halston is a designer whose name is synonymous with 1970s glamour and the glittering culture of New York after dark. With interviews from Liza Minnelli, Diane Von Furstenberg, Anjelica Huston and aforementioned André Leon Talley, Ultrasuede is a scintillating portrayal of the man who defined an era of unadulterated wonder.
6. Helmut Newton: Frames from The Edge (1989)
German-Austrian photographer Helmut Newton escaped from Nazi-occupied Berlin in 1936. Frames from The Edge follows Newton on a journey from Los Angeles, to Paris and ultimately his return to Berlin, capturing his working methods and the spirit of the 1980s fashion industry along the way. Expect to see a full examination of Newton at work on set and discussing the themes of his photography.
7. Catwalk (1995)
Catwalk embodies the golden age of the supermodel, following Christy Turlington through fashion shows in Milan, Paris and New York in the early 1990s, as Turlington and her fellow clan of Amazonian women dash from one runway to the next at lightning speed. Extended footage looks at Versace and Armani in Milan, Galliano, Gaultier, and Lagerfeld in Paris, and Isaac Mizrahi in New York, highlighting the friendships that grow between designers and models.
8. The Secret World of Haute Couture (2007)
Director Margy Kinmonth travels from Paris to New York to California to meet and interview haute couture clients and the designers who they revere as sartorial deities. An intimate look at this little-understood pocket of the fashion industry, this documentary examines the unwritten rules of haute couture and what it means to belong to such an exclusive club of wealthy women: those willing to spend thousands upon thousands of pounds on dresses they might only wear once.
9. Girl Model (2011)
A dark – and at times disturbing – account of an ex-model turned scout trekking through the Siberian countryside in search of fresh faces for the runway, Girl Model provides much-needed insight into the sometimes unethical practices of the modelling industry, where very young girls from Eastern Europe can be exploited via the promise of success and the need to provide for their families back home.
10. Issey Miyake Moves (1993)
A tour of Issey Miyake’s studio and factory, spotlighting the Japanese designer’s innovative use of pleating and wrinkles, which subsequently opened up a whole new world of possibility for the movement of fabric on the body. The rare documentary depicts the process of twisting and folding material by hand, before it is baked to preserve its form, alongside conversations with Miyake on his training and some of his favourite projects (such as designing costumes for William Forsyth’s Frankfurt Ballet and Lithuania’s 1992 Olympic team). Pleats, please!