Last week, when I was compiling my list of the top 10 movies with style, a few fashion documentaries slipped in, and I realized this genre deserved a list entirely of its own. If you’ve been watching my personal Instagram account (@reallywrongfong) or PaperCity‘s (@papercitydallas), you know I’ve been attempting to keep style alive via #papercitychic while I shelter-in-place.
Post-work hours have been filled with shows like Ozark and 30 Rock, but I need a daily infusion of style to keep me motivated and inspired to walk in my closet each morning and find an outfit. These real-world stories of fashion designers, style icons, and hallowed retailers are enough to make you want to throw on your chicest jacket and most fabulous pair of shoes to announce yourself — in today’s coronavirus world, most likely at the grocery store or via a Zoom meeting.
I present them in no particular order:
I must confess, this is my favorite. I’ve seen it close to 100 times. I grew up in a time that was pre-Internet and sans expanded cable. For fashion, you had to go to the bookstore to thumb through Vogue or wait until Saturday mornings for Style with Elsa Klensch on CNN.This documentary on Isaac Mizrahi was the first film I had ever seen about fashion. I was living in New York City and went to the theater with friends to see it (I ended up going back two more times). Once it came out on videotape, I got it and now have a cherished DVD. I still pull it on occasionally.
Who knew that you could become an influencer in your 90s? Well, Iris Apfel, who turns 99 this summer, has become a style legend among the Millennial and Gen Z set due to this 2014 film, which was directed by Albert Maysles (who, along with his brother David, also created the fascinating Grey Gardens).Apfel had always had been an icon to the in-the-know fashion set and was finally put in front of a larger audience via the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel,” which opened in September 2005. I realized she was a true kindred spirit when she said, “I didn’t give a damn about going to the party or being at the party — it was getting dressed for the party. And there’s truth and poetry in that.” Cheers. Iris.
Some might call Anna Wintour the most important fashion editor of all time, but I disagree. It was Diana Vreeland. She had her finger on the pulse, and perhaps that was reason enough to be a frequent visitor at Studio 54.
The Secret World of Haute Couture
I’ve only seen this BBC documentary once. I caught it on television while visiting the UK more than 10 years ago. What’s so enthralling is the women with whom they scored interviews. This notoriously private set would never speak of something as crass as spending on luxury.Some of those famed socialites include Betsy Bloomingdale, Carroll Petrie, and Houston’s own Becca Cason Thrash. Bloomingdale even takes the crew through her Holmby Hills home and closets; she pulls out one dress that has a note card detailing when and where she’d worn it, including once to a party at the Dallas Country Club. Unfortunately, I can’t find the complete movie anywhere to stream, but you can find priceless clips on YouTube.
Valentino: The Last Emperor
The title alone should make you run to your television to turn it on.
House of Z
This fashion documentary on Zac Posen made the list above some other designers (Dries Van Noten, Halston, Ralph Lauren) I considered, simply due to its honesty. This film shares the struggles, including rebuilding his reputation and brand, that the wunderkind experienced as he grew up.
Dior & I
He wasn’t quite the bad boy of fashion, but Raf Simons was definitely a disruptor. Channeling Christian Dior, his garments spoke to the past but in such a modern way that he created a new cult-like following of women. It’s interesting to rewatch this movie, given that since then he has held the top spot at Calvin Klein (but if you blinked, you missed that) and, as of April 1, is now co-creative director of Prada.
The title was inspired by a famed Victoria Roberts cartoon in an April 1990 issue of The New Yorker, in which a fashionista proclaims: “I want my ashes scattered over Bergdorf’s” — the legendary store that occupies an entire city block on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.This fashion documentary includes countless interviews with socialites (Susan Lucci, Patrick McDonald), celebrities (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Candice Bergen), and designers (Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Lela Rose) who share why that store is so important to their lives.I love the moment where the late, great Joan Rivers discusses shopping their with her mother and that it is her go-to for buying gifts for her own daughter. They even show clips of the film The Muppets Take Manhattan where she’s with Miss Piggy on the main floor of the iconic NYC institution. The most priceless moment, however, comes from personal shopper Betty Halbreich. When asked, “What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?” she answers, without skipping a beat, “Drinking.”
It’s a little complicated to explain the premise behind this movie — and I worry that by doing so, I risk a spoiler moment. That said, it details a 1973 competition that pitted five of the top American designers against five top designers from the other side of the pond and was held at the Palace of Versailles. Call it Thunder Dome, but the sartorial equivalent. Movie stars, artists, and fallen European aristocracy were in attendance that evening, where Liza Minnelli also happened to perform. Hopefully that’s enough of a teaser to entice a viewing.
In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye
Sure, Vogue has had a few fashion documentaries (some might consider The Devil Wears Prada one), including The September Issue, The First Monday in May, and the one noted above on the life of Diana Vreeland. But this is my favorite. I adore this one since it doesn’t strictly spotlight Anna Wintour but the many other editors who have been instrumental in shaping the magazine and ensuring that it remains engaging. Quirky and colorful personalities include Polly Mellen, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, and Tonne Goodman.