Must-Binge Fashion Documentaries To Feed Your Inspiration
While you all have likely returned from your Holy Week respite, recharged both by the sentiment of the break, but also by the sun’s rays, I write to you from my little nook in Brooklyn where the fifth snowstorm in the past month has me stuck in a perpetual winter hell. (So much for the bikini-clad stereotypes of Spring Break.)
Lucky for you, this weather has kept me indoors with a piping hot cup of tea and an inadvertent amount of quality time to binge watch every last fashion documentary I can find on Netflix. And because I assume you are all far too busy to sift through hours of footage yourselves, I have done you the service of whittling the list down to four must-watch films.
They range in tone and branch of the industry, a wonderful looking glass into the facets of fashion, from the rollercoaster of the design process in a couture house to the factories of fast fashion, and the ancillary but integral businesses of fashion magazine publishing, events, and archiving. Some are millennial in pace, others have a pinky-up manner of delivery. All are key to understanding the complex industry that so many think is swathed only in pure glamour.
I hope you enjoy the ride. Voila!
House Of Z
The Short of It: The tumultuous rise and fall (and re-rise) of New York fashion’s wunderkind, Zac Posen
Watch It If You Are Into: Models, the designer process, investors, consumers, fashion media, family businesses, New York’s art and social scene
Quick Review: House of Z is a delightfully honest look at the bits of fashion that are often left on the cutting room floor. A must-watch for anyone that is part of the fashion cycle, to help understand the role each plays in shaping the successes and failures in the fashion and retail industries.
If I had to prescribe one documentary to explain the inner workings of our fashion world, it would be this. From a business perspective, and how intrinsically that is intertwined with emotion and inspiration, and social pressure—a killer combo quite unique to the creative fields.
A brilliant piece that also tells a story about working with family, and the tug of war that occurs within an artist when they are thrust into the roles of celebrity and business person. An honest telling of how difficult it is to become, and remain, profitable as a design house.
A well-made documentary with insights from the people within Zac Posen’s world, and the commentary of fashion luminaries like Andre Leon Talley, Hamish Bowles, and friends of the designer, Claire Danes and Karen Elson.
The First Monday in May
The Short of It: The behind the scenes process in putting together the Met Gala, as well as the curatorial process behind the actual exhibition.
Watch It If You Are Into: Art, museums, large scale events, production, curation, Anna Wintour, the Met, Wong Kar Wai, celebrities, Chinese art and history aficionados, Costume Institute
Quick Review: Wonderful for art and history buffs and celebrity lovers — a delight to witness from a production stand point (including negotiating Rihanna’s budget, dancing around the delicacy of politics, and the art of the seating chart).
An ode to fashion as art and fashion as a cultural component, The First Monday in May is a wonderful refresher from the commerce driven associations the majority have of fashion, while still offering enough fodder for mainstream celebrity loving viewers.
The film documents the grueling process in putting together the Met Gala, offering a unique look into the massive contributions Anna Wintour makes to the industry outside of her direct influence at Conde Nast. A rare look inside Anna’s home, as well as a private tour of the Costume Institute’s inner workings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Wong Kar Wai sits in as part of the team behind the China Through the Looking Glass exhibition, and offers another exciting intersection of art in the contemplation of marriage between fashion and film — but it is perhaps the quick yet highly intimate footage from within the Met Gala (George and Amal Clooney quietly canoodling in a corner, Chloe Sevigny standing alone at her table, Rihanna during rehearsals) that most succinctly captures the final and frenetic fruition of the long months of Gala production.
Franca: Chaos and Creation
The Short of It: A highly intimate telling of one of the greatest and most provocative forces in fashion story telling, Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozzani, as captured by her son in the months before her unexpected passing
Watch It If You Are Into: Italian Vogue, fashion magazines, publishing, inspiration, social issues, motherson relationship, independent female figures, photographers, creative direction, supermodels, Gianni Versace
Quick Review: A beautiful ode of a son to his mother, that succinctly captures the vibrancy of a woman who will forever reign incomparable in the fashion world for her pioneering and visionary work.
Franca. The Editor in Chief of Italian Vogue that addressed social issues through fashion editorials and covers, hailed legendary for pioneering concepts like the Black Issue and the Curvy Issue. Filmed by her son, the documentary is an intimate look at the art of capturing fashion and how it needn’t always be so…literal.
Franca passed away in 2016 but this documentary does justice in illuminating those who did not know of her work, of the incredible possibilities a fearless woman can create for the world through fashion. It is also a beautiful look at the relationships formed within the industry — the trust in certain photographers to execute a vision, as well as the organic creation of the Supermodels; borne of a friendship between Franca and Gianni Versace.
The True Cost
The Short of It: An expository piece on the fast fashion retail chain, and the effects it has on individual lives, communities, and the world at large
Watch It If You Are Into: Clothes, shopping, looking good for cheap, sustainability, human interest, fair trade, business models, economic systems
Quick Review: A deep dive into the economic chain of the modern retail industry model, this documentary poses imperative questions that we, as consumers, should be asking.
That being said, perhaps the most important fashion documentary people should watch from this list is indeed The True Cost, and by people, I mean anyone that wears and purchases clothes.
Is the shirt we’re wearing loosely responsible for someone’s terminal illness, or even death? Are we killing our planet and making it impossible for our children’s children to have clean water or fresh air?
Brilliant insights from key individuals all over the globe, from garment workers in Bangladesh and cotton farm owners in Texas, to Stella McCartney. This is not in itself a feel-good film to watch, but the feel-good can come in your decisions post-watching it. Ignorance can no longer be bliss. If you shop for clothes; if you wear clothes, you absolutely need to see this piece.
Lead Photo from "The First Monday In May"