Is there anything more intellectually energising than a good documentary? Its the same feeling as when you visit the bookstore and emerge, jubilant, having engaged in a rare guilt-free capitalist act. Exchanging cash for knowledge.
Of course, documentaries of the History Channel variety can be an acquired taste; we don’t always want to come home from 9 hours in the office to learn about World War II for 90 minutes. That’s where fashion documentaries come in: they’re inspiring, indulgent, and promise lots of visual porn.
One of my favourite things about this genre is seeing proper old-fashioned craftsmanship in action. Its reassuring to see that intricate, analogue skill still exists through couturiers and in the production departments of fashion houses, in our fast-moving world.
There’s been some incredible fashion documentaries over the last few years. Here’s a couple of my favourites.
Bill Cunningham New York (2010)
“The best fashion show is on the street. Always has been, always will”
Bill Cunningham might just be the original street fashion photographer. This disarmingly humble 87-year-old wanders the streets capturing bright and interesting ensembles worn by regular people for the New York Times.
The 2010 documentary on Cunningham follows his daily life, from his tiny ‘apartment’ (read: box room) in Carnegie Hall, crammed with filing cabinets of his work, to the office where he oversees photo layouts with an eagle eye, via his bike rides around New York City searching for inspiration. Cunningham is a refreshing change from many of the more ostentatious fashionistas you see in these kind of docs. Watch it.
Advanced Style (2014)
Ari Cohen’s Advanced Style blog was revelatory when it first landed, proving that fashion wasn’t just for the under 40s. The documentary based on the blog in 2014 further opened a window into the lives of glam seniors in NYC. I was actually lucky enough to attend a screening with a live Q&A session ahead of its premiere, attended by some of the stars of the documentary, who were just as colourful and inspiring in real life as behind the camera.
In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye (2012)
Released to coincide with the magazine’s 120th anniversary, In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye celebrates the vision of Vogue’s fashion editors across the decades, beginning with Babs Simpson in the 1940s up to Camilla Nickerson, Phyllis Posnick & Tonne Goodman today.
Aside from the individual backgrounds of each editor – how they got into the biz etc – this doc is rich with anecdote, giving viewers glimpses of fashion history in the making. Not to mention a second opportunity (after 2009’s The September Issue) for viewers to fall in love with Grace Coddington, American Vogue’s Creative Director.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (2011)
If you know anything about fashion history, you’ll know about Diana Vreeland. She’s probably Vogue’s most celebrated editor to date, ushering in an era of huge creativity and originality between 1963 – 1971.
Vreeland is one of those fabulous characters – storied, cosmopolitan, full of imperious & witty turns of phrase – that you don’t often see in real life. Granted, she’d probably be hard work too.
Dior and I (2014)
Back to the present day, Dior and I is a fascinating look behind the scenes at a fashion company. Of the list, this doc is best for showcasing the incredible work of the craftspeople who actually create the clothing, as well as following Raf Simons’ initiation into the grand old house of Dior.