Still from Saint Laurent (2014). Image supplied.
From the biopics of fashion icons to dramas set in the folds of the industry they run, we have the world of cinema to thank for giving us an extra glimpse into the world of fashion. Whether the storylines are rooted in fact or fiction, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to documentaries and films that pull back the curtain on the glossy and glittering realm that is the fashion industry. We’ve rounded up the best in fashion films that every fashionista should sink their teeth into, stat.
Coco Before Chanel
Before Coco Chanel became a name associated with iconic luxury handbags, timeless tweed suits and quintessential French glamour, it belonged to a headstrong cabaret performer-turned-milliner who hailed from humble, orphaned beginnings. With French ‘it-girl’ Audrey Tatou in the lead, this 2009 biopic beautifully recounts Coco Chanel’s early life and journey in building her monumental fashion empire. No stones are left unturned when it comes to retelling details about her private life; scandalous love affairs and all their complexities were explored, as was Chanel’s tenacious character as she strives to build her empire.
Saint Laurent (2014) is a dynamic bio-pic that recounts the often intertwined personal and professional life of Yves Saint Laurent during the peak of his career. This film chronologically follows Saint Laurent and his label’s life and pivotal moments from the mid-sixties through to his iconic 1976 collection, with flashbacks and flash-forwards to both his retired life and youthful years. Like any iconic fashion film, it’s full of beautiful people, glamorous parties, enviable wardrobes and fabulous muses yet remains grounded with its exploration of Saint Laurent’s personal trials and emotional demons.
The First Monday In May
Once described by Andre Leon Talley as ‘The Super Bowl of social fashion events’, it’s certain that The Met Ball is the most illustrious and exclusive of events on the fashion calendar. While The Met Ball is mostly be known for its star-studded list of attendees and the dreamy outfits they don, The First Monday in May (2016) unpacks the process and effort involved in bringing this iconic event to fruition. Following the year-long organisation of both The Met’s China: Through the Looking Glass 2015 exhibition and the gala that marks its opening, this documentary is an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse into the interconnected worlds of fashion and art. Cameos and commentary from chief curator Andrew Bolton, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gautier, Karl Lagerfeld and of course, Anna Wintour make this documentary an absolute feast for a fashion and culture-lover’s senses.
The September Issue
The September Issue (2009) is an insightful and tantalising documentation of another monument on the fashion calendar: the making of American Vogue’s most important and coveted issue that is published in, you guessed it, the month of September. The film revolves around editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and then-creative director Grace Coddington’s symbiotic efforts to realise the 2007 September Issue. In true fashion industry style, this process involves copious amounts of covetable clothing, dreamy editorials and of course, the odd clashing opinion along the way. Despite being focused on the world of American Vogue, The September Issue also offers a small and compelling glimpse into Anna Wintour’s rarely explored personal and family life.
Another must-see documentary set in the world of fashion magazines is Mademoiselle C (2013), which follows former French Vogue Editor-in-Chief Carine Roitfeld’s journey to launching her own magazine, ‘CR Fashion Book’. Much like its namesake, this film oozes sophistication and unmatched chicness as it shows the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into creating dreamlike visuals for the pages of the biannual CR Fashion Book.
Known as a man of little ego and big ideas, Dries (2017) is an intimate and in-depth portrait of Dries Van Noten and his eponymous label. Dotted with interviews with fashion insiders like journalist Suzy Menkes, icon Iris Apfel and his life and business partner Patrick Vangheluwe, Dries is an authentic and compelling look at multiple aspects of Van Noten’s brilliant career. From his emergence as part of the Antwerp Six right through to his navigation of today’s industry, this visually stunning documentary honestly reflects on Van Noten’s past and present creative journey as it follows him as he works on a range of collections in the space of a year. Considering Dries rarely gives interviews, it’s safe to say that this documentary is nothing short of a gem.
The Devil Wears Prada
Taking its well-deserved place on this list is none other than modern-day classic, The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Based on former assistant to Anna Wintour, Lauren Wiesberger’s novel of the same title, this iconic film follows journalism graduate (and total fashion outsider) Andie’s whirlwind journey into the fashion industry. As an assistant to the fiercely intimidating Runway Magazine Editor-In-Chief Miranda Priestly, we see Andy navigate the Manolo-heeled world of fashion one challenge at a time — as well as some seriously lust-worthy outfits, an iconic performance by Meryl Streep and a plethora of quotable one-liners. That’s all.
Dior & I
When minimalist Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons takes the reigns as Dior’s Creative Director in 2012, a new leaf in the iconic French fashion house’ history is turned. Dior and I (2014) chronicles the creation of Simon’s first haute couture collection by taking a behind-the-scenes look at the processes and ultimately, the people responsible for bringing haute couture to life. Just like Dior’s legendary creations, this documentary is beautifully tailored to provide an honest, insightful and compelling portrait of the world of couture.
Valentino: The Last Emperor
Produced by Vanity Fair magazine Special Correspondent Matt Tyrnauer Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) is an intriguing exploration of Valentino Garavani’s career in all its sequinned and studded glory. From private jetting to his 17th century French chateau with his six pugs in to preparing the 2006 Spring/Summer collection along with his 70 seamstresses, this fly-on-the-wall documentary takes you deep inside the folds of Valentino’s world. Not only does this film shine a light on his impressive and prodigal career, it also explores his relationship with business and life partner Giancarlo Giammetti.
Bill Cunningham: New York
When Anna Wintour describes you as the person that everyone gets dressed for, it’s certain that you’re nothing short of an icon. Despite being the person behind the lens, the late New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham is hailed as the father of street style photography. Bill Cunningham: New York (2010) is an intriguing glimpse into his chronicling the style of fashionistas and glittering uptown soirées as well as his own unassuming grace.
Set in the glamorous world of fashion publications, fronted by one of the most iconic actresses of the 1950’s and featuring a plethora with lust-worthy costumes, Funny Face (1957) ticks all the boxes for a must-watch fashion film. In this cult classic, Audrey Hepburn plays shy bookstore employee who gets whisked to France (by Hollywood heartthrob Fred Astaire, nonetheless) in the journey to become a successful model. Naturally, the iconic Parisian backdrop, gorgeous costuming and Audrey’s signature je ne sais quoi makes this film a feast for the fashion lover’s eye.