Still from Catwalk.
Like everything in the world at the moment, fashion is in the midst of a major shift. Runway shows are either virtual, cancelled, or attended by Kristen Stewart and Kristen Stewart alone. Seasonal offerings are reimagined as fashion films by famed movie directors or turned into video game dreamscapes. We’ve seen some labels blow up overnight and others disappear off social media entirely. Though it’s not the first time, nor the last that designers have had to switch gears. The fashion industry has long been a reflection of the world around it (think McQueen’s SS99 robot-painted dress, or Y/Project’s AW21 exploration of the absurdity of ‘normal’ life today). As we head into fashion month wondering how today’s top designers will engage with our current sociopolitical moment, we’ve rounded up some of the most insightful and straight up eye-catching fashion documentaries out there. From Martin Margiela: In His Own Words to McQueen, these films take us inside the minds of some of our favourite designers during their prime; offering an inside look at the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyles that all too often curtail young stars or a bittersweet vignette of the meteoric rise and cataclysmic fall that seems synonymous with creative success. Here are all the best fashion documentaries that you can stream right now.
Very Ralph (2019)
Ralph Lauren may be the only designer to have made it as far as he has (and that’s pretty damn far) with zero pattern-making and sewing abilities. His career functions as a sort of paradigm for the American Dream, and the designs, as anyone who’s ever brushed shoulders with a WASP knows, are as ubiquitous as the name on the tag. From making ties to launching Polo and eventually opening the gargantuan property on 72nd street, Ralph Lauren mastered “branding” before it was even a thing. He cultivated an identity around a lifestyle that blends classic elegance with Americana and Western aesthetics. Come for the fashion knowledge, stay for young Ralph looking handsome as hell in a pair of cowboy boots. Stream now on HBO Max.
Made in Milan (1990)
We can’t promise that this is Scorsese’s least well known work, but it’s definitely up there. No longer available on any streaming service, you can watch Made in Milan across three parts on Indiewire. The 20-minute documentary, released in 1990 and narrated entirely by Giorgio Armani, acts as a love letter to Milan. The Italian designer, who championed relaxed suiting in the 70s and then went on to define red carpet dressing, cites the city’s serenity as a haven for productivity and its architecture as the inspiration for many of his designs. Stream now on IndieWire (or watch a 10-minute version above).
“Belgium is the most unfashionable country,” says one of the most famous designers in the world, known especially for his Belgian roots. A member of the Antwerp 6 (alongside Ann Demeulemeester), Dries Van Noten may be the most wholesome designer on this list. The Dries documentary balances its focus between the eponymous designer’s work and home life, as the two become seamlessly intertwined; his life partner and their pup are as integral to Dries’ collections as he is. Known for his striking use of patterns and fabrics, Dries is as charming and sophisticated as his work. If not for the story of a famed career, this doc is a must watch for glimpses of the designer’s stunning estate outside of Antwerp. Stream now on Amazon Prime.
In perhaps one of the most tragic losses the fashion industry has ever faced, McQueen honours the late Lee Alexander McQueen’s life and legacy. Known for his dark and theatrical runway shows, McQueen was one of the youngest designers to be named British Designer of the Year, a title he was awarded four times. This documentary functions as not only a visual album of the late designer’s work — from Shalom Harlow getting spray painted by machines in the finale of McQueen’s spring/summer 98 show, to the monumental psych-ward-turned-runway of spring/summer 01’s VOSS — but also an intimate portrait of the isolation that often belies creative success. Those closest to McQueen tell the exclusive story behind the clothes that so often revealed an unparalleled relationship with darkness. Stream now on Amazon Prime.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)
Diana Vreeland is anything but practical. In fact, she proclaims mere seconds into this doc that she’s “as practical as Bloomingdale’s”. If you’re well versed in the history of fashion magazines, you know that Vreeland is queen. If not, you’ll soon find out. While the late editor-in-chief of Vogue didn’t work her way up from nothing, she certainly did work. The film is pieced together by tapes taken in 1983 for her memoirs, and despite her run as EIC only spanning nine years, Diana Vreeland’s legacy lives far beyond her tenure and is well documented here. Stream now on Amazon Prime.
Dior and I (2014)
We know that all eyes are on the formidable partnering of Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada, but before there was Prada and Raf, there was Raf for Dior. Dior and I begins with Raf being introduced to Dior’s atelier team with just eight weeks to go before showing his first Haute Couture collection. Raf of course took over Dior from John Galliano, focussing said collection on the “emotion” that made the house what it was. Christian Dior had only been at the helm for 10 years before his passing, but his designs were so strikingly elegant and particular in shape, that the Dior woman lives on today. This insightful doc is split between a historical narration of the fashion house and the two months Raf spent preparing the autumn/winter 12 collection. Stream now on Hulu.
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (2019)
For those outside the fashion community, tabis might represent the absurdity of what some deem attractive. For those within, they’re a pillar of design by one of the most wonderfully absurd. Martin Margiela has hidden away from the public his entire career, giving no interviews, no photos, and no after show bows. In Reiner Holzemer’s 2019 documentary, some of the Belgian designer’s genius is uncovered not only by his collaborators and friends, but the elusive man himself. This alone makes the doc a must-see. Stream now on Google Play.
Helmut Newton: The Bad And The Beautiful (2020)
Bad? Beautiful? There are many opinions held of the life’s work of photographer Helmut Newton. Some of his photos were crude, some overly sexual, some emblematic of a woman’s strength in the world, while others depict the exact opposite. Still, the King of Kink was brilliant with the lens. Some of the most iconic photographs to grace the pages of magazines and the walls of museums were taken by Helmut Newton. He changed the rules and embraced what many deemed grotesque in order to usher in a new era of fashion photography. Stream now on Google Play.
Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco (2017)
If you don’t know Antonio Lopez, you better at least get to know his work. Antonio was a fashion illustrator for Women’s Wear Daily, The New York Times and Vogue, but more than his drawings, he was a disco-era force. Beyond being the life of every party, Antonio had an eye. We have Lopez to thank for the genius and beauty that is Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland and Donna Jordan; discovering them in clubs and at parties and helping to launch their respective careers. Lopez famously posted flyers all over Paris in an effort to track down teenage Jessica Lange, after seeing her out one night. He lived a tragically short life, but this documentary immortalises an era of opportunity in fashion that we can only hope returns. Stream now on Hulu.
One day he was there, the next day he wasn’t. Okay, not really but Halston did see a swift rise to fame and the worst kind of corporate demise. When he was good, he was really good. In fact, in his prime, Halston was noted by André Leon Talley himself as the greatest American designer. One major blip in this particular retelling of his career is a sporadic real time narration by Tavi Gevinson as she “digs through the Halston archives” in search of some kind of historic truth. That aside, though, watching Elsa Peretti relive her Studio 54 days with Halston and Bianca Jagger in this doc is just as sweet and salacious as it sounds. Stream now on Amazon Prime.
The Gospel According To André (2018)
You know the capes. You know the attitude. André Leon Talley is one of the most iconic fashion editors to ever live. It may be his larger than life presence that makes him aesthetically remarkable, but it’s his fashion commentary that makes him a legend. After all, does fashion really exist if there’s no one there to tell you what to think about it? Handpicked by Ms. Vreeland herself, Tom Ford remarks that André may be one of the last fashion editors to have ever really seen fashion. At the height of the industry in New York in the 70s, it was André who was front and centre, and in this doc he details the highlights and pitfalls of his illustrious career first-hand. Plus, Fran Lebovitz is involved. Stream now on Hulu.
Isaac Mizrahi’s name may not hold the same cultural panache that it once did, but his heyday lives on through the silver screen. Unlike most of the docs on this list, Unzipped was made at the height of Mizrahi’s career in 1995, following him from the morning after his spring/summer 94 show and right through the creation of his next collection. It’s not what one might call an insightful reflection on the industry, but it is pure entertainment. From impressions of Mary Tyler Moore and Eartha Kitt to running through Chelsea with Naomi Campbell, there’s never a dull moment in Unzipped. Stream now on Amazon Prime.
This one follows supermodel Christy Turlington from New York to Paris during the spring/summer 94 fashion week season. Shot largely in black-and-white, Catwalk is a harkening back to the epic glamour that came with the supermodel era of the 90s. Turlington is joined by Naomi and Kate Moss as they run from fitting to show to fast food joint and back again. This is a must-see for the intimate behind the scenes moments and the now iconic off-duty looks. Stream now on YouTube.
Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story (2018)
Believe it or not, there was a time when models did their own make-up for shoots and make-up artists were considered hobbyists rather than professionals. Then came the 70s and Kevyn Aucoin. While he may not have been the first make-up artist on the scene, he made a bigger splash than the rest. Kevyn’s signature style of application sculpted the face decades before the Kardashians started contouring. Unfortunately, the Louisiana-bred star met an untimely death in 2002 after a long fight with chronic pain and a brain tumour, but his legacy lives on. Stream now on Amazon Prime.