Documented in Fashion

11 min read

The latest release of Alison Chernick’s short, The Artist is Absent, a documented film on Martin Margiela, is just a footnote in the long line of fashion documentaries that have hit our screens over the past decade.

By Christopher Prince

In this transparent world of social media domination it isn’t enough to see one dimension of the fashion industry. Enter the fashion documentary – a pictorial 360-degree scope for fashion’s outsiders, preserving the past and propelling us into the future – taking us behind-the-scenes, into the design studios, through the wardrobes of style maven’s and inside the creative psyche of some of the world’s most influential people.

To keep you informed we’ve collated the best fashion documentaries to watch this summer from the new to the old, set to astound, inspire and ignite your creative flow.


The Artist is Absent (2015)

Directed by Alison Chernick

Given the media storm of John Galliano’s transition to Maison Margiela, Alison Chernick’s short, The Artist is Absent, has arrived within an ideal window of opportunity. Outside of the fashion industry there aren’t many people who know the maison’s founder, Martin Margiela – infamously difficult to interview and almost impossible to track down since he stepped down from the creative helm, selling a majority stake in 2002 to Renzo Rosso’s Only the Brave company and retiring a few years later. But Chernick’s work isn’t about that. Instead The Artist is Absent provides a glimpse of Margiela’s fashion’s archive, with accompanying accounts from designer’s, Jean Paul Gaultier and Raf Simons. It reasons with why Galliano was appointed, showcases runway footage and provides a commentary on not only the fashion industry, but also the system itself. Debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, The Artist is Absent is already available online, courtesy of its producer, Yoox Group.

Dior & I (2015)

Directed by Frédéric Tcheng

Frédéric Tcheng’s work crops up three times on our summer round up following his directional debut for Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) and collaboration in the biopic Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011). But his most recent solo venture in this April’s, Dior & I, has cemented his status as a go-to fashion documenter. What Tcheng’s work provides is a human touch to the industry. On the surface Dior & I captures the honest commentary of Raf Simons in the brief eight-week period it took for him to create his first couture collection for Dior in 2012. Citing behind-the-scenes footage of the Dior couture atelier team, from the dynamic trio of the feisty Monique Bailly, head of the tailoring atelier, to the cheerful Florence Chehet, head of the dressmaking atelier, and Catherine Rivière, head of couture, Dior & I is a charming view of not only brand Dior, but also the family that lives within it.

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)

Directed by Matt Tyranauer

Matt Tyranauer’s 2008 debut biopic, Valentino: The Last Emperor, charts the sensational career of one of the last original Italian couturiers, Valentino Garavani, simply known as Valentino. At the time of production Valentino was celebrating his 77th birthday and over 45 years in the business. Through Tyranauer’s eyes his legend is brought to life in a decadent display of fashion, arts and culture featuring 250 hours of footage with exclusive, unprecedented access to Valentino and his entourage throughout 2005-2007. Yet running simultaneously against the decadence of Valentino was the house’s financial woes. After nearly half a century Valentino was threatened with liquidation against a private equity group. Alas, they did not succeed. And Valentino today, under the creative helm of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, is stronger than ever.


(Untitled) Tiffany & Co. (2015)

Directed by Matthew Miele

Still in the process of development, Matthew Miele’s authorised untitled documentary on the legendary New York fine jeweller’s, Tiffany & Co. is set to hit our screens this summer 2015. Miele has previous fashion roots garnered from his 2013 documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorfs so this upcoming project should be familiar territory for the director. Tiffany & Co. has been the subject of many iconic films – the most famous of course is Audrey Hepburn’s brilliant role as Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). “From the trophy being hoisted at the Super Bowl, to the masterpieces adorning celebrities on the Oscar red carpet, all the way down to the design of the dollar in my pocket, the Tiffany & Co. reach is just so vast,” noted Miele.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdor’s (2013)

Directed by Matthew Miele

Speaking of Matthew Miele, New York’s most famous department store was the subject of a 2013 documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, taking its title from the caption of a 1990 Victoria Roberts cartoon that cropped up in the New Yorker. The film’s central figure, Bergdorf’s charismatic fashion director, Linda Fargo, guides the viewer from the shop floor to the designer studio as she sets about creating the Bergdorf world for the store’s millions of visitors. Alongside Fargo is Bergdorf’s elite personal shopper, Betty Halbreich and the store’s brilliant window creative, David Hoey who showcases the painstaking process of creating Bergdorf’s iconic Christmas displays. Featuring accounts from Vera Wang, Michael Kors, Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs this is one fashion documentary not to be missed.

The September Issue (2009)

Directed by R.J. Cutler

R.J. Cutler’s now iconic documentary, The September Issue, has been engrained in the hearts of fashion devotees for years since its 2009 release. Taking us behind-the-scenes of the US Vogue offices, Cutler’s fly-on-the-wall stance charts the creative process of producing the most important magazine of the year, the September issue. The film’s two driving forces, the brilliant editor in chief, Anna Wintour and the inspiring creative director, Grace Coddington, bring a synergy to Culter’s film like no other. With intentions of shedding light on the trials and tribulations an editorial team have to withstand during their busiest month, The September Issue is a perfect display of heart (Coddington) and brain (Wintour).


Advanced Style (2014)

Directed by Lina Plioplyte

If personal style is your calling then Lina Plioplyte’s 2014 feature, Advanced Style, is an ideal ode to the fashionable woman. Outside the bubble of the street style world during fashion month are women who dress just as eccentric every single day. Plioplyte’s portrait of Manhattan’s most stylish is an extension of photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s blog of the same name. The film charts the wardrobe evolution of eight women, who range from their early 60s to their late 90s – each incredibly individual, each with their own opinions of personal style. Throughout the film Plioplyte strives to discover the meaning behind why these women dress the way they do, is it for self-discovery? Or is it for self-expression? Is it both? The stories unfold as frantically as the women telling them, profiling subject who have shunned society’s view of maturity to lead a vibrant and ultimately happier life.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)

Directed by Frédéric Tcheng

Much of what is written about Diana Vreeland describes the fashion editor as a visionary. It’s with that lead where director Frédéric Tcheng in unison with Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, drew inspiration for 2011’s, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. Charting the life of the Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue fashion maverick whose career spanned from the late 1930s to the early 70s, Tcheng’s documentary draws heavily on personal accounts, actual audio tape recordings and archival footage to imagine Vreeland’s pop-culture legacy. For those looking to be inspired, this is a film that will work wonders.

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

Directed by Richard Press

The quiet, unassuming Bill Cunningham featuring in his own personal documentary might come as a surprise to some, but he’s considered one of the industry’s most steadfast fashion devotees – with a career spanning six decades as the leading street style photographer. Like Cunningham, Richard Press takes the viewer on a solitary path, to the photographer’s Carnegie Hall apartment where he lives between filing cabinets and magazines, to the New York streets – on bike, no less. We get to meet old friends and industry experts from the likes of Anna Wintour, Tom Wolfe, Brooke Astor to David Rockefeller. And we get to experience the work hard, play less ethic of a creative devoted to his work.