The best fashion documentaries of all time, starring McQueen, Margiela, Mizrahi and Yamamoto

These insightful, stylish documentaries touch on far more than just fashion, exploring themes of addiction, consumerism and class, while capturing the pop culture zeitgeist of the era in which they were filmed

Drama, suspense, intrigue and, of course, fabulous clothes 

13 May 2020

The September Issue (2009)

As Vogue veteran André Leon Talley launches a scathing attack on Anna Wintour in an explosive new memoir, revisit this 2009 fashion documentary, which goes behind-the-scenes at American Vogue. The September Issue was filmed as the fashion industry was on the cusp of change, capturing a time before Instagram, influencers, budget cuts and sustainability. Thakoon is New York's rising star, Sienna Miller is the Vogue cover girl and Anna Wintour is filmed using both a Blackberry and a Motorola flip phone. André Leon Talley also stars in the documentary, alongside Grace Coddington and Edward Enninful.

 
 

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

I defy anybody not to be uplifted by this heartwarming documentary about the famed but incredibly humble New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham. A pioneer of street style photography, Cunningham was a fixture at fashion shows but got his real kicks from the streets, capturing the city’s eclectic aesthetic for his weekly column. Recognisable by his trademark blue French worker’s jacket and bicycle, he was famously disinterested in money, choosing instead to live a frugal life in a studio apartment with a fold-up bed. This documentary celebrates one of New York's true eccentrics, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 87. Iris Apfel, Tom Wolfe and Anna Wintour all cameo.

 
 

Alexander McQueen (2018)

Lee Mcqueen was the working-class boy from London's East End who became one of the world’s most prolific fashion designers. Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s acclaimed documentary explores the complex personality behind the dramatic runway shows through rare archival footage, alongside interviews with McQueen’s inner circle, including his sister Janet, assistant designer Sebastian Pons, Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd. This powerful tribute pays homage to McQueen's extraordinary accomplishments, while bravely delving into the darkness of a troubled mind – his mercurial temper, drug use and how he notoriously cast aside his peers, including Isabella Blow.

 
 

Unzipped (1994)

Unzipped is the ultimate nineties fashion documentary, which follows New York designer and self-confessed drama-king Isaac Mizrahi, as he prepares for his Autumn/Winter '94 show. Shot by his then-boyfriend Douglas Keeve, it presents rare footage of the decade’s most celebrated models – 'Supers' including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista – as well as fashion editors, musicians and a teenage Kate Moss. Led by Mizrahi’s comedic dialogue and flamboyant zest, Unzipped offers an intimate look at the pre-digital fashion world as the clock ticks down until showtime.

 
 

Very Ralph (2019)

Produced by HBO and first aired on Sky Atlantic at the tail-end of last year, Very Ralph charts the rags-to-riches story of former tie salesman Ralph Lauren as he chases the American Dream, achieves it, repackages it and sells it back to America in the form of plaid dresses, figure-hugging polo shirts and an inimitable, aspirational Ivy-league-inspired aesthetic. Commissioned on occasion of his eponymous brand’s 50th anniversary, and featuring interviews with everyone from Karl Lagerfeld, Naomi Campbell, Anna Wintour, Kanye West, Calvin Klein and Hilary Clinton, the documentary divulges as much – perhaps more – about Lauren’s personal life as it does his professional success, charting how a second-generation immigrant from the Bronx became what Lagerfeld calls “the American designer.”

 
 

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (2020)

This divisive documentary shines a rare spotlight on enigmatic Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela. It charts his career as Jean Paul Gaultier’s assistant, through his time as creative director of Hermès, to leading his own eponymous cult brand. Margiela left the fashion industry in 2008 and has remained a figure of intrigue ever since. Some have dubbed this hagiographic documentary as thinly veiled brand management, full of gushing commentary from past collaborators. Margiela fans, however, will relish the archival imagery of white paint, trompe l'oeil motifs and cloven Tabi boots, as well as a rare chance to learn more about the man behind the myth. The notoriously elusive Margiela is strictly off-camera, but still manages to create a sense of intimacy through his warm, softly-spoken voice. 

 
 

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)

Feeling dowdy during lockdown? Let Diana Vreeland inspire you with her zest for vivid colour and glamour. “Style – all who have it share one thing: originality,” she famously said. Vreeland was the highly quotable, often outrageous socialite-editor at the helm of Harper’s Bazaar from 1937 to 1962, followed by Vogue until 1971. This joyful documentary traces Vreeland's childhood in Paris, and charts her influential reign in publishing, where she discovered Lauren Bacall and pioneered the sixties youthquake movement. It includes interviews with the Vreeland family, as well as peers including Manolo Blahnik, Ali MacGraw and Calvin Klein.

 
 

Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)

German filmmaker Wim Wenders has captured musicians, artists and activists, as well as directing films including Bafta-winning Paris, Texas (1984). This 1989 documentary considers the work of Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. In true Wenders style, he eschews the classic interview format in favour of a philosophical look at identity, comparing Yamamoto’s chosen medium to his own. It highlights an influential period in fashion, where avant-garde Japanese designers like Yamamoto, along with then-girlfriend Rei Kawakubo, disrupted the industry with their anti-establishment aesthetic. 

 
 

Dior and I (2012)

In 2012, Raf Simons was appointed artistic director at Christian Dior, a position he held until 2015. The Belgian designer later cited the fast pace of the Parisian fashion house as attributing to why he didn’t renew his contract. Dior and I follows Simons' frenzied first season, as he prepares for his inaugural show. Follow the tears, suspense, laughter and relief as Simons grapples with the formalities of couture and the pressure that comes with living up to the legacy of Dior.

 
 

Iris (2014)

Iris Apfel founded interior design firm, Old World Weavers, with her husband and counts the White House among her clients. It wasn’t until she was in her 80s however that she became a household name and style icon, recognisable by her trademark round glasses, bold costume jewellery and extravagantly patterned robes. This uplifting documentary celebrates her eclectic, offbeat aesthetic, while portraying Apfel as a down-to-earth, whipsmart philosopher. Much like the aforementioned, affable Bill Cunningham, we could all learn a thing or two from our elders.

 
 

The Last Emperor (2008)

If you’re after comedic one-liners and lavish excess, then watch The Last Emperor. Shot between 2005-2007, this documentary film profiles Valentino Garavani, the bronzed, coiffed couturier, and his relationship with one-time boyfriend and business partner Giancarlo Giammetti. Director Matt Tyrnauer was given unprecedented access to Valentino and his inner circle, which included an entourage of pugs. While light in the way of biographical detail, there are plenty of private jets, galas, gowns and witty remarks to entertain, set to a dramatic Italian score. "An evening dress that reveals a woman's ankles while walking is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen," he quips. The duo left the label in 2008 and this documentary, which follows the run-up to Valentino’s farewell show, majestically portrays the end of an era in haute couture.