I’ve been on a documentary binge recently, devouring anything that has been recommended to me or that I’ve come across on Netflix. Sometimes you really have to trawl through a lot of random 80s movies and B list thrillers to find anything worthwhile on Netflix but I can still usually justify the seven quid a month.
Iris Apfel is a ninety-three year old reknowned fashionista living in New York City who was the subject of a documentary released in 2014 called Iris, directed by Albert Maysles and currently available on Netflix. Apfel ran a business called Old World Weavers with her husband Carl (who died in August of this year aged almost 101, and was married to Iris for sixty-seven years) and they travelled the world sourcing fabrics for their high-society clients. They even worked with the White House under nine different Presidents. Iris has retired but in her later years has become a global fashion icon due to a 2005 exhibition of her clothing at the Costume Institute, and the press attention that followed. Albert Maysles, famed director of Grey Gardens, decided to make a documentary about her and in fact this was one of the last films he made before his death from cancer in March of this year.
Iris is irrepressible, droll, full of energy despite her advancing years and incredibly creative when it comes to fashion and aesthetics. This is a great watch.
Dior and I is a documentary about Raf Simons’ first couture collection as head designer for Dior, a position he undertook in 2012 after the very public dismissal of John Galliano. Simons’ is a Belgian designer who has his roots in furniture design and has in fact never studied fashion formally. He came to the Dior atelier without a word of French and without the technical skills that would usually characterise a couturier. The documentary shows the process in the run up to his first show, Haute Couture Autumn Winter 2012, which was very well received by the fashion press and buyers and included a fantastical runway space with walls of flowers.
My favourite parts of the documentary were the behind-the-scenes look at the atelier and the women who have worked there for decades. Their skill and painstaking attention to detail is astonishing and shows exactly why the clothes command the astronomical prices they are famous for.
And lastly there’s a documentary available on Youtube which was first shown on Channel 4 called McQueen and I, an exploration of Alexander McQueen’s work and his association with stylist Isabella Blow. At just over an hour long, the documentary is not an in-depth look at either but it does contain interesting archive footage of McQueen’s shows which were more like performance art than mainstream fashion events, and it also contains some interview material with Detmar Blow, Isabella’s husband, who explains the reasons that lead to her suicide in 2007. McQueen followed in 2010, apparently devastated after the death of his mother, although it has recently come to light that he also suffered from childhood sexual abuse and this may have contributed to his drug use, unhappiness and eventual suicide. It’s a short but interesting documentary and well worth a watch.