With Milan Closed, Here Are The Best Fashion Films To Get Your Fix

Murray Clark
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

From Esquire

Giorgio Armani isn't the sort to cancel a show last minute. And yet, at the onset of coronavirus, that's exactly what the famed Italian designer did last season in Milan, choosing instead to livestream the new (and really quite lovely) collection "in front of an empty teatro".

Much of the industry followed suit. Luxury conglomerate LVMH changed tack for the war effort, admirably producing hand sanitiser instead of ambrosial scents. With menswear month set to kick off in June, it seems likely that the fashion calendar has taken an extended leave of absence.

But fear not. While your eyes may be starved of new collections for the foreseeable (or, at least, new collections presented to a celeb-packed front row) there's plenty of fashion to be enjoyed on the four corners of your screen: in documentaries, and films, in cult classics and, really, any sort of production that takes a modicum of pride in its appearance. These are some of favourites.

You can watch Raf Simons' tricky year at Dior. There's an ode to the genius of Lee McQueen. There's an exploration of the origins of vogue ballrooms. Withering glares from steely fashion editors; Ben Stiller being really, really, ridiculously good-looking; even a look into the organisation of the Met Gala, which has now been placed on ice, too.

So buckle up (sunglasses on, naturally), and slip into your finest loafers to watch the best fashion films ever made. Mr Armani is likely doing the same.

THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

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"They're such beautiful shirts," the spineless Daisy Buchanan sobs in The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald's seminal depiction of the Roaring Twenties. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such – such beautiful shirts before."

And frankly Daisy, nor have we, as Baz Luhrmann's 2013 adaptation wardrobed deceit and despair in fine silks, ostentatious suits and borderline fancy dress. Costume designer Catherine Martin even enlisted the help of Miuccia Prada to dress Jay Gatsby's world, making a truly rotten crowd look anything but.

McQUEEN (2018)

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Filmed in tandem (and with the blessing of) the designer's nearest and dearest, McQueen brings an objective lens to the designer's life and career, from his guerrilla, DIY operation in London, to the creative directorship of Givenchy, to his well-publicised battle against drugs, demons and grief.

The result is almost two hours of never-before-seen footage in which we're given the clearest, starkest illustration not of Alexander McQueen the designer, but Lee: the man who razed the fashion establishment to the ground, and left a footprint fossil of genius and personality forever in its place.

PARIS IS BURNING (1990)

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Without ballroom, there'd be no house music, no RuPaul's Drag Race, no infamous clips of Rihanna posing at the Mugler Ball.

B-list celebrity dance competition this is not, though. Paris Is Burning, a fringe 1990 documentary that now paddles in the mainstream, gives light to the world of Harlem ballroom: a rare safe space for LGBTQ+ people of colour to strut, perform and dance in competitions that see coteries of gangs with names like the House of Balenciaga and the House of Saint Laurent go head-to-head against a thumping soundtrack of part-rap, part-techno. And, though many of the stars depicted in Paris Is Burning are no longer with us, this landmark documentary ensures their memory flares on.

FRESH DRESSED (2015)

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Though once alienated from high fashion at large, hip-hop and street culture is now one of its supporting pillars. And in Fresh Dressed, the likes of Kanye West and Pharrell discuss the ways in which their canon has influenced the world beyond Brooklyn, Chicago and the West Coast.

"Being fresh is more important than having money," West tell us. "The entire time I grew up, I only wanted money so I can be fresh. He then recounts how he sees himself following in a long-standing tradition, emulating forefathers like Junior M.A.F.I.A, Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang – the sort of trailblazers that Fresh Dressed sweetly and succinctly pays tribute to.

LESS THAN ZERO (1987)

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Bret Easton Ellis's debut novel was made for the big screen. And though 1987's Less Than Zero has its detractors, the film all-but defines the Eighties aesthetic: generously-shouldered suits, ultra-masculine silhouettes and mops of flawlessly styled sweepbacks, on a young and lost Robert Downey Jr and a menacing James Spader.

Not a pleasant watch, sure, which is unsurprising given Easton Ellis' appetite for darkness. But for a faithful look at the razor-sharp style of Reagan's America, Less Than Zero is an excellent research platform.

SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORF'S (2013)

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It's a tough time for retail. New York retail, especially. But department store Bergdorf Goodman has not only survived the switch to clicks and mortar, but thrived, and this documentary enlists a small army of reigning fashion royalty, like Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani and Manolo Blahnik, to explain why.

The glamorous, moneyed Manhattan production may seem histrionically New York in its finish. But Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf's stays faithful to the aura the Fifth Avenue institution creates: these people aren't discussing a department store in hyperbole. They genuinely buy into it. And after watching this polished Matthew Miele documentary, so will you.

DIOR & I (2015)

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The purpose of high fashion is to create a feeling, a notion of glamour, and it's something the industry at large does very well. This task is no easy one, though. 2015's Dior & I was one of the first pictures to truly document the fragile balancing act between conception, creation and commercial viability, as it chronicles Raf Simons's first haute couture collection as artistic director of Christian Dior.

Honest, compelling, and unafraid to show the difficulties the Belgian designer faced, Dior & I masterfully pulls back the curtain on fashion, and does so without removing its sheen.

A SINGLE MAN (2009)

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Tom Ford's directorial debut was always going to be well-dressed. Nobody foresaw how well-made it would be, though, with A Single Man scoring a string of nominations on 2009's awards circuit thanks to its quiet, tragic retelling of a gay widow on a downward spiral of grief in the Los Angeles of 1962.

Standout performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore have cemented A Single Man's place in the Very Good Film lexicon, but it was signature Fordian tailoring (and one exquisitely organised underwear drawer) that won the GLAAD award winner its place in the pantheon of fashionable films.

JEREMY SCOTT: THE PEOPLE'S DESIGNER (2015)

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"I want my clothes to live, to party, to have fun," says madcap designer Jeremy Scott in the opening of this hagiography. And fun they have. His taste for cartoonish, comical style has found a legion of fans in Katy Perry, A$AP Rocky and Lady Gaga – and the hiring top brass of Moschino.

Jeremy Scott: The People's Designer charts the unlikely, meteoric rise of a young farm boy from Missouri as he makes his way to the creative directorship of an iconic fashion house, clocking gigs at Jean Paul Gaultier and Adidas Originals along the way. Like the clothes he makes, it's a ride that's at-times ridiculous, but undeniably fun.

ZOOLANDER (2001)

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Ah, the film that made fashion poke fun at itself: Zoolander is well-regarded in show season circles (and non-style ones, too) thanks to a very silly interpretation of what can be a very silly life.

If that wasn't absurd enough, though, Stiller's airhead supermodel Derek Zoolander is hypnotised by a megalomaniac foppish designer in Will Ferrell, and falls into a haphazard plot to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister. As ridiculously great as it sounds.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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For all the dull, stats-crammed reports of the East Asian market's appetite for luxury, we're never shown the actual story. Not until Crazy Rich Asians anyway, which sees a stellar cast unite for a blockbuster that got diversity, filmmaking and fashion so right.

Following a would-be bride (Constance Wu) and her first meeting with her fiancé's absurdly wealthy family, this romantic comedy depicts the culture clashes and high expectations between stars like Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Gemma Chan, with lots of retina-scorching couture peppered into the mix.

THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY (2016)

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As close as you'll likely get to the inner sanctum of the Met Gala (well, without a trespassing conviction, anyway), The First Monday In May allows cameras full access to the planning, commitment and coordination that goes into "the Superbowl of social fashion events".

We see the usual pitfalls of party planning, sure. Rihanna can't sit near Drake. Katy Perry can't be too close to a naked flame. But Andrew Rossi's documentary also provides a fascinating, rare insight into the daily life of fashion's reigning empress, and a notoriously private woman: American Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour.

DRIES (2017)

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Everyone loves Dries Van Noten. In a world where you're only as good as your last collection, the Belgian designer is a model of consistency: season after season, his skill, taste and originality never flag. It's why even though he's never helmed one of the giant luxury houses, never produced a hyped sneaker collaboration, he's revered as one of the most innovative – and inspiration – designers on earth.

That takes a lot of toil. And in 2017's deftly-made documentary, Dries, we're granted a look into the life and loves of fashion's hardest-working man. After watching this, you'll soon realise that he may be its nicest, too.

THE NEON DEMON (2016)

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A ludicrously unrealistic look at LA's high-fashion scene (there isn't much of one, by the way), what The Neon Demon lacks in verisimilitude it makes up for in visual spectacle, as would-be model Elle Fanning evolves into a well-lit demigod of sorts on her career's ascent.

It's textbook Nicolas Winding Refn, from the extra-terrestrial soundtrack to the jarring use of colour, to individual shots that are almost still life artworks, The Neon Demon is a macabre fever dream that quickly collapses into a nightmare.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)

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Quoted, emulated and memed to within an inch of its life, there's still plenty of mileage in The Devil Wears Prada: a 2006 film that was the closest it got to working at a busy fashion magazine.

The clothes have aged horribly. So too the workplace conduct. But Meryl Streep's performance as an editor who could turn Medusa to stone is unrivalled, even by the page-boy-bobbed fashion bigwig she's allegedly based upon.

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

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The Royal Tenenbaums established Wes Anderson as an auteur proper: staccato, clipped words of affection, doe-eyed gazes into the camera and a steady general beat of idiosyncrasy. Oh, and the clothes: lots of glorious, era-less, slightly surreal clothes.

From the moment a tracksuited Luke Wilson takes a seat next to a mascara-enhanced, cig huffin' Gwyneth Paltrow, we've got a standout Gucci collection long before Alessandro Michele ever got his mitts on the storied Italian fashion house.

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