Turning Classic Movies Presents: The 10 Greatest Fashion Films
May 10, 2011 - by Lester Brathwaite
The drama of the business, the transcendent beauty of the clothes and the backstabbing bitchery of the fashion world have always been popular subjects in film. Whether it's a satanic editor with a taste for Italian couture, a young fashionista dining with diamonds or a group of disenfranchised queens hoping to set the City of Lights ablaze, these 10 movies are the greatest odes to and about fashion.
1. Paris Is Burning (1990)
Set amidst the backdrop of 80s New York ball culture, Paris Is Burning is an exploration of beauty, race, sexuality, capitalism and the American Dream, all wrapped up in a dragtastic homage to the trans formative powers of fashion. Also, where do you think Madonna learned to Vogue?
See Also: To Wong Foo -- Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1994) Drag queens, yes; acute social commentary, not so much...but how can you argue with this? Oh, that's right, you can't.
2. The September Issue (2009)
Step inside the hallowed halls of the fashion Bible that is U.S. Vogue. We get a rare glimpse of the woman behind the bob and Chanel sunglasses, as Anna Wintour admits with a palpable hint of regret that the distinguished members of her family think what she does is "quite funny." But it's Grace Coddington's bleeding artistic heart that stays with you throughout.
See Also: Bill Cunningham New York (2010) Bill Cunningham, legendary streetstyle photographer for the New York Times has a Puritanical simplicity to his life but a couturier's eye for trends and detail that is documented in this tender portrait, featuring the likes of Wintour, Carmen Dell'Orefice, Anna Piaggi and Michael Kors.
3. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Though not necessarily a film about fashion, Breakfast at Tiffany's is the quintessential fashion film. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly continues to teach and inspire girls and certain boys everywhere on how to be chic, how to be urbane and how to live fabulously in New York -- or at least how to pretend. And there has never been a more iconic Little Black Dress ever put on screen.
See Also: Darling (1965) Darling's Diana Scott is the British, unapologetically wanton version of Holly Golightly. A morally-suspect fashion model who sleeps her way to the top, Diana still manages to come off as a naïve and sympathetic character -- despite exhibiting behavior to the contrary -- thanks to Julie Christie's Oscar-winning portrayal.
4. Unzipped (1995)
Sure, there are other backstage, behind the curtain, beneath the bustle documentaries of fashion designers, but none are as stylish as Isaac Mizrahi's Unzipped. When Isaac was the new, young It designer on the block; when Naomi, Cindy, Christy and Linda ruled the catwalks; when Eartha Kitt was still alive and purring -- Unzipped documents the height of 90s fashion, right before the balloon went bust.
See Also: Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) Whereas Unzipped follows a designer in the earlier stages of his career, The Last Emperor observes a master -- Valentino Garavani -- as he takes his final bow with his partner of 50 years by his side, Giancarlo Giammetti.
5. Funny Face (1957)
Audrey Hepburn makes a return to the list, but this time she is the unlikely model Jo Stockton, a bookworm with an unconventional look that inspires love in photographer Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire. A fantastic set of photoshoots and gowns by Hubert de Givenchy are the main attractions, but Kay Thompson as salty editrix Maggie Prescott could give Miranda Priestly a run for her money.
See Also: The Women (1939) Though Funny Face features a climactic runway show, The Women spared no expense in shooting its nearly 10-minute fashion show in color, despite the entire film being in black and white. Do not mistake this classic with that awful remake Diane English regurgitated a few years ago.
6. Mahogany (1975)
Arguably Diana Ross's greatest cinematic achievement -- if only for this -- Mahogany chronicles the rise of supermodel Mahogany from the slums of Chicago to the runways of Paris and finally to international acclaim as a designer in her own right, only to give it all up for the man she loves...a move Ms. Ross would openly spit upon but which she plays with considerable believability.
See Also: Gia (1998) While Mahogany is a fictional supermodel who dabbles on the dark side, Gia Carangi was the real thing whose excesses eventually got the best of her. The film is best remembered, however, for launching Angelina Jolie to stardom, thus ensuring Jennifer Aniston's lifelong ire.
7. Clueless (1995)
What can one say about Clueless? The perfect teen movie, it's infinitely quotable -- "You're just a virgin...who can't...DROIVE." -- and is there a character with as enviable a closet as Cher Horowitz? Bonus points for first introducing me and perhaps a majority of the world to Azzedine Alaïa.
See Also: The 2nd Season of Gossip Girl (2008-2009)With the possible exception of Mean Girls, there hasn't come along a teen movie as smart or as witty as Clueless. But in terms of style, the second season of Gossip Girl rose to the challenge, making fashion icons of Blair Waldorf and Serena Vanderwoodsen, as well as their real-life counterparts, Leighton Meester and Blake Lively.
8. Blow-Up (1966)
Michelangelo Antonioni captures the mod mood of 60s Swinging London as a hedonistic fashion photographer -- played by David Hemmings -- tries to figure out whether or not he accidentally snapped a murder. In the film's most famous scene, 6'1 supermodel Veruschka writhes around the set of a photoshoot as Hemmings makes love to her with his camera.
See Also: La Dolce Vita (1960) If Blow-Up swings, La Dolce Vita sways. Federico Fellini's romantic portrait of Rome is as sleek and stylish as protagonist Marcello Rubini's suits.
9. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
It's a matter of public record that Lauren Weisberger's roman à clef was based on Anna Wintour -- who famously wore Prada to the film's opening -- but what the film accomplishes (okay, let's be real, what Meryl Streep accomplishes) is creating not only one of the greatest villains, but also one of the greatest fashion icons, in modern cinema.
See Also: Sex and the City: The Movie (2008) A completely unnecessary production and by the loosest definitions an actual "movie," Sex and the City also benefited from Pat Field's brilliant styling, but unlike The Devil Wears Prada, there was no Oscar nomination for attiring Carrie and Co.
Everything benefits from a parody -- rather everything benefits from a good parody, Though Zoolander is far from perfect, it's a fun and funny romp through fashion's ridiculous playground; complete with walk-offs, an evil Galliano-esque designer in Jacobim Mugatu and the introduction of Blue Steel into the cultural lexicon. And lucky for us, there's a sequel in the works thus righting everything with the world.
See Also: Brüno (2009) Taking off where Ben Stiller catwalked off, Sacha Baron Cohen's flamboyant character traipsed through America, s preading his questionably fashionable and gratuitously gay, booty-shorted self from sea to shining seaman.