In a recent announcement, Disney Plus revealed that the life and times of prolific designer Karl Lagerfeld will be chronicled in a new dramatic series called ‘Kaiser Karl’. The show will chart the German designer’s journey to become the successor of Coco Chanel, as well as delve into his romance with Jacques de Bascher and his rivalry with Yves Saint Laurent’s partner Pierre Berge.
While this will be the first time a drama series is made about Lagerfeld’s story, the fashion legend has already been the main subject of many a fashion documentary such as Lagerfeld Confidential and 7 Days Out. Indeed, documentary films and biographical dramas about luxury designers, in all their eccentric brilliance, have an ineffable draw to them that is almost as captivating as the designer goods they produce.
Where fashion and film, both inherently visual, intersect, we are given a rare peek behind the grand curtains that veil the chaotic, gilded world of designer fashion. In that glimpse, the names we’ve become so familiar with, projected with strobe lights on runways and embossed on labels; so ubiquitous that they become entities in themselves, gently unravel as we start to recognise the very real, complex people behind them.
As another season of fashion week kicks off, we explore the lived stories behind the biggest names in the industry who have changed the way we see fashion, art and culture. Here’s a list of the best movies and documentaries detailing the lives and careers of the most iconic designers of our time.
Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist.
Rising to fame in the late seventies, Vivienne Westwood’s made an indelible mark on British fashion with her renegade spirit which pushed the punk rock movement to its height. This feature-length documentary by Lorna Tucker follows her career, spanning nearly half a decade, and her public activism dedicated to political, social and environmental issues.
Directed by Ian Bonhôte and written by Peter Ettedgui, this film gives viewers a personal look into the late Alexander McQueen’s life, with exclusive material from recovered archives and interviews with his close family members and friends. From his east London beginnings to his irreverent and emotional designs, this tribute celebrates and paints an evocative picture of the visionary but afflicted mind of this artist.
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards
With appearances by a hefty list of celebrities and fashion mavens, from Rihanna to Sofia Coppola to Vogue’s own Anna Wintour, this whimsical documentary highlights the craftsmanship, skill and knowledge of master shoemaker Manolo Blahnik. Directed by Michael Roberts, the film traces his illustrious career all the way back to his childhood days on the Canary Islands where he would craft shoes for the lizards in his parents’ garden out of chocolate foil wrappers.
Meticulously documenting renowned Belgian designer Dries Van Noten for an entire year, director Reiner Holzemer brings viewers along on the journey to create four of the designer’s expansive collections. Not only does the documentary capture how rich fabrics, prints and embroidery come alive in the unique cuts and patterns Van Noten is known for, it also weaves in pieces of intimate moments from his home life with partner Patrick Vangheluwe.
Valentino: The Last Emperor
Released the year after Valentino Garavani announced his retirement, this documentary by Matt Tyrnauer salutes the astounding career of one of the world’s most celebrated designers. While the film features the relationship between him and his business and life partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, viewers are also privy to the process of preparing for the designer’s final show after fifty years of running his fashion house.
Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer
From his humble small-town Missourian roots to becoming the creative director of Moschino, Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer looks back at the ups and downs of the American designer’s path to success. Directed by Vlad Yudin, the documentary explores the ways Scott taps into the cultural zeitgeist for his designs and includes cameos by a parade of celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Rita Ora and Katy Perry.
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words
Making a documentary based on a subject who refuses to show his face to the public might deter most filmmakers, but Dries director Reiner Holzemer was not fazed. This film takes a look into the mind of elusive designer Martin Margiela, and notes his most memorable career moments such as a fashion show staged in an old freight train and creating the signature Tabi boot. In lieu of his face, the camera hones in on the hands that construct Margiela’s famously unconventional designs.
House of Cardin
P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes explore French mogul Pierre Cardin’s life and career, reflecting on his future facing attitude that shaped his designs and business choices. The documentary highlights his collaborations with Christian Dior on the 1947 New Look collection, his Space Age designs, and his openness to licensing as a means of democratising fashion. The film features interviews with Cardin, who died in 2020 after its release, as well as unpublished archival footage of his fashion shows.
This film explores the life of Yves Saint Laurent, focusing on the relationship between him and his partner Pierre Bergé. The documentary, directed by Pierre Thoretton, details the founding of their couture house in 1961, the historically defining designs such as the Mondrian dress, his death and the auctioning off of their extraordinary collection of art. Interviews with Bergé give viewers personal insight into the internationally celebrated designer’s life and work.
Starring Ewan McGregor as the titular character, this film explores the life and career of the late American designer Roy Halston Frowick, simply known as Halston. Not only responsible for some of the key aesthetics that defined the disco era, Halston’s designs put American fashion on the map internationally, with its fluid fabrics, flattering silhouettes and flashy sequins. Written and directed by Frédéric Tcheng, the documentary tells the layered story of the famed designer’s rise and fall.
Photo: Music Box Films