Inside the Industry: MODA’s Top 5 Fashion Designer Documentaries

by Molly Sitter, Contributing Writer

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With fashion publications portraying designers as celebrities possessing almost magical creative power, it’s no wonder that most fashion-oriented college students have contemplated a career path in the design profession. Yet what many fail to notice is that designers are actually real people who work hard to create clothing for a living and not just for enjoyment. Demonstrating this, there are certain fashion documentaries that go behind the scenes of the world’s most famous fashion houses to provide viewers with a clear, unbiased perspective that delves into the real life of designers, their inspiration and their creative process. Featured below, the following documentaries give this kind of insight as they reveal the beginnings of fashion through history, how clothing goes from the sketchpad to the runway, and most importantly how fashion is not all glamour – it’s very real work.

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)

Valentino: The Last Emperor documents the legacy of one of the most well-known fashion designers in Italy and the entire world, Valentino Garavani. Known for his famous clientele and his innate ability to strive for ultimate beauty, Valentino is revealed to be an individual who is stubborn and passionate with his work in this 2008 documentary. The film summarizes Valentino’s 45-year career in the fashion industry while illuminating the methods behind the inner-workings of the haute couture business, as the cameras document Valentino’s creative process while he creates one of his dresses for his then-upcoming collection. Concluding with his final spring/summer 2006 runway show in Paris, the documentary comes to a close by highlighting the way the collection captured Valentino’s legacy in reconstructing several of the classic Valentino red dresses.


Seamless (2005)

Filmed alongside the beginning of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the Vogue Foundations initiative in 2004, Seamless captured both organizations’ efforts to help struggling designers succeed in today’s difficult economy. Featuring prospective designers who share high levels of creative talent but lack the financial means to create and sustain a business, viewers learn that the ultimate goal for every designer is to “reap the benefits of their hard work,” have “lots of people buy their clothes,” and prove that “life is fair even when it’s not.” Moreover, the film highlights the costs of starting your own label by going behind the scenes and capturing the work of the Proenza Schouler designers that won the organizations’ scholarship for that year. A truly inspiring story, this documentary not only shows the challenges for beginning designers in today’s economy, but it also offers hope through revealing the scholarship opportunity for many aspiring fashion designer hopefuls.

Unzipped (1995)

Unzipped is a hilarious documentary about Isaac Mizrahi’s efforts to redeem himself through his fall 1994 collection. By using the best models, like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, and Cristy Turlington, and drawing inspiration from Eskimos portrayed on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mizrahi strives to reinvent himself as a designer and prove his critics wrong. Truly entertaining from start to finish, this documentary does a fantastic job of going behind the scenes to not only capture Mizrahi’s creative process, but also his hilarious and open personality.

Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton

Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton (2007)

In the documentary, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, the viewer is given a behind-the-scenes look into the creative process for Marc Jacobs’ and Louis Vuitton’s spring 2007 collections. Considered to be one of the largest names in fashion, Jacobs is most widely known for being the inventor of grunge, but since arriving at Louis Vuitton in 1997, he has been recognized for helping the Parisian fashion house double in size. Providing exclusive insight into the difficulties Jacobs faces in designing for two totally different brands on separate sides of the globe, the film reflects on the stark contrasts between both labels and highlights the differing ideas, values, workshop environments, employees, and clothes of each design house.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s (2013)

Known for being one of the ultimate shopping destinations in fashion, one could argue that if a designer’s pieces are not sold within the doors of Bergdorf Goodman, they are not considered a genuine designer at all. In the documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, viewers get an exclusive look inside the iconic, high-end American retailer with behind-the-scenes access to their mesmerizing window displays and insight into what it means to be part of Bergdorf Goodman. Additionally, the documentary also showcases the reputation and status that goes along with having your designs sold at Bergdorf’s and interviews iconic fashion industry personnel including Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Louboutin, Diane von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Rachel Zoe, Marc Jacobs, and more.

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