Best of Netflix Watch Instantly: Fashion Documentaries

Been a while since I did one of these!
The recent bumbling and fumbling of their moron CEO aside, Netflix has been killing it on the content front.  There's always been way more good/interesting stuff than I have time for but they've kicked it into overdrive the last while, maybe trying to distract folk from the whole Quickster clown rodeo.  If so, thank you Quickster debacle for all the amazing shows!

Fashion is one of those subjects (like pro wrestling) that I have no personal interest in, but which always makes for a great documentary.  Here's a 'no partucular order' list of my favorites currently available on streaming:

The September Issue
In depth look at the reign of Anna Wintour at Vogue magazine, the 'bible of fashion'.  As spectacular a collection of high strung personalities as you'll ever come across, all stuffed into the pressure cooker of producing 'the September issue', their biggest of the year.  Wintour isn't the monster you've been led to expect- she isn't even necessarily the most interesting figure in the documentary.  I found artistic director Grace Coddington equally magnetic, although it's the interaction of the two that really brings the film to life. A great documentary, my highest recommendation.

Bill Cunningham New York
A film about the spiritual opposite of Wintour.
Cunningham also lives and breaths fashion, but has no interest in pushing a particular agenda or profiting from his insights.  He is a conduit for what he feels is interesting and worthwhile in fashion, directing it to the public eye through his column at the New York Times. This is, as Roger Ebert put it, a movie about "a nice and happy man", which could present a filmmaking challenge.  Fortunately, he's so transparantly charismatic in front of the camera that you find yourself infected with his joy and delight.  The movie is note perfect, aside from one pointless, distracting bit where the director delves into Cunningham's love life, or lack thereof.  He found the thing he loved and was lucky enough to be able to pursue it all his life.  The September Issue is a great documentary, but this is simply a great film.

L'Amour Fou
The story of Yves St. Laurent, his life partner Pierre Berge and the accumulation and eventual dispersal of their magnificent, monumental collection of objects d'art. The collection deserves its equal billing, taking on independent life  courtesy of spectacularly lavish cinematography that leaves one feeling rumpled from luxury. My only quibble is a certain fastidiousness concerning some of the financial aspects of St. Laurent's career- open as it is about his mental problems & related drug addictions, it leaves you to guessing as to how the pair made the leap from respected but impoverished fashion house to possession of an art collection that would put many notable museums to shame.   But that's a minor quibble- St Laurent is a compelling, tragic figure and the film does him full justice.

Picture Me
Here we step through the mirror, leaving behind the designers and promoters of contemporary fashion to slip onto the runway with a successful model, Sarah Ziff. It provides insight into an aspect of fashion that everyone ignores- exploitation of models.  The protagonist makes it big but still knows plenty of girls who didn't, and they get a voice- a valuable corrective to the high pressure stream of glamour gushing from outlets like...Vogue. The lone catch here is the editorial voice of the filmmaker, who's presence grates as he unnecessarily inserts himself into the story.
Still, an excellent look at a relatively unobserved environment, and if an unpolished director is the price we pay for our glimpse behind the curtain it is a small cost.

And, back to around to Vogue, this time covering their contest to provide financial support for the next generation of fashion designers.  We meet a personable, appealing group of contestants and follow them through the process of creating their competition collections.  There isn't much drama in the actual competition- the parameters of the contest and goals of the funding parties make for an obvious favorite, but it's still interesting seeing everyone doing their work.
It's a bit rough around the edges, with some murky cinematography & curious editing choices, but the designers make it worth sticking with.

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