FASHION: There are few creative mediums that go together quite like fashion and film. Whether it’s a director’s knack for capturing the dramatic movement of a gown on screen, or the contributions to the movie world made by fashion designers over the decades, the symbiotic relationship has created some of the most memorable on-screen moments of all time.
So whether to satisfy your curiosity about an industry so often wrapped up in mystery, to provide the backstory to some of the most important moments in fashion history, or simply to indulge in a little sartorial escapism, here, find all the most iconic films about fashion you can watch now.
Funny Face (1957)
As far as fashion films go, they don’t get much more joyous than Funny Face. Audrey Hepburn stars as Jo Stockton, a shy New York City bookshop assistant who dreams of studying philosophy in Paris. Her aspirations are realized through the unlikeliest of means after she becomes a muse to the celebrated fashion photographer Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire. Packed with gorgeous Parisian set pieces, delightful tunes by George and Ira Gershwin, and exquisite dresses crafted both by legendary costumier Edith Head and regular Hepburn collaborator Hubert de Givenchy, it’s a perfect ode to the joys of haute couture.
One of the more sinister entries on the list, this darkly glamorous thriller directed by Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni is set within the heady heights of Swinging Sixties London. It weaves an unlikely tale of intrigue centered around David Hemmings’s lusty fashion photographer Thomas, who believes he has accidentally photographed a murder taking place. With hindsight, the complicated protagonist’s attitude to his female subjects is very much a product of its time—but the film’s menacing thrills are leavened by a number of fabulous cameos, from Veruschka to Jane Birkin. Blow-Up today serves as a fascinating document of a pivotal moment in fashion history.
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966)
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? may have been released in the same year as Blow-Up, but its vision of the Swinging Sixties is altogether more surrealist and willfully satirical. Directed by the American photographer and filmmaker William Klein, the film pokes fun at the excesses and frivolities of the fashion industry in a way that manages to be both glamorous and grotesque. Come for the costumes—which offer as a brilliantly realized time capsule of 1960s style and have since inspired Jean-Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs—and stay for the brilliant performance by Grayson Hall as Miss Maxwell, an imperious, Diana Vreeland-esque fashion editor whose pithy remarks can make or break a career.
As far as portrayals of fashion designers on-screen go, they don’t get more decadent than Diana Ross’s turn as the American design student Tracy Chambers, whose clothes become an unlikely hit in the salons of high society 1970s Rome. Directed by Motown Records’ Berry Gordy, the film’s celebration of fashion at its most flamboyant and excessive also features a political message that remains relevant to this day, as Tracy is torn between her love for a Black activist fighting gentrification in her hometown of Chicago, and the glamorous but ultimately empty promises of her modeling career in Europe. Also featuring a soundtrack for the ages, Mahogany is a campy—and surprisingly conscientious—fashion fantasy.
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In Robert Altman’s sprawling, starry, and very much satirical ode to the fashion industry, nothing is quite as it seems. Employing the filmmaker’s signature mockumentary style, there are celebrity cameos from the likes of Julia Roberts, Sophia Loren, and Lauren Bacall, all playing various fashionistas descending on Paris Fashion Week in the wake of the death of Olivier de la Fontaine, the head of the city’s fashion council. While the film was both a critical and commercial bomb, the initially bemused response of the fashion industry has softened over the years into affection. As a document of the thrilling heights of the 1990s runway show, there’s no better film to watch,
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
As far as bringing the rarefied, secretive world of fashion media into the spotlight goes, few films have been as successful as The Devil Wears Prada. Starring Meryl Streep in a thrillingly vicious, Oscar-nominated turn as the editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, we follow the journey of Anne Hathaway’s initially style-illiterate Andy Sachs as she enters this cutthroat world as Miranda’s assistant. An endlessly quotable and uproariously funny insight into the obsessive nature of those who work in fashion, the film also benefits from brilliant supporting performances by Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci. But could the real villain of the film in fact be Andy’s boyfriend? It only takes a quick scroll through Twitter to see that debate roaring to this day.
Coco Before Chanel (2009)
If you’re looking for a dose of fashion history, you can’t go wrong with Audrey Tautou’s sublime performance as Coco Chanel in her early years as a seamstress, before she would go on to found her eponymous house that would redefine the modern woman’s wardrobe. With the help of elegant cinematography and art direction—and perhaps most memorably, stunning style moments courtesy of the French costume designer Catherine Leterrier, whose work on the film earned her a César Award—it’s the rare fashion biopic that goes deep below the surface, offering a moving insight into the inner world of the designer it profiles.
The Neon Demon (2016)
You may need a strong stomach to sit through some of the more grisly moments of Nicolas Winding Refn’s psychological horror The Neon Demon, but you’ll get your reward through plenty of eye-popping fashion, too. Elle Fanning’s young modeling ingenue soon gets swept up in the scene’s darker underbelly, resulting in demonic possessions, serial killer photographers, and a particularly horrifying final sequence involving an exorcism, necrophilia, and a lot (a lot) of blood. While its sideways swipes at the darker corners of the fashion industry may be a little heavy-handed, The Neon Demon makes for a bracing and gloriously gory guilty pleasure.
Phantom Thread (2017)
Few films capture the obsessive, exacting nature of haute couture as deftly as Paul Thomas Anderson’s claustrophobic and brilliantly eerie Phantom Thread, which charts the relationship between the high society designer Reginald Woodcock—loosely based on Charles James—and a young woman he meets at a seaside café who becomes his muse. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-nominated performance is more than matched by his co-stars Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville, bringing this dark fairy tale to vivid, believable life. Phantom Thread’s window into the world of post-war fashion is an intoxicating, beautifully woven fairy tale—but one that ultimately feels closer to a nightmare.
While Disney’s fantastical take on the world of fashion may be a little far-fetched, it gets more right than it does wrong. It tells the origin story of 101 Dalmatians’ infamously stylish villain Cruella DeVil, here played in her youth by Emma Stone. Her beginnings as a renegade fashion designer—when she pushes back against the florals and frivolity of 1960s London style and introduces something darker and more dangerous to the mix—has plenty of parallels in real-world figures such as Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. The costumes may be ahistorical (albeit intentionally so), but the tale of egos and excess in fashion is undoubtedly timeless.
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