It would be hard for a documentary about Alexander McQueen not to be good. His talent was such that, twenty year’s later, the clothes and production can still hold their own against anything produced since.
I can remember watching CNN Style with Elsa Klensch - fashion, beauty and decorating! - this was the 90s remember: no internet and hardly any fashion on TV or in the media - when the ’13’ show with Shalom Harlow being sprayed by the robots was shown and I can remember looking at the TV and feeling the energy through the television. This was fashion as performance, as art, yet relatable and totally modern and contemporary. It opened my eyes and raised the bar.
This documentary is much more personal than the sell-out exhibitions at the Met and, subsequently, at the V&A, and that’s the joy of fashion documentaries - read #ChicGeekComment Is ‘Peak Fashion Documentary’ Killing The Fashion Tome?
The ‘brand’ doesn’t dominate and this is McQueen’s life story split into different sections while highlighting specific shows. His family features heavily - his sister and his nephew - who talk open and honestly about McQueen and things that shaped him, affected him and motivated him.
It was interesting to be reminded of the raw yobbishness of 90s McQueen. The Burberry check shirts, the gold necklaces and the complete lack of self image. For somebody with such good taste in designing and cutting clothes, it never really moved onto him or around him He didn’t seem interested in dressing the part or living that kind of life surrounding by beautiful things and I think this is where Isabella Blow came in. She was everything he wasn’t: obsessed with how she looked, aristocratic, living surrounded by antiques and beautiful heirlooms in her country house.
Opposites attracted, but they had an affinity with their darker sides. Both committed suicide and would use their creativity as a mask as well as a crutch.
This documentary is intense and it’s comprehensive - about 95 minutes - I think by the time it hits Netflix I would split it into 2 episodes. People like looking forward to watching a second instalment.
What Alexander McQueen had was not only imagination, but the technical skills to make clothes worth spending money on. As Tom Ford says in the film, when the theatrics and show-pieces were stripped back what was left on the hanger was some of the best cut and more stylish clothes ever.
Eight years after his death we’re still just as fascinated by his life and his place in the fashion history books alongside people like Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga is assured. It’s just a shame his career wasn’t as long, because, being selfish, I wanted so much more.
When I saw an article advertising a new fashion documentary on André Leon Talley I knew we’d reached 'peak fashion documentary' territory. The larger-than-life (in-life?) American Vogue editor-at-large has a film called “The Gospel According To André” coming out in May.
Left - The new Alexander McQueen documentary by Embankment Films Read TheChicGeek Review - here
It charts his humble beginnings growing up in North Carolina to being one of America’s most well known fashion characters.
He just adds to the many designers, brands and egos who have released documentaries over the last few years. We all know how the treatment goes: a new designer diarising their first ‘crucial’ collection, a celebration of an eccentric fashion ‘icon’ or a big opening or event and the drama surrounding it. It’s all played out in the 90 minutes or so of devoted film. Done.
It’s all very watchable content, even for those who wouldn’t know their Simone Rocha from their Ferrero Rocher. Most recently we’ve had Westwood, Blahnik and Noten get the fash-doc once over, and with a new McQueen one on it’s way, the output shows no signs of slowing down.
"Fashion has become something of an entertainment industry, and the fashion doco' is an effective way of educating an audience keen on learning about the fashion industry's players, its big brands and the myths that surround them. Expect a lot more,” says Jamie Huckbody, European Editor for Harper's BAZAAR Australia.
Netflix and the like needs content and fashion is a truly visual medium with many can’t-make-them-up type characters perfectly cast in their Devil Wears Prada roles.
I wanted to write something about the rise of the fash-doc and its growth for while, but it was a visit to the London Book Fair that got me thinking about the reason why we’ve hit peak fashion documentary.
It’s basically replaced the fashion book for the younger generation.
There are definitely less fashion monographs being produced on brands and designers ATM. Large, definitive books just don’t seem as cool anymore, and feel almost dead in comparison to the documentary.
There’s also been a generational shift. Under the elegant expanse of Olympia, I looked at all these books and I thought, who is buying them? It’s the older, wealthier generations. The ones who have the luxury of time, money and space.
Right - The Gospel According To André, coming out in May
‘Generation Rent’ - younger people - aren’t buying these books anymore. Even if they could afford them, they’ve got nowhere to store them and they certainly don’t want the additional baggage of cart shelves of expensive books around every time they move. They often don’t even have enough room for the coffee table, let alone the door stopper books to go on it.
Why buy a weighty and expensive Taschen or Assouline when you can watch the documentary? You’re only going to look at the book once, anyway, most probably. You can stream a video anytime you like, plus we are all so used to consuming content in this way.
Huckbody disagrees, saying “"Over the past three years, I've been working very closely with the millennial generation as a university lecturer, and there is still a huge appetite for books; especially books that offer an insight into 'other worlds'. This might be anything from the black and white photography of Karlheinz Weinberger to the books that are published alongside fashion exhibitions such as the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty book. For a lot of 'Generation Rent', the book offers a different experience to a picture glanced momentarily on social media."
I agree that social media is a very quick, disposable and, sometimes, unsatisfactory medium for fashion history and I’m not going to go to the extreme and pronounce the book dead, (just yet!), I’m just saying the fashion documentary has proven massively popular and it’s a modern case of you've bought the designer T-shirt now watch the documentary on it.
Traditional forms of consuming information are changing and adapting and the fashion book was always ripe to be replaced by film. Film can illustrate movement, show catwalks, people and really gives consumers a feel for what they are seeing. Add the music of the time, interviews and you get a 360 view, albeit one the brand or designer wants you to see, but then, hey, books can be just as commissioned or narcissistic.
Not all films meet with the subject’s approval. We recently saw Westwood fall out with the makers of her documentary and encourage people not to see it. It had the opposite effect, gave it more exposure and we all know that it’s good for her anarchic image.
Some of these documentaries won’t do its subjects justice, others will surprise you with how interesting they actually are.
What is great is, by replacing the book, fashion has got a much larger audience. It would have been a select, passionate few buying these books originally, but now everybody has access to give the documentary the first 10 mins and see if it piques their interest enough to watch it until the end.
What do you think? Tell me on social media @thechicgeekcouk
Talking of fashion documentaries, TheChicGeek just reviewed Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here
What they’ve done with, I’m guessing, limited visual material is remarkable. Even a featured Andy Warhol art film/doc is of such bad quality it looks like the first season of Rupaul’s Drag Race. So they’ve done well to find enough contemporary film footage or pictures to fill this and keep your attention. Obviously, there are new interviews with people who were there at the time, but it’s sad and disappointing that the two main characters are no longer with us.
Left - Antonio & Jerry
I’d heard of Antonio Lopez before and was aware of his style of drawing. I knew the era he was producing in, but that was about all. I didn’t really know who he worked with and for whom.
James Crump’s documentary centres on Paris and New York between 1969 and 1973, viewed through the eyes of Antonio Lopez (1943-1987). A native of Puerto Rico and raised in The Bronx, the story centres on him and his personal and creative partner, Juan Ramos (1942-1995).
Being an illustrator Lopez would never have been in the public eye personally, unlike many of the designers he was copying. His illustrations were well known, but it felt like he was always at the mercy of the commission, whether that was for a magazine or fashion house.
Right - Lopez's partner, Juan Ramos
Unlike Warhol, who also started as an illustrator, Lopez didn’t push himself centre stage. Warhol knew there was money to be made in people’s narcissism and vanity. Lopez seems to stick to the safety of what he knows. Maybe there wasn't enough time, well, between all the shagging, at least!
I like how the documentary moves between New York and Paris, but I wanted more from the main disco time of the late 70s and early 80s. The disco is Paris’ Club Sept, but you don't really get a feel for the place.
It gets wrapped up quickly at the end without the same level of detail. What was he working on? Did he fall out of fashion?
There is a brief moment when you feel like you’re watching a documentary about YSL and Karl Lagerfeld. (Love the beef between these two). These giant fashion planets pulled many different stars into their orbit and Lopez and his entourage of models and lovers were just some of them.
It was fun to see and hear from the group of female models Lopez championed - there's one who reminds me of Angie Bowie - and would have looked mega diverse even by today’s standards. The documentary is worth watching just for Jerry Hall’s arrival. Man, was that one beautiful woman. There are models and, then, there are supermodels. She’s like Botticelli’s Venus combine with a classical Greek siren with a dash of Texan Barbie. She’s captivating, especially in this where she's just starting out on her modelling career. This is where the film starts to end. It’s a shame, along with Grace Jones and Karl Lagerfeld, that she isn't interviewed for the film.
Lagerfeld seemed to distance himself at the end of Lopez’s career which is probably why he’s lasted so long in the fashion business. I imagine you have to be pretty cold and heartless in order to maintain your position. In the film he uses Lopez to illustrate his work at Chloe, and, being good at what he does, he knew they were the zeitgeist of the time and then when to drop them, accordingly.
Upsetting the photographer, Bill Cunningham, who is a prominent interviewee in the film, Lagerfeld wasn’t there when Lopez was diagnosed with AIDS.
The film is definitely an extensive insight into Lopez's fashion circles of the late 60s, 70s and early 80s: who knew who, who fucked who and who made it through. There are, annoyingly, not enough recorded visuals of his process and you want to hear more from the man himself. You don’t get a feeling of how much he produced and how his magazine illustrations complemented the fashion of the time. The artworks look like a mix between 70s Art Nouveau and porn illustrations, but you can see his precocious talent.
The film, again, illustrates how much talent we lost during the AIDS crisis and also fulfils our insatiable thirst for retro glamour. We live in age where we are obsessed with looking backwards at talented and beautiful people, quenching our need for what we feel today's modern landscape is sadly lacking.
Left - One of Lopez's illustrations
See #ChicGeekComment Is ‘Peak Fashion Documentary’ Killing The Fashion Tome?