Movie Review – Two Fashion Documentaries

Coincidentally in the last few weeks I’ve watched two documentaries on fashion, specifically fashion in New York. I don’t watch docos often, so it’s interesting that I managed to see two on a similar topic within weeks of each other. The first I saw at the movies when it opened, the second I watched on Netflix on a particularly lazy weekend afternoon.

The First Monday in May
The film follows the careful planning of the 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition about the influence of the Chinese culture on fashion over the last century, as well as the preparation of the Met Gala Ball by Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine. Wintour serves on the Met’s Board of Trustees, and has worked tirelessly over the years to raise funds that allow the Costume Institute to keep running. The main focuses of the film are curator Andrew Bolton, who oversees the Costume Institute’s exhibition each year, and Wintour and her Vogue assistants planning the Gala Ball concurrently, cleverly referencing the theme of fashion as art the entire time. Sprinkled throughout the film are interviews with fashion designers like John Galliano and Karl Largerfeld, all of whom wax lyrical about whether or not their fashion is art, as well as an insight into how celebrity high fashion contributes to this cultural fascination with fashion on the red carpet.

Being both an art and fashion lover, as well as someone who finds well organised events extremely satisying (weird, I know), I really enjoyed sitting back and watching the staff at the Met working round the clock to install the fashion and props that sat alongside the art, and the staff at Vogue working the phones in their offices to try and nab the biggest names without going bankrupt. I cannot tell you how much I was DYING for a close up shot of the seating plan that had four or five names shoved up into the corner that a staffer was “hoping would drop off.” Seeing the fashion arrive at the museum and be unwrapped and unboxed was enthralling – as was watching the museum staff reactions and excitement about each piece. Other interesting parts were Bolton’s visit to China to research and plan the exhibit, and his and Wintour’s return there later on to promote the exhibit. Hearing their views on the importance of all Chinese history versus the Chinese reporters touchiness about acknowledging certain unsavoury aspects of their country’s history was eye-opening. The film as a whole will appeal to art and fashion lovers alike, and though towards the end there is a heavier focus on the Met Gala Ball and the celebrities, it’s still a great documentary to watch.

The First Monday in May is now showing at cinemas around Australia.

I was sick with a horrible cold recently, one that was worse than anything I’d had in the last year – it just went on and on and ooonnnnnn. So I spent the best part of a week or two lying in bed and watching Netflix as much as one can with a four year old to entertain. I wanted to watch some movies that were easy and didn’t require too much thinking when I scrolled through the menu and Iris popped up for selection. I had heard about Iris Apfel when the film was released and she was popping up in magazine articles and profiles, so I was intrigued to learn more about her world. Iris is a ninety four year old New York interior designer, international traveller, business woman and fasion icon. Her style is bright and bold and very individual, and the film centres around the story of her life and how her style has evolved over the years. Hearing her talk about the trips she used to take with her husband around the world to source interesting and exotic pieces for clients’ homes, which led to her designing her own fabrics based on the rich colours and patterns she found by working directly with local merchants in whichever city she and her husband were visiting was fascinating. So respected was her eye for style that she worked on redecorating the White House for nine separate presidents, which is no small feat.

The film is a gentle, retrospective look at Iris’ life and experiences as a woman who resolutely knows her own style. She recalls a story about wanting to buy a pair of jeans when they were first introduced in America, and having to badger the store selling them over and over again until they sold her a pair of men’s jeans just to get her to leave them alone. The filmmaker also follows Iris around New York on shopping trips and across America as she speaks at department store events and Fashion institutes with eager students who want to hear about her experiences with style and fashion over the years. It’s a lovely documentary to watch, and the quiet attention paid to her marriage to her ailing husband is very sweet. It’s worth a look just to see the inside of her apartment, which veers wildly from stylish to over-the-top kitsch tchochkes crammed onto every surface. But every piece has a story, and when Iris lends her clothes to a museum, seeing her advise the staff on how to style her clothing with her chunky, statement jewellry tells you all you need to know: the woman knows what works for her, from head to toe.

Iris is now showing on Netflix Australia.

Until next time,

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