The 21 best fashion documentaries to watch whilst self-isolating

Proving style and social-distancing can go hand in hand

The world of fashion has always been one surrounded not only by glamour but mystique – a realm adored by so many yet truly experienced by so few. Whether it’s a portrait of the personalities behind globally-recognised brands or a look through the lens of industry insiders or a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life on the catwalk, fashion documentaries show a side of the industry most people don’t normally get to witness. So if you’re looking for a dose of style and escapism, these are the best fashion documentaries to watch right now…

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (2020)

Martin Margiela is well known for being fashion’s most elusive and media-shy figure. Since the Belgian designer first emerged on the scene in 1988, he has never once taken a bow at the end of a show, posed for a picture or conducted a face-to-face interview. Now a new documentary, directed by Reiner Holzemer, sees the fashion enigma break his silence for the first time to talk about his 20 years in the industry, discussing his childhood, education and rise to becoming one of the most influential designers of his generation at the helm of Maison Martin Margiela, before he stepped away from it all at the end of 2009 (since his departure, the label has dropped the ‘Martin’). While the film is narrated in his voice, you never once see his face, with Holzemer only offering us glimpses of his hands at work on some of his most recognisable designs, including the split-toed Tabi boot. “I don’t like the idea of being a celebrity; anonymity is very important to me,” explains Margiela in the film. “Anonymity for me was a kind of protection of my person.”
Available on YouTube, £7.99

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (2011)

“I wasn’t a fashion editor, I was the one and only fashion editor,” declares Diana Vreeland in this biopic of her extraordinary career, one of the finest fashion documentaries to date. Brought to life through a mash-up of audio and filmed interviews, Diana’s journey is explored from her childhood in Belle Époque Paris, to New York society girl, to fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and eventually editor-in-chief of Vogue. This role made her into a celebrity in her own right, a source of inspiration for future fashionistas, and a name style connoisseurs need to know.
Available on YouTube, £2.49

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (2018)

Longtime rebel and punk rocker Vivienne Westwood has been a prominent presence on the British fashion scene since the Seventies, proving the continual appeal of her anarchic design aesthetic. This access-all-areas look at her maison explores both the social and commercial value she found in putting punk on the catwalk, as well as giving anti-establishment sentiments a mainstream platform. But it also takes a close look at the woman herself, from her closest relationships to the environmental activism which defines her and her brand today.
Available on YouTube, £3.49

Catwalk (1995)

Taking viewers back to the Nineties and the age of the supermodels, Catwalk focuses on Christy Turlington – one of the most celebrated supermodels of the day. The 1994 spring shows in Milan, Paris and New York provide the setting, as Turlington flits between fittings for the likes of Chanel, Dior and Versace, as well shooting a cover for W. There are plenty of other notable fashion names littered throughout the footage to spot, from fellow supers Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell to iconic designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Valentino Garavani and the late Gianni Versace.
Available on YouTube

7 Days Out (2018)

Netflix’s series 7 Days Out centres on six of the world’s biggest events and the week leading up to each of them. Their sartorial instalment focuses on Chanel’s SS18 couture show at the Grand Palais in Paris, providing a peek behind the scenes at the fittings, castings and backstage drama of a high fashion show. Karl Lagerfeld poignantly takes centre stage in what would prove to be his last show before his death the following year, making this a must-see for fans of the iconic French fashion house.
Available on Netflix

Dior & I (2014)

What does legacy truly mean? This the conundrum Raf Simons grapples with in the documentary about the lead up to his inaugural show for Dior. Shot in 2012, 55 years after Christian Dior’s death, the documentary follows minimalist menswear designer Raf as he transitions into couture to take over the helm of the legendary fashion house and create his first collection in just eight weeks. An incredible insight into not only this storied world, but also the astounding creative process that goes into designing a collection and staging a fashion show.
Available on iTunes, £3.49

The First Monday in May (2016)

It may have been postponed this year, but there’s still one way you can enjoy the high fashion and drama of the Met Ball. Taking its title from the date the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts its famously glamorous party each spring, this documentary is the perfect way to get a behind-the-scenes look at an event described as “the fashion world’s equivalent of the SuperBowl”. As well as focusing on the superlative scale and preparations that go into hosting the Met Ball, this documentary also gives an intimate look at the 2015 China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition – the opening of which coincides with the event.
Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, £3.49

Iris (2014)

With her signature super-sized frames and vibrant fashion sense, nonagenarian Iris Apfel has become one of New York’s most beloved style icons. This documentary looks at her 75 years of influence in both fashion and interior design, from being one of the first women to wear jeans to working for multiple Presidents on design restoration projects at the White House. Expect a colourful portrait of her as a business woman today and living proof that style really is ageless.
Available on Google Play, £3.49

Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (2017)

Hailed as the greatest shoemaker of the 20th and 21st centuries, Manolo Blahnik is revered in fashion circles for his craftsmanship, skill and incredible style – three things that led him to be the first man to ever grace the cover of British Vogue. This documentary allows you to step into the shoes of the footwear maestro, from his childhood making shoes for the lizards who lived in his garden through to his journey to becoming a living sartorial legend, adored by the likes of Rihanna, Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, £3.49

Mademoiselle C (2013)

While she was editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld was one of the most powerful women in fashion. But what happens when you step down from that platform and hand over the crown? This documentary attempts to answer that question by looking at her next move – launching a new publication, CR Fashion Book. With a little help from her (very) famous friends, including Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace, Carine’s journey to set a new fashion agenda makes for fascinating viewing.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, £3.49

McQueen (2018)

Darkness and genius collide in this searing documentary exploring the life of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. A misfit from the beginning, east London lad McQueen’s work was beautiful yet controversial, described as shocking, distasteful and misogynistic at times. Yet McQueen was unapologetic for his extraordinary vision, saying, “I want people to feel repulsed or exhilarated.” This documentary explores both the brilliance and the beauty of his work, as well as the inner demons behind that darkness which led him to take his own life in 2010.
Available on Netflix

L’Amour Fou (2010)

Made two years after his death, this biopic of Yves Saint Laurent looks at how he went from tormented designer to head of House of Dior and eventually founder of his globally-recognised eponymous French fashion house. The documentary centres on the posthumous sale of the designer’s incredible art collection, which he built with his business and life partner, Pierre Bergé. L’Amour Fou explores their relationship, as well as Yves’s relationship with fashion – his two ‘crazy loves’ which endured throughout his life.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, £3.49

The Gospel According to André (2018)

Six-foot-six, flamboyant and fashion-obsessed, André Leon Talley has always stood out from the crowd. Growing up as a queer black man in the segregated American South, André’s love of fashion was inspired by his grandmother and attending church – a weekly catwalk for the community. This documentary is not only an account of how he became a regular at the fashion capitals of the world, an editor-at-large of Vogue and a pioneering male African-American tastemaker, but also an exploration of the resilience he learned in the face of racism and living a life that defied expectations.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, £4.49

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)

Set during the colourful closing act of his acclaimed career, this film offers a glimpse into the singular domain of one of Italy’s most famous fashion designers, Valentino Garavani. To do this, the crew were given unprecedented access to Valentino and his world of bygone glamour, shooting 250 hours of footage over two years. But as well as offering a retrospective of his life, Valentino: The Last Emperor also addresses the issues affecting the business of fashion, as his beloved empire is besieged when the brand is sold.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, £5.99

Dries (2017)

As one of the world’s most successful independent designers, Dries Van Noten has been hailed for his colourful, clashing romantic creations that speak to his master craftsmanship. Third generation in a family of tailors, the Belgian designer’s atelier revolves around tradition rather than shock tactics. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Dries is also notoriously private and rarely gives interviews. As such, this documentary is one of the few insights into his exclusive world, as well as the incredible creative process he’s been employing over the last 25 years.
Available on Google Play, £3.49

Halston (2019)

Telling the story of a boy from Iowa who went on to become one of New York’s fashion elite, this documentary by filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng profiles the rise and fall of American designer Halston. Having reigned over the sartorial scene in the 1970s, Halston was a household name, rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s elite, from Liza Minnelli to Elizabeth Taylor and countless celebrities from the Studio 54 era. But when his empire came under threat during the Wall Street stock market crash, Halston has to make the gamble of his life. Here, fashion blogger and actress Tavi Gevinson, who plays an archivist-turned-detective tasked with shining a light on the forgotten artist, investigates.
Available on YouTube, £1.99

The September Issue (2009)

Arguably the best known of all the fashion documentaries, this film follows the making of American Vogue’s 2007 September Issue – traditionally the most important issue of the year. This documentary gives an insider look at the inner workings of the fashion bible, as well as what it’s really like to work for Vogue’s infamously tough editor-in-chief (and rumoured inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada’s terrifying Miranda Priestley), Anna Wintour. Expect flashes of her famous froideur, as well as passion and creativity from a dynamic team.
Available on Google Play, £2.49

UnZipped (1995)

‘Unhooked. Undressed. Unhinged’ reads the tag line for this behind-the-scenes look at fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi’s presentation of his Fall 1994 collection. Created by Douglas Keeve, Mizrahi’s boyfriend at the time, this cult 90s fashion documentary features plenty of famous faces in the form of supermodels Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss. But it also shows the essence of what it meant to be a fashion designer in New York in the 90s via an unselfconscious snapshot of an artist at work.
Available on amazon Prime Video, £3.49

Franca: Chaos and Creation (2016)

Director Francesco Carrozzini’s documentary is a fascinating watch for many reasons. Firstly, there’s the fact that it chronicles the life of Franca Sozzani, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia and well-known provocateur of the fashion world. Secondly, and probably more interestingly, the subject just happens to be his mother. Taking Baz Lurhman’s advice to ‘make a movie only you can make’, Carrozzini created an intimate biopic exploring both his mother’s career and her personal life, unmasking the story behind fashion’s most enigmatic editor.
Available on Netflix

Lagerfeld Confidential (2007)

“I don’t want to be real in other people’s minds,” says Karl Lagerfeld, “I want to be an apparition”. It’s an eerily prescient statement from the Chanel creative director in this documentary, which was created a year before his death, after three years of filming. Lagerfeld’s personal look is iconic in its own right – long white hair, fingerless gloves, monochrome palette – but the clothes he created while at Chanel were equally extraordinary. This documentary explores the everyday life of one of the world’s most notoriously private designers to give a picture of the man behind the myth.
Available on YouTube

In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye (2015)

Following on from the success of The September Issue, In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye sees the US Vogue team return to screens to commemorate the magazine’s 120th anniversary issue. Focusing on the way in which Vogue’s most famous editorials are brought to life, the documentary offers an insight not only into the workings of the world’s most famous fashion magazine, but also how these images reflect the mood of society in that moment. Expect famous names from Hollywood and fashion to make an appearance, such as Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman.
Available on YouTube

Main image: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel