The Oscars have come to a close and so has Montreal fashion week, but there is no need to be blue.
Fashion is never better preserved than on a film reel, from the backstage anticipation of a designer’s first runway show to a fashion magazine editor’s icy glare of disapproval, fashion-forward folks should not miss two documentaries just released on DVD.
The first was made on a tiny budget and chronicles the hardships of a burgeoning fashion designer in New York City, putting on his very first collection and displaying it at Fashion Week. Eleven Minutes begins with Jay McCarroll, walking around the Bryant Park tents in February 2007, worried about his debut at the following fashion week in September. “It’s very important to make that leap from TV designer to real life designer,” McCarroll said, as worry crept across his face. “If I fuck this one up, I may have to reconsider some things.”
McCarroll has more pressure on his debut than most; being the first winner of Project Runway in 2004, the New York fashion elite will pounce on any opportunity to rip his designs to shreds. “It’s like the famous child syndrome,” proclaimed Kelly Cutrone, the public relations and marketing shark of People’s Revolution, “people expect him not to be as good because he was on Project Runway. It’s like America’s Next Top Model – there isn’t one of those who has become a famous model.”
Cutrone is representing McCarroll and provides the doc with some much-needed drama as she did for MTV’s The Hills, back when Lauren Conrad was still on the show. Cutrone, it seems, enjoys a good confrontation, and can be down right nasty in order to get her point across. When McCarroll shows Cutrone his selection of models to walk down the runway, she is not sparing with her choice of words.
“This girl is ugly Jay.”
“I’m looking for weird,” McCarroll replies.
“Yeah, but you don’t want weird so when they are at the end of the catwalk, they’re like, “I’ve just been gang banged by 50 people and then fucked up the ass.'”
The comments are laughed off, and the film never really acknowledges how McCarroll feels about the industry that strives for perfection (although viewers are allowed to see Cutrone shove model photos aside, proclaiming “too old,” “too sharp,” “too weird”).
McCarroll’s designs are inspired by hot air balloons, and the clothes for his first collection result in a mix of Urban Outfitters-style casual and odd parachute-like dresses.
The title, Eleven Minutes, refers to the length of a runway show. As McCarroll says, it’s months of hard work for a show lasting as long as “a long shit.”
Another film worth checking out is the larger budget doc, The September Issue, following Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue (who was the inspiration for the 2006 film, The Devil Wears Prada).
The September issue of Vogue is the largest of the year and is regarded as the fashion bible, dictating the latest trends and styles to millions of dedicated readers. Much planning goes into each and every page, with production beginning months in advance.
Wintour, for all the media speculation of her cold demeanour, doesn’t come off as glacial but more detached and aloof. Her intent is not to be curt or rude, but such are the social mannerisms of a woman with a million debates and decisions roaring underneath her neatly coiffed bangs.
While Wintour allows cameras to follow her around, she rarely grants them any emotion. Luckily, we meet Grace Coddington, Vogue’s creative director and the magazine’s emotional core. Wintour may make the final decisions, but it is clear that the passion and artistry all come from Coddington.
Coddington stands out from the crowd at first; with her wiry orange hair graying at the roots and less than fashionable outfits, she is not a typical member of the Vogue staff. However, Coddington is the most beautiful woman in the film, if looks are taken aside. A fashionista at birth, but living too far from designer shops in Wales, Vogue magazine was her only connection to the fashion world. Coddington won a competition to model for Vogue at the age of 17, which led to a successful modeling career, until she was hurt in a car crash that left her slightly disfigured and requiring plastic surgery. With her modeling career over, Coddington began working on the magazine’s editorial content, and is now the second most important person running Vogue.
Coddington attends the magazine’s photo shoots, and instructs models, while also helping set up the shots. She is a master, able to capture the most intricate photographic nuances, and is a kind spirit as well. Coddington buys a waifish model in a corset a strawberry tart to eat between shots, sensing that the girl is hungry.
The film also gives an interesting look at publishing within the fashion industry; $50,000 photo shoots are discarded at whim by Wintour, while the actual written editorial content seems about as important as last season’s Louis Vuitton handbag.
The film also elicits some interesting debate: at what point does photoshopping convey the wrong message? Should celebrities be on the front cover of every issue? Should style always win out over substance?
If only Coddington had her own magazine, the fashion industry would be a brighter place.