Fashion films have always been torn between two purposes: maintaining the mystery and luster behind the world they are profiling, and revealing it in every bare detail.
The recent spate of fashion-related films — Lagerfeld Confidential, Valentino: The Last Emperor, and The September Issue — are no exception. Promising to illuminate the elusive, lauded world of haute couture and style, they take us right to the edge without letting us jump off.
Fashion films first became vogue with the advent of supermodel fever of the '90s. The cult of Linda Evangelista and Co. bred a slew of films such as Catwalk and Unzipped that were mostly fairly ephemeral documentaries. The backlash that followed the bubble-burst of the supermodel ruled out models as a serious subject matter for a while and the fashion industry simply became something easy to parody. Zoolander did huge business playing on this backlash and the popular perception that male models have overdeveloped senses of their own beauty and underdeveloped brains.
We've always been fascinated by models. Their vaunted positions as arbiters of culture have proven continually bewitching.
In the late '90s, models were portrayed as wild and out of control in such sensationalist films as Gia (1998), about real-life model Gia Carangi, a drug addict who died of AIDS at 26. Denys Arcand's Stardom (2000) profiled, in a similarly tabloid way, the rise and fall of a supermodel. This big-budget film found its opposite in 2005's Frankie which saw Diane Kruger being admitted into a mental hospital from the strain of the fashion industry.
And of course in the last five years there's been the massive success on the small screen of 'reality' series such as Search For A Supermodel and Next Top Model, which are mostly a chronicle of jarring personalities and ambitions rather than any sort of insight into the life of a model.