Stream Films About Fashion III: Designers

Yves Saint Laurent 2014 Directed by Jalil Lespert. In French with English subtitles. Pierre Niney and Guillaime Gallienne of The Comédie-Française. This is a well produced, sympathetic look at the sensitive, Algeria-born designer from the moment he took over as artistic director of Dior at 26. There was never any question of his future. As a boy, he’d secretly cut swatches from inside his mother’s clothes to use on paper dolls. Meeting industrialist Pierre Bergé, who became Saint Laurent’s partner in life and business, was a stroke of luck.

Saint Laurent quailed at being asked about any business decision and shied away from interviews. He was always emotionally fragile. When the army conscripted him, he was, as in childhood, ridiculed and beaten up, resulting in a nervous breakdown and hospitalization. There, he became addicted to tranquilizers, the first of many drugs to come. Once the designer was released, Bergé scraped him off floors, covered his behavior during highs and hangovers, and tried to ignore a series of beautiful young lovers. The couple went back and forth from Marrakesh where life was decadent.

Saint Laurent’s depressive partying didn’t prevent him from introducing some of the most pivotal fashion trends of his time: the trapeze silhouette, sheer blouses, women’s tuxedos and pants suiting, safari jackets, Russian, Chinese, and gypsy influences. He was the first couturier to embrace ready to wear. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Yves Saint. Laurent: Firestarter 2018 Directed by Carla Duarte. A badly narrated Cliff Note timeline with salient facts and some good images. Pass. Free with Amazon Prime.

Discovering Givenchy (Hubert Givenchy) 2015. Born to an aristocratic family owning textile mills, Hubert de Givenchy came by his interest in fashion through fabrics. He apprenticed with Jacques Fath and then Lucien Lelong where the young man worked beside peers Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Marc Bohan. In 1952, Givenchy set up his own fashion house epitomizing femininity, ladylike silhouettes, meticulous tailoring, and the new area of separates.

The next year, expecting Katharine Hepburn, he was at first disappointed when Audrey Hepburn arrived, looking for costumes for Sabrina. They established a lifelong friendship with Givenchy written into every one of the actress’s film contracts. She endorsed his first perfume. Jackie Kennedy, Wallis Simpson, and Princess Grace were friends and clients. The designer sold his company to LVMH in 1988 staying on for a time. I worked with Givenchy on his Anniversary Celebration at FIT. He was elegant, soft spoken, and charming. He passed in 2018. Free with Amazon Prime.

This very good “Discover” series includes: Mary Quant, Yves St. Laurent, Armani, Stella McCartney, Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior, Versace, Vivian Westwood, Chanel…

Coco Before Chanel 2015 Co-written and directed by Anne Fontaine. In French with English subtitles. Romantically dramatizes the early life of Gabrielle Chanel (Audrey Tatou) – before Nazi fraternization during the Occupation. Left at an orphanage when her mother died, Chanel “graduates” a fatalistic young woman. By day, she’s a seamstress, at night, with her sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain), she sings at a local tavern. Adrienne introduces Gabrielle/“Coco” (from the song) to her boyfriend and his friend, Baron Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde).

The latter takes a liking to Coco. They dine and go to bed – a purely practical matter to the young, curious, unsentimental woman. When she can’t stand her lowly life anymore, she shows up at his country estate and stays… making her own masculine clothes when needed. Balsen treats her like a pet, but even sullen, she’s original and ingratiates herself to his friends. One of these, Englishman Arthur “Boy” Capell (Alessandro Nivola) becomes the love of her life.

Capell backs her first atelier. Despite his UK marriage, they remain lovers until he’s tragically killed in a car accident. Fast forward to a runway show at Chanel’s salon – the designer was ahead of her time in dressing women for comfort and simplifying a modern look. Pretty and pleasant. Rent with Amazon Prime.

Dior and I 2015 Written and Directed by Frédéric Tcheng. Partially subtitled. This is an inside look at a fashion house in transition, specifically of Raf Simons first show for the house of Dior. (He now works with Prada.) Simons, a Belgian who had been a furniture designer, then creative director at Jil Sander Menswear, seemed an odd choice for the feminine, romantic Dior, a house that featured embellishment where Simons’ looks were stark.

He didn’t sew, sketch, or drape, arrived with limited French, and refused to participate in more than limited public relations efforts. First Assistant Pieter translates and gracefully smoothes edges. 

Utilizing Dior archives and updating models Simons pulls it off. He presents his premiere line at a location covered floor to ceiling in live blossoms it takes 50 men 48 hours to install. Imagine the cost. Not only is this a revealing glimpse at the workings of a Paris atelier, but Monsieur Dior’s own welcome words intermittently express his approach to the art. Free with Amazon Prime.

McQueen (Lee Alexander McQueen) 2018 Directed by Ian Bonhote, Peter Ettedgui. In February 2010, at the height of success, designer Alexander McQueen hung himself. He was HIV positive – not necessarily a death sentence. McQueen’s clothes were often perceived as costumes, especially in context of runway shows with elaborate headpieces and sets that referenced evil, ugliness and death. Anyone in New York probably waited in line to see his blockbuster exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The man himself was working class. He chanced on a Saville Row apprenticeship thinking to become a tailor and excelled. McQueen talked himself into employment at Romeo Gigli and then went to The London School of Art. Showing, he attracted fashionista socialite Isabella Blow who championed him. Eventually, he dumps her. She takes her own life. McQueen’s second show, Highland Rape, features clothes that are transgressive, in-your-face, fetish, rubber, latex and leather. “You don’t move forward if you play it safe…”

The oddest choice one can imagine, McQueen becomes artistic director of Givenchy. “I think my being chosen put most people into a coma.” He cuts, rips, drapes and pins with dazzling speed, shocking the French. They make 55 outfits in 25 days. Next, he moves to Dior – another industry surprise. In one notable show, two (non-human looking) robots spray paint a model on a revolving turntable wearing a white dress. His own McQueen lines continued in tandem. Free with Amazon Prime.

Halston 2019 Directed by Frédéric Tcheng. A thorough look at the career of Roy Halston Frowick who rose from the milliner that created Jackie Kennedy’s inauguration pillbox hat to the designer of hot pants and sleek, zipperless fashion epitomizing contemporary American design in the 1970s. “You were free inside your clothes.” Talking heads include journalists, former models and officer managers, retail experts, and client/friends like Liza Minnelli.

Photos and extensive film coverage manifest every moment of the designer’s rise starting at Bergdorf Goodman, establishing his own business in a Madison Avenue aerie then moving to extravagant Olympic Tower offices with lifestyle to match. There are fashion shows, extensive licensing deals, and, with the advent of Studio54, drugs. Halston made a first major mistake selling his name with the business in 1973, his second by signing a contract with J.C. Penney that resulted in his being ostracized by better retailers and well heeled clients.

Penney had very different business attitudes. At the end, he was literally locked out. A sympathetic portrait (without psychology) and good look at the clothes. Free with Amazon Prime.

Very Ralph (Ralph Lauren) 2019 Directed by Susan Lacey. This beautiful, high gloss view of what seems like designer Ralph Lauren’s charmed life is like watching a classier “Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous.” Born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, Lauren showed style even as a child. He sold, then designed neckties, first turning his apparel hand to menswear. The business is now a global multibillion-dollar enterprise. Having slept on a floor mattress with young wife, Ricky, he now owns an opulent estate worthy of any Hollywood decorator’s dream. You’ll salivate.

The film offers little insight in character or trials. Family is paramount. Success, sophistication, and luxury reign. Free through Prime with HBO Trial.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Alix Cohen (816 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.