The well-tailored worlds of high fashion and haute couture are truly, flamboyantly dramatic. There’s passion and spectacle stitched into every garment; designs dripping with the blood, sweat and tears of every costumier and couturier with a story to tell and a way with a needle.
But which films tell these stories best? From a celebrated-but-subdued film from Paul Thomas Anderson to a bolshy, punk rock retelling of London’s 1970s fashion revolution, we’ve stitched together a list of the sharpest, stylish, most trimly-cut movies to watch right now…
Phantom Thread, 2017
First up; Daniel Day-Lewis as a haute couture dressmaker. For anyone who adored writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent Licorice Pizza, Phantom Thread is a slight chance of pace — but one that still stitches the same poignancy and aesthetic style into its well-made seams. Day-Lewis, who plays the impeccably-named Reynolds Woodcock, spent a year learning the art of dressmaking to adequately method act his way to a sixth ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nomination.
Cut from a very different cloth is Greed, a satiric comedy from The Trip creator Michael Winterbottom. Starring the writer-director’s frequent collaborator Steve Coogan as perma-grinning billionaire Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie, the film lampoons high-street fashion mogul Philip Green by putting his fictionalised counterpart through the wringer; everything from a government inquiry to a doomed birthday party.
House of Gucci, 2021
It’s a hit-and-miss movie — but Ridley Scott’s pulpy, well-dressed retelling of Maurizio Gucci’s rise, fall and assassination makes for rollicking viewing. Lady Gaga’s portrayal of Patrizia Reggiani is commendable, as is Al Pacino’s quietly affecting turn and Adam Driver’s work stepping into Maurizio’s horse-bit loafers. The soundtrack is also a treat; humming with Italian covers of pop classics. As long as you can look past Jared Leto’s laughable, prosthetic-muddled performance, you’ll have a good time.
Saint Laurent, 2014
2014 saw two biographical films released about the same person; famed fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The first, Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, is a restrained affair — so we’d recommend seeking out this slight more ‘rock n’ roll’ spin through the visionary’s life, by Bertrand Bonello. Starring the late Gaspard Ulliel as the designer, the film charts the ups-and-downs of the fashion house between 1967 and 1976. Look out for a pre-Bond Léa Seydoux as muse Loulou de la Falaise.
Bear with us. Cruella may be a slice of Disney; a cut-off from 101 Dalmations with little appeal compared to this list’s other Oscar-worthy heavy hitters, but it’s actually one of the most fun films about an (albeit fictional) fashion house. Hints of caper and lots of crime are woven into the story, and it thrums with a soundtrack of punk rock grunge. Emma Thompson plays ‘the Baroness’ — a renowned-but egotistical haute couture designer who sharpens her shears and goes for our antiheroine.
The Devil Wears Prada, 2006
The essence of this film — itself now fully ensconced in the hall of fashion fame — runs through Cruella above. But, while there are fewer Dalmatians in the adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel, the central villainess is just as nasty. Allegedly based on Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Miranda Priestly — the powerful editor of a magazine where Anne Hathaway’s aspiring journalist lands a job. Watch out for the ‘cerulean sweater’ speech; a perfect potted explanation of the fashion industry.
The September Issue, 2009
Or, if The Devil Wears Prada is one stiletto step too far for you, why not stick on The September Issue instead? Perhaps the finest fashion documentary of the last two decades (also check out the following year’s Bill Cunningham New York) filmmaker R.J. Cutler followed the real Anna Wintour and her staff during the production of the September 2007 issue of Vogue (which clocked in at an impressively hefty 840 pages).
Last year may have seen the Netflix miniseries Halston dramatise the life of the mononymous designer — with Ewan McGregor doing a commendable job in the title role — but the best portrait of the visionary was released in 2019. This documentary, written and directed by Frédéric Tcheng, calls on commentators including Liza Minnelli to chart the downfall of the designer. If you enjoy it, check out Dior and I, Tcheng’s 2014 documentary about fashion designer Raf Simons.
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