We ranked the Vogue documentaries, darling
It’s not September yet, but this weekend, we’ve got Vogue on the brain.
Kate Novack’s new documentary The Gospel According to André, an account of the wonderfully stylish life and career of former Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, hit theaters Friday. With the release of new film, we’ve revisited the others that have examined what goes on behind closed doors at the storied fashion publication.
6. Mademoiselle C. (2013)
The onetime editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld, is the subject of Fabien Constant’s documentary, which follows Roitfeld after she left the magazine and launched her own publication, CR Fashion Book. Amid a collection of docs that at least attempt to show the value of fashion beyond the commercial, Mademoiselle C mostly just celebrates its leading lady, who doesn’t go much deeper than “even if fashion is very important, it can’t be more so than the person.” The film is worth checking out, though, if you’re looking for some major Karl Lagerfeld moments or can’t get enough of the sexy-punk Parisian aesthetic that was practically invented by this mademoiselle, who celebrates a look she calls “bourgeois slut” and corrects her own fashion legacy with the clarification: “You say porno chic, I say erotica chic.” Mon dieu!
5. The September Issue (2009)
R.J. Cutler’s The September Issue, which takes viewers behind the scenes of the production of the eponymous edition of the mag in 2007, doesn’t get too philosophical about the meaning or value of the work Vogue does — but it sure is pretty. The real star here isn’t editor-in-chief Anna Wintour or creative director Grace Coddington so much as it’s their functional but occasionally fraught working relationship. It doesn’t go too deep, but both women are brilliant, and their clashing perspectives make them a fascinating pair. “I got left behind because I’m still a romantic,” Coddington sighs. “You have to go charging ahead; you can’t stay behind.” Wintour offers: “Fashion’s not about looking back. It’s always about looking forward.” Somewhere in the middle, they do produce a gorgeous September book.
4. The First Monday in May (2016)
Just as The September Issue documents the making of a magazine, Andrew Rossi’s The First Monday in May chronicles the preparations for the other biggest Vogue production of the year: The Met Gala. “The Met Ball is the Super Bowl of social fashion events,” André Leon Talley concisely explains. The quarterback is Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute curator in charge of putting together 2015’s “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit while Wintour and her team plan the event (with cutthroat attention to the guest list). It’s a little more erudite than the comparable September Issue, and makes a bit more of an argument as to why its subject is important. Bolton and Wintour have a lot to prove, as well as a record to break; the shadow of Bolton’s wildly popular Alexander McQueen exhibit, “Savage Beauty,” hangs over him throughout. It’s fashion anxiety to the highest degree, until one moment that reminds us, with startling clarity, of the power and magic that clothing can have: Yes, we’re talking about Rihanna.
3. The Gospel According to André (2018)
“Fashion is fleeting. Style remains,” André Leon Talley says early in Kate Novack’s documentary, which traces Talley’s stylish life from his childhood in the Jim Crow South — where he first learned elegance from the ladies at his grandmother’s church — all the way to the present. He worked for Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol, and Anna Wintour, but as much as his career has been fabulously dazzling, it’s all the more exceptional because of what an unlikely figure he is in the fashion sphere. The Gospel According to André fascinates with the story of Talley’s life and its consideration of him as a fixture in that world, but it sizzles because the subject himself is such a wild, vivid original. Fashion is religion, fashion is drugs, fashion is food, fashion is water — “You have to hydrate yourself with beauty and luxury and style,” he says at one point. If it’s according to André, it must be true.
2. Franca: Chaos and Creation (2016)
“I didn’t want to go through this life with a little white dress for my baptism and a tombstone with a date and end it there. So at one point, I decided to show what I was capable of,” says Franca Sozzani, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, in Franca: Chaos and Creation. Sozzani’s son Francesco Carrozzini made the documentary soon before his mother fell ill and died in 2016; he explains in the doc that he never knew his father as well as he wanted before losing him, so he turned the camera onto his mother to ask her everything about her life. While it doesn’t exactly make for journalistic objectivity, the family approach offers a much more personal portrait of the provocative, legendary editor, who reflects, for her son’s camera, on love, legacy, faith, and failure as much as on clothes. “The beautiful thing is, you make a magazine, and the day after it comes out, it’s already old,” she tells him. “It stimulates you to do something new.”
1. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)
Appropriately, the woman responsible — if you look back far enough — for all of the above comes out at the top of the list. The 2011 doc Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel chronicles the life and legacy of the iconic Vogue editor and Costume Institute consultant, who grew up in Belle Époque Paris, brought the (scandalous!) bikini to the United States in Harper’s Bazaar, and celebrated singular beauty on the pages of Vogue, where she launched the faces of Lauren Bacall, Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Anjelica Huston. Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, and Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary incorporates a great deal of audio and video footage of Vreeland herself, as well as interviews with photographers, models, and editors who speak to her enduring, wide-ranging influence, giving a comprehensive and utterly absorbing look into her extraordinary career. “Style is everything,” she says, in her definitive way, in one clip. “It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody.” Lucky for all of us, she had it.