If you’ve never seen one before, fashion documentaries are truly fun, indulgent, and interesting. Unzipped features the hilarious antics of Isaac Mizrahi; The September Issue shows what it takes to get the largest Vogue issue on the stand; and my personal favorite, Bill Cunningham New York reports the title character’s pioneering photography efforts in fashion.
The Tents came out in 2012, and it tells the story of how New York Fashion Week evolved from an unorganized, and sometimes unsafe, series of unrelated fashion shows, to a well-oiled machine that drives national and international trends and consumerism. It also showcases the nuts and bolts of putting together a fashion show . This is a fairly casual film, without a narrator or clear direction, but it moves at a brisk pace. Industry darlings like Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, and Zac Posen, among others, speak into the camera on various subjects, which alternates with B roll from different fashion shows. A wide range of topics are covered:
- how getting New York designers organized during Fashion Week, and scheduling it one week before the European fashion shows, made American designers into legitimate players on the worldwide fashion scene
- the emotional element of style, how consumers are not buying a product, but a story or an experience
- the journey of a garment from runway to magazine to consumer closet
- the influence of social media
- the selection and training of models
- behind-the-scenes lighting, make-up, and staging
- confirmation that Anna Wintour really is the scariest person in the fashion industry
This is a light, frothy documentary that’s easy to watch and digest. The film shines brightest when featuring the eccentric characters of the fashion industry: heavily make-upped fashion journalists, runway coaches with serious attitude, people who don’t seem to have any job other than showing up every year to Fashion Week and giving the photographers a crazy outfit to snap pictures of. The Tents doesn’t have the emotional pull of other documentaries, and at times it seems unfocused and wandering. You also have to remind yourself that you’re watching people for whom fashion and style are singular obsessions, so of course their perspectives are a tad..skewed. An industry insider talks casually about $3000 dresses being expensive to most people (ya think?), then suggests that $450 is a reasonable price for a garment. Though I’m critical of such frivolity, that same frivolity is what makes these sorts of documentaries fun and engaging.
The Bottom Line: Mildly entertaining, but not a must-see.