I’ve been on a fashion bender lately. During these pandemic times, I find myself craving an escape from the mundane drudgery of the work-from-home, stay-at-home, do-everything-from-home lifestyle. Fashion media–from books, to movies, to YouTube fashion shows–has provided the mental and visual relief I’ve desperately needed during these trying months, and I truly cannot consume enough.
To me, fashion is a captivating art form that uniquely marries humanity with opulence and pulls so much from history while also forecasting what’s next. I have an endless appetite for learning about the quirks and foibles of the big-name fashion icons. I relish tales of the great European fashion houses and the visionaries behind them. I am mesmerized by the ability of fashion designers to innovate in a space with seemingly finite possibilities; after all, the human form is unchanging, yet designers continually conceive new cuts, textures, and silhouettes.
Here is what has kept me afloat of late, ranked in order of most impactful to most fluffy-yet-worthwhile:
André Leon Talley resides at the Center of the Universe of Fashion, in that he’s met (or rather, is close friends with) everyone, has been everywhere, has seen it all, and–thankfully for us–is not afraid to share the dirt. I listened to the Audible version of his memoir, as read by ALT himself. It was an enthralling and rich journey from his childhood in North Carolina, to his early years at Interview Magazine working for Andy Warhol, through his decades at Vogue as a style editor and right-hand man to Anna Wintour, peppered with juicy tidbits about his close friends Yves St. Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Diana Vreeland, Lee Radziwill, and Naomi Campbell, just to name a few. Run don’t walk to this book. Weeks after finishing it, I’m still said it’s over.
- Bill Cunningham New York (2010) (Amazon Prime)
This absolutely charming and often melancholy documentary follows the life of famed bicycle-riding New York Times style photographer, Bill Cunningham, who died in 2016 at 87 and worked until the end. Seeing the fashion world through Cunningham’s eyes as an observer, admirer, and documentarian provides a refreshing counterpoint to ALT’s insider take.
- The First Monday in May (2016) (Amazon Prime)
This documentary provides a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the making of the 2015 Met Gala, chaired by Anna Wintour, and the world-renowned exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass” by Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton.
If at all possible, I highly recommend timing your screening of this film to coincide with reading (or listening to) the final chapters of ALT’s memoir, which touch on this particular Met Gala. ALT and Bill Cunningham even make cameos in this film. I loved witnessing this monumental fashion event from multiple vantage points.
- Project Runway (Seasons 1-19) (2004 – Present) (Hulu)
This long-running hit is a go-to favorite of mine when I’m between shows or need a mindless pick-me-up. The original judging panel comprising Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, and supermodel host Heidi Klum with mentor Tim Gunn has changed over the years, and now features supermodel host Karlie Kloss along with Season 4 Project Runway winner Christian Siriano as mentor, but the structure is consistently the same: designers complete a series of one- or two-day challenges that require them to make garments befitting a certain theme. The fan favorite avante garde and unconventional material challenges are still featured in the rotation.
(I would be remiss in moving any further without proclaiming my absolute love and adoration for Tim Gunn. He is the kindest, loveliest, and most sincere human being that has ever graced the small screen, or possibly even the earth. His presence on this show comforts me as much as his guidance has calmed many panicked contestants over the years.)
- Styling Hollywood (2019) (Netflix)
This one-season gem features Hollywood stylist Jason Bolden and his interior designer husband Adair Curtis, along with the quirky staff of their company, JSN Studio, as they style the red-carpet looks and homes of Hollywood A-listers. Jason and Adair have great banter and schtick, and also allow the audience to get an intimate glimpse into their very personal journey toward fatherhood. It was refreshing to see a Black gay power couple on my television. I laughed, I cried, I ogled beautiful homes and fashion. Fingers crossed there will be another season someday!
- Making the Cut (Amazon Prime) (2020)
Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum took all the best parts of Project Runway, brought in professional seamstresses, and took the show on the road, internationally speaking, to create this delightful new Netflix original. Instead of pitting up-and-coming designers against each other in a glorified sewing competition (à la Project Runway), this show features designers from around the world that are already running successful fashion businesses. Recognizing that, in the real world, fashion designers hire people to construct clothes for them, the show allows the designers to leave instructions for invisible seamstresses who assemble and sew their clothes like magic overnight. The challenges transport the contestants from New York, to Paris, to Tokyo, satisfying my desperate need for armchair travel. In full disclosure, each episode features a few annoying interstitial segments of Heidi and Tim doing silly activities, but thankfully you can fast-forward through those (or use them as an opportunity to replenish your drink).
- Project Runway All-Stars (2012-2019) (Hulu)
Hosted by Alyssa Milano with co-judges Georgina Chapman (ahem, Harvey Weinstein’s ex) and designer Isaac Mizrahi, along with a rotating cast of mentors, this Project Runway offshoot features designers that have previously competed–and, in some cases, won–past seasons of Project Runway. One season featured only the winning designers from past U.S. and international Project Runway seasons. Alyssa is good, but not Heidi. The show lacks some of the luster of the original but once you’ve finished all available seasons of Project Runway, you can look forward to seeing some of your favorite (or most hated) designers again here.
- Fashion Shows
For fashion in its purest form, there is nothing better than a proper fashion show. Go to YouTube and search “Chanel fashion show,” “McQueen fashion show,” “[insert favorite designer’s name] fashion show,” hit enter, and let the results delight your eyes.
Here’s a taste: the Chanel Spring/Summer 2020 show. A fashion feast.
[For a fun aside, read here about how supermodel Gigi Hadid physically removed a runway crasher from this very Chanel show.]
This show–another fashion competition where a bunch of designers compete in challenges, hosted by Tan France of Queer Eye fame and supermodel Alexa Chung–is not great. But it made the cut (pun intended) because sometimes you run out of things to watch when television is the only recreational outlet available to you and this is a perfectly fine option. There are two things about the show that peeved me: 1. It takes place in a warehouse in some undisclosed location, which started to feel claustrophobic after a while. 2. For most challenges, the designers work in pairs. I prefer man-to-man combat. Anyway, it’s last on the list for a reason.
What am I missing? If you’re tuned in to any fashion media that I should know about, please share the wealth! We’re going to be in quarantine for a long time yet…