The iconic fashion world of the 90s’ was radically different from what we know today. However, certain things have remained the same – the memorable thrill of putting together a new show, exchanging ideas and inspiration, obsessing over apparel fabrics, and the art of creating an eccentric exhibition. Douglas Keeve’s Unzipped manages to capture each of these and more, offering an insider’s view of the fabulous New York designer sphere.
How is a fashion trade made? This simple question spurs on a unique perspective and entire discussion about contemporary art and cinematography, the business of style and the process of creation. A master of haute couture, Isaac Mizrahi is dismayed after reading a recent review of his work and tries to distract himself with anything at his disposal. Gossip is no stranger to him, but certainly not enough to make him feel better. The only thing which makes a dent in his gloomy mood is Wellman’s The Call of The Wild. As he is watching a scene with the flawless Loretta Young lost in the Arctic, he notices her impeccable makeup and majestic fur hat. The classic does not only improve his disposition, but is also the spark that guides him towards his latest creation. Finally, an exhilarating image of fake fur and a gargantuan coat which you can stroll downtown with “wearing absolutely nothing underneath” strikes him. What ensues is a series of sketches, angsty chats with the team, checking fabrics, tailoring and preparing a legendary, brand new fashion show.
Unzipped is a smart, balanced and light-hearted look into the designer world of 90s’ America, not concerned with judging the lifestyle but also refrained from romanticizing it. From the initial insight and vision to the pragmatic process of producing new trends, the documentary takes the viewer on a spunky fashion adventure and showcases the nitty-gritty of developing a fresh line of clothing. The film is photographer Keeve’s feature debut and offers a fidgety, almost manic account of a successful fashion event. In addition, the viewer also receives access into exclusive backstage footage that tastefully captures the hard work and raw emotion which go into an outstanding, well-executed catwalk.
What is interesting is that Unzipped displays the enchantment and prestige of the fashion world but simultaneously demystifies the artificial glam surrounding it – this is evident in the scene where a torn Mizrahi deconstructs Young’s unblemished on-screen presence, while at the same time using her breathtaking look as inspiration. Keeve doubles this disorganized passion by piecing his film together with strings of unrelated sequences that encapsulate the anxiety, rage, sadness and pride of a creative mind. Somehow, stunning models such as Kate Moss or Cindy Crawford pale in comparison when sitting next to the crude, but vulnerable Mizrahi. His conversations are polarizing, drawing the viewer in closer into his safe haven of concoction. The film’s candour easily brushes off any unreal expectations one might have of working in the fashion industry, and discloses it as a business like any other.
The most touching moment is not the jittery, triumphal fashion show, but the scene prior to it when one of Mizrahi’s team members shows him a magazine highlighting Jean Paul Gautier’s new clothing line, Eskimo Chic. Appalled by how similar their ideas are, the viewer can clearly see Mizrahi wants to be unique and validated as an unparalleled designer. This seeming defeat is not easy for him to swallow, but he goes on with his show and production either way. Because he has a vision which needs to be materialized.
Douglas Keeve’s romantic affair with Isaac does not translate to the screen. However, there is an intimate, affectionate feel which pervades through the entire documentary. Although Unzipped lacks any clear-cut structure, it certainly builds up tension better than a splendid suspense thriller. The fashion show does not disappoint, but the film’s strong suits are its tidbits of confidential interactions, nervous outbursts and genuine ferment preceding the grand finale of an exquisite event. Alas, Mizrahi receives his long-awaited, flattering review – and reads it in the warm company of his viewers who cannot help but sketch a smile at his success.