You Should be Watching: Charles James

By now I’m sure that everyone in the world has heard about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current costume exhibition Charles James: Beyond Fashion, regardless of whether or not one is familiar with the man or his work. The exhibit has resulted in a second life for Charles James as seen in an enormous amount of press, Zac Posen’s stunning couture Met Gala creations, and even the relaunch of the Charles James brand by Harvey Weinstein, Georgina Chapman and Edward Chapman of Marchesa. For those who are unable to view the show in person, I have compiled a selection of videos featuring exhibition highlights, as well as the architectural angle from which curators Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder approached James’ work.

I have also included a video that revisits the Chicago History Museum’s 2011 exhibit, Charles James: Genius Deconstructed, a groundbreaking show that focused on James’ unique methods of construction through its use of CT scans and touchable muslin models created by the museum.



You Should Be Watching: Fashion Revolution Day

fashion rev

As you may have heard, April 24 marked the one year anniversary of the disaster at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when a factory complex collapsed, killing over 1,000 garment workers and injuring over 2,500. In remembrance of this tragic event, fashion industry leaders as well as interested parties outside the fashion world have dubbed April 24th Fashion Revolution Day, a day for consumers to take a moment and ask themselves “who made my clothes?” This effort is a call-to-action, encouraging people to be more aware of the human impact that clothing manufacturing has on the world and promoting the support of companies that produce clothing in an ethical way.

In honor of the mission behind Fashion Revolution Day, I would like to present two videos that have been created to inform the world about the conditions of garment workers in Bangladesh, and discussing the state of the industry in this country one year after the Rana Plaza disaster.


The Shirt On Your Back is an interactive documentary produced by the Guardian that provides insight into the experience of garment workers who worked in the Rana Plaza factory complex, working conditions, and economic factors that pertain to the manufacture of clothing. The documentary mixes video footage, graphics, and text, and puts a face to garment workers through powerful interviews.


Tears in the Fabric is a recently-released, 30 minute documentary and web platform produced by the organizations Rainbow Collective and Openvizor to raise awareness about the people effected by the Rana Plaza disaster. The film focuses on Razia, and her life following the factory collapse. The project aims to educate consumers on “the human cost of high street fashion.”

Bonus Video: An interview with American Apparel founder and CEO Dov Charney on ethical clothing manufacturing practices and his call-to-action for responsible consumerism.

Bonus Article: “Rana Plaza Factory Collapse Survivors Struggle One Year On”; BBC News tells the stories of four garment workers who were rescued from the collapsed factory, and reports how they are doing one year later.


You Should Be Watching: YAMAMOTO

Yohji Yamamoto – Dress 1983
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Yohji Yamamoto stormed the Parisian fashion scene in the early 1980’s. With the help of other avant-garde Japanese designers, Yamamoto transformed the prevailing European fashion aesthetic. Brightly colored body conscious dresses no longer ruled the runway and were replaced with Yamamoto’s signature monochromatic body enveloping silhouettes. In the two videos below, the reticent designer discusses his fashion philosophy.

Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)
Image: Screen Shot

This artistic documentary from 1989 has been in my Netflix queue for several months now. Directed by Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club-1999), the film explores identity, fashion, and the digitally recorded image. Wenders creatively combines multiple videos on one screen, including interviews with Yohji Yamamoto, casual interactions with the designer, and footage of Yamamoto working in his studio.

Yamamoto thoughtfully discusses his theory on the use of monochromatic color schemes and his predilection for asymmetrical designs.  One of the most interesting portions of the documentary is when Yamamoto is shown cutting patterns directly on a model’s body.

In addition, Yamamoto’s visual resource library is explored. (I have to get my hands on a copy of August Sander’s, Man of the Twentieth Century).

Yohji Yamamoto: Poet in Black

This short 18 minute video was produced in conjunction with the V&A’s 2011 Yohji Yamamoto exhibition.

An excellent complement to Notebook on Cities and Clothes, Poet in Black, features an older more mature and solemn Yamamoto. The designer is seated alone in front of a bookcase, smoking, while he answers a set of simple question. Vibrant runway footage is layered over top of Yamamoto’s candid responses.

Yamamoto discusses his success, his difficulty with menswear, and the future of his designs.

Bonus Video:
In Conversation, About Yohji Yamamoto - Also produced by the V&A for the Yamamoto exhibition. The hour long video features Marc Ascoli, Nick Knight, and Peter Saville in a roundtable discussion about Yohji.

In Addition…Wish List:
This is My Dream: Yohji Yamamoto (2011) – A short 29 minute documentary focused on Yamamoto.

The Challenge of Rei Kawakubo – A 50 minute documentary on the notoriously silent (Yamamoto rival) and most cerebral of the Japanese fashion designers, Rei Kawakubo.

If anyone has access to This is My Dream or a version of The Challenge of Rei Kawakubo with English subtitles, please let us know.


You Should Be Watching: Queer Fashion

Image: The Museum at FIT

The Museum at FIT recently presented A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk. The pioneering exhibition explored the contributions and influence that the lesbian-gay-bisexual–transgender community has had on fashion history.

Accompanying the spectacular show was a great interactive website, a beautiful catalog, and a lively symposium. The website and the catalog are valuable resources and each is still available online.

The two day symposium featured presentations from scholars, fashion designers, artists and collectors. If you missed the symposium, a short video of each presentation has been linked to the Queer Fashion History website. The videos can be accessed under the Symposium tab.

The original thirty minute presentations have been expertly edited, distilling the talks into five minute clips. These concise summaries quickly provide the key points of each presentation.


Edited by Valerie Steele, the exhibition catalog is the perfect supplement to the videos, providing an in-depth examination of many of the topics presented.

In addition:
Check out the Video tab on the Queer Fashion History website for additional Queer History related videos. Don’t miss the interview with curators Fred Dennis and Valerie Steele at the bottom of the page.


You Should Be Watching: GAULTIER

Image: BrooklynMuseum.Org

The exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk has been making the rounds the past few years.

Stints in Montreal, Dallas, San Francisco, and Brooklyn have provided a large collection of video resources related to Gaultier and the exhibition in particular.

With the current Brooklyn Museum iteration in its final few weeks and the London premier fast approaching, a review of available video resources for the “enfant terrible” was in order.

Fashion World Museum Interviews

Both the Brooklyn Museum and The de Young Museum provided programming involving curator led interviews with Jean Paul, each an hour in length with an additional 15 minute question and answer session at the end.

The interviews are very similar in format and content, covering Gaultier’s childhood and family life, exploring his sources of inspiration, and delving into the influence movies have had on his designs.

Viewing both interviews becomes repetitive however it is enjoyable listening to Gaultier talk about his work in such an unpretentious and passionate manner.

The Brooklyn Museum interview moderated by Suzy Menkes is the more concise option of the two interviews, as Menkes is more skilled at keeping the often long-winded Gaultier on topic. In addition, Menkes brings up interesting topics like Gaultier’s costume design work for major movies and his partnership with Hermès.

Fashion Television: Jean Paul Gaultier

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts provides a variety of videos related to their JPG Fashion World exhibition from 2011. The majority of these videos are short behind-the-scenes clips however there is a great 25 minute Fashion Television special episode available through the exhibition video content page.

The glossy Gaultier episode follows the development of the Montreal exhibition while tracing the designer’s career and highlighting common themes from his collections. The video is packed with spectacular runway footage, often featuring models wearing ensembles on view in the exhibition.

We look forward to possible additions to the JPG video resources from the upcoming Barbican exhibition.

 Jean Paul Gaultier in the Movies

In addition to his ready-to-wear and haute couture collections, Gaultier often designs costumes for major motion pictures. Check out some of his dramatic designs in action (It’s movie watching disguised as research).

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)
A visual feast,  featuring Helen Mirren dressed in an array of Gaultier gowns but the waitstaff uniforms are just as spectacular.

City of Lost Children (1995)
This fantasy adventure takes place “in a world haunted by Gaultier”, where the characters are swathed in his classic designs. Ribbed sweaters, horizontal stripes, and sailor pants!

The Fifth Element (1997)
The Gaultier designed movie which received the most commercial success. Here the future is dressed through the hazy lens of the mid-1990′s. These revealing Sci-Fi costumes have gone on to inspire countless college Halloween costumes.


You Should Be Watching: Early 1940′s

After last month’s You Should be Watching on Series, the engaging TED Talk below was brought to our attention.  Over the past few months, I have also been keeping track of a number of valuable video resources available online which explore the transition from 1930′s glamor to 1940′s wartime austerity. Make Do and Mend was the  impetus for this month’s focus on early 1940′s fashion.

Make Do and Mend – TEDxUSU
Image: National Library of Scotland (GII.2005.2.3)

In this 15 minute talk, recently given at Utah State University, Nancy Walker discusses how World War II influenced the fashion industry. Walker covers new wartime styles, the advancement of manufactured and synthetic textiles, and the promotion of mending and reusing clothes. In addition, Walker covers the establishment of government sanctioned fashion restrictions, imposed first in England and later in the United States.

Make Do and Mend is an information packed talk, concisely introducing 1940′s fashion issues, making this video a valuable classroom resource.

1940′s Era Fashion Movies and Newsreels

There are numerous short 1940′s era videos available on YouTube. Simply searching, “1940′s Fashion” will give you hundreds of hits, some more relevant and worthwhile than others. I’ve done the legwork for you and here a few of my favorites.

Fashion Horizons (1940)
Produced by TWA and Paramount Pictures, this 1940 film follows a group of Hollywood starlets on a holiday get away. The 20 minute video is filled with constant costume changes, featuring leisurewear, travel suits, and Santa Fe inspired fashions. Accessories and menswear are also shown. I am particularly fond of the Halliburton luggage plug. I guess product placement isn’t such a new concept.

Aristocrats of Fashion
This campy 10 minute movie is filled with early 1940′s sportswear and evening wear. Produced by the Bamberg Corporation, the movie is actually a long advertisement for the company’s vibrantly patterned and “easy to clean” rayon textiles.
(Spoiler Alert: Charlie and Carol get engaged.)

U.S. News Review
Much more poignant is this series of patriotic World War II newsreels. The 15 minute films provide updates on military endeavors abroad, focus on domestic issues like childcare, and feature industrial influenced wartime styles. In this particular video, Veronica Lake models a practical new hairstyle, appropriate for women working in factories.

Holiday Inn (1942)

Take a break from all of your research and writing this holiday season with a Christmas classic. Holiday Inn is filled with fabulous Edith Head designed 1940′s gowns!


You Should Be Watching: Series

Below is a group of video series featuring insightful talks, one-on-one discussions with fashion designers, and front row views of major runway shows. Easy to digest, yet stimulating and thought-provoking, these concise videos are perfect to watch while on the go or to utilize in a classroom setting.

TED Talks: Fashion & Beauty: Beneath the Skin Deep

Image from

Beneath the Skin Deep, available streaming on Netflix, brings together 11 TED Talks focused on either fashion or beauty.

The speakers and topics vary widely, ranging from Issac Mizrahi’s rantings on fashion to the science of growing alternative textiles and on to  design creativity spurred by the lack copyright protection in the fashion industry.

Obviously the fashion focused talks are more pertinent to the costume historian than the beauty centered talks. However at only fifteen minutes in length, the talks are not a major time investment and I found many of the beauty focused talks equally relevant and thought provoking.

The talks are also available free on and can be found by searching beauty and fashion, filtered for talks.

Recommendation: Johanna Blakely: Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture

Fashion DVD

Image from

As the title states, this is a series of just that, fashion DVDs. The twenty(+) DVDs are available on Netflix and are compilations of well known designer’s runway shows. The shows, dating from around 2004-2005, are grouped into thematic topics such as Paris: Daywear, Milan: Knitwear, or simply Menswear or Haute Couture.

Each DVD is approximately 70 minutes long, void of any commentary, and focused wholly on the runway show. Simple text at the bottom of the screen denotes the designer and music has been added to accentuate the video footage. (The videos are great to play in the background when reading or writing.)

The DVD’s remind me of television shows from the late 1990’s like Full Frontal Fashion or Fashion Trance. It is exciting and a great research and teaching tool to be able to see live fashion shows. However with the immediacy of today’s media, the videos have become quickly outdated. With resources such as and Youtube it is easy to conduct a simple internet search to source up-to-date runway videos.

Recommendation: Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2004-2005

Vogue Voices

Image from

Available at, Vogue Voices is a series of 9 one-on-one interviews with well known fashion designers. Approximately ten minutes in length, the videos are highly informative and easy to watch.

Vogue’s Digital Creative Director Sally Singer conducted the interviews however Singer’s voice was left out of the final edits. The result is a rare and intimate opportunity to hear designers such as Stella McCartney, Alexander Wang, and The Rodarte sisters discuss their personal inspirations, design influences and the development of the fashion industry today.

Including images of particular garments, highlighted by designers during the interviews would have provided a better understanding of the topics being discussed.

Recommendation: Donatella Versace – Who doesn’t enjoy listening to Dontella Versace talk. Plus she is extremely personable and makes some interesting points about nurturing an established fashion house.


You Should Be Watching: The Macabre

For October, I’ve selected a group of slightly sinister documentaries and videos, each focusing on some of fashion’s darker influences. The first two films recount the lives of fashion deviants who produced spectacular garments which at times were also quite disturbing. While the third group of videos focus on a highly influential style that was rooted in rebellion and destruction. As fashion visionary Rei Kawakubo perfectly stated, “For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.”

The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002)
Image from Leigh Bowery Looks: Photographs by Ferguson Greer 1988-1994

The provocative exploits of artist-musician-fashion designer-performer Leigh Bowery are retold in this 2002 documentary. Interviews with family members, discussions with museum curators, and a large amount of archival footage are expertly combined, illustrating Bowery’s humble beginnings in Australia and his meteoric rise to underground avant-garde fashion legend.

Falling outside of the traditional fashion milieu, Bowery’s costumes are dark, glamorous, and inspiring. Bowery did not design with commercial success in mind. Instead, Bowery’s extravagant fashion creations were a true artistic expression.

While many of the works portrayed in the film are very powerful, a deeper understanding of Bowery’s work would have been possible if placed in context with popular fashion, art, and music of the time. In addition, investigation into Bowery’s influence and legacy would have completed the film.

The Legend of Leigh Bowery is available on DVD through Netflix.

McQueen and I (2011)
Image from Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Produced for Channel 4 UK, McQueen and I traces Alexander McQueen’s rapid rise from fashion school student to one of the most influential and eccentric voices in the fashion industry.

McQueen and I explores the tumultuous relationship McQueen had with patron and muse Isabella Blow. Recent interviews with family members, archival footage of Blow and McQueen, and early McQueen fashion shows are seamlessly woven together, telling the dark story of two fashion innovators and the untimely death of both by suicide.

McQueen and I provides a valuable and rare look at the story behind the now fabled fashion designer.  As well as providing an insightful look into the life and influence of Isabella Blow. Stunning video of McQueen fashion shows, including his work at Givenchy and Gucci, are used throughout the film.

McQueen and I is a poignant documentary and a particularly important view for the twentieth century fashion historian.

View the full McQueen and I video on YouTube.

Punk: Chaos to Couture Exhibition Video Resources
Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Did you miss the Punk: Chaos to Couture spectacle this past summer at the Met? Wish you could have visited a second time for a closer investigation? If so, below is a useful collection of audio and video features available online.

 Punk Gallery Views
This is a fast paced visual tour of the exhibition narrated by curator Andrew Bolton. The concise video highlights ensembles and installation details that could have been easily overlooked. Excellent close-up images and gallery views are provided throughout the video and are almost better than when viewing the exhibition with hundreds of other visitors and under dark dramatic lighting.

In addition, the audio feature at the bottom of the page is an excellent supplement to the video. After viewing the video, some of the information is repetitive however Bolton’s narration is easier to follow in the audio component.

Punk Interview for Vogue Italia
A 2o minute behind-the-scenes interview with Bolton, spliced together with images from the catalog and garments as they are prepared for installation. Bolton introduces us to the key concepts in Punk while explaining the ideas behind a number of the exhibition design elements. Bolton is much more personable and conversational in this video, helping to convey his excitement about the subject matter.


You Should Be Watching: The Editorial Eye


This September we focus on a trio of documentaries which introduce us to the dynamic personalities that have controlled the look of glossy fashion magazines for several decades. These films also explore the powerful influence that the fashion editor has on the development of popular styles, fashion photography, fashion designers’ careers and the fashion industry itself. As you will see, a no-nonsense business attitude, a discerning eye, and a larger than life persona are the key to success in the editorial business.

Note: Each film title below is linked to a separate webpage with viewing options.

The September Issue
The film that made Anna Wintour a household name.

The September Issue revolves around the production of Vogue’s monumental 2007 Fall-Fashion issue. Frigid interviews and interactions with Wintour are contrast against the romantic under-dog pining of fashion editor Grace Coddington. It is Ms. Coddington who steals the show.

The film follows Wintour as she weighs in on designers’ new collections and meets with department store executives. While fashion editors are followed, struggling to capture the perfect layout for Wintour.

The guilty pleasure of watching The September Issue (think The Devil Wears Prada) is balanced by rare and insightful glimpses into the inner workings of the fashion industry.

In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye
September Issue: Part Two

This time, HBO’s heartwarming documentary veers away from focusing on editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, focusing instead on the innovative team of fashion editors that have shaped the look of Vogue (and possibly fashion in general) for the last fifty years.

Here editor’s like Grace Coddington, Tonne Goodman, and Polly Mellen shine, when discussing the ideas behind some their most memorable photo shoots. Often these images are immediately recognizable, reminders of important moments in recent fashion history.

Through these introductions we are given an insightful history of Vogue accompanied by an amazing array of archival images. Utilizing Vogue covers, the social factors that influenced the rise of the Supermodel and the return of the celebrity personality are discussed.

In Vogue is a short feel-good yet thought-provoking documentary for fashion historians.


Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Retracing Diana Vreeland’s beginnings from columnist to premier fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, to ushering in the modern era of exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, the life of (or the legend of) the flamboyant fashion editor is celebrated in this glitzy 2012 documentary. Interviews with fashion photographers, models, and fashion designers are interspersed with filmed and recreated dialogue with Vreeland, revealing the highly influential and at times outlandish nature of Vreeland’s life.

For fashion historians, the true value of The Eye Has to Travel lies in the numerous archival fashion photographs and layouts which are used to illustrate the development of Vreeland’s career. In addition, an insightful early history of The Costume Institute is provided towards the end of the film, when Vreeland takes over as a Special Consultant in 1973. Vreeland’s historical accuracy and conservation methods while at the MET are questionable, however they do bring to our attention important topics to consider when exhibiting costume objects.

One to watch: Mademoiselle C
Just out, in limited release, late this month. Mademoiselle C follows Carine Roitfeld, former editor of French Vogue, as she attempts to start a new magazine CR Fashion Book. Check back next month for an update.

Image Credits:
Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour 2010 – Bryan Bedder/Getty Images North America
Diana Vreeland - Interview Magazine Cover- December 1980


You Should Be Watching: Versailles ’73

Over the years, Worn Through has featured numerous fashion related videos and documentaries.

The slew of new documentaries out this summer season reminded us of what a powerful tool video can be when teaching fashion and conducting costume research.

In a similar manner to Worn Through’s You Should Be Reading, we have decided to launch You Should Be Watching. You Should Be Watching will introduce and evaluate new documentaries and videos while also revisiting some past classics that deserve a second investigation. At times, the column will focus on a single film (like the post below). At other times, the column will review a group of related videos or movies.

We hope the content of the new posts will add to your arsenal of fashion resources.

Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution

Versailles ’73 covers a significant topic in American fashion history, which in the past has received little attention.

Image: Charles Tracy from Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced

Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, better known as the Battle of Versailles, was organized to raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles. The event pitted five well-known French design houses (Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy) against five relatively new American fashion designers (Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass, and Anne Klein).

The outcome of the 1973 fashion show established American designers and American sportswear as a powerful force on the global stage, challenging the staid dominance of French haute-couture. The success of the American designers, largely credited to the electrifying presentations by their African American models, ushered in a new era of fashionable beauty.

Image: KAPLAN/SIPA – Oscar de la Renta’s show at the Palace of Versailles

Writer-director Deborah Riley Draper’s upbeat retelling of the events leading up to the fashion show and the event itself, utilize excerpts of  interviews with models, designers, and socialites involved with the show in 1973.

At times, the firsthand accounts can veer towards gossip but they do succeed in providing lively and valuable insight. Commentary by individuals like the Costume Institute’s Harloda Koda and designer Stephen Burrows, add depth to the viewers’ understanding of the social importance of the fashionable event.

The engaging documentary is visually stimulating while elucidating the phenomenal influence that a small group of American sportswear designers and African American models had on the global fashion industry.

Further exploration into the ways in which the industry was altered after the Battle of Versailles would have rounded out the film.

Viewing options available on Itunes, Xbox, YouTube, and Amazon. Click here for more information.

Additional Resources:

SCAD Style 2013 Panel Discussion
Featuring Pat Cleveland, Deborah Riley Draper, Stephen Burrows, and Cameron Silver
Link to SCAD’s YouTube Video Post here.

Tavis Smiley’s interview with writer-director Deborah Riley Draper.
Link to Tavis Smiley video post here.

Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced catalog and exhibition.

In addition, we look forward to Robin Givhan’s 2014 book,  One Night at Versailles: The Fashion Showdown that Changed Everything.

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