As its title should suggest, Unzipped provides a much more revealing portrait of the fashion world than Robert Altman’s disappointing Prêt-à-Porter. This lively and amusing documentary about renowned fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi chronicles the evolution of one of his 1994 New York shows. Taking us from some of the artist’s surprising inspirations (which include such diverse cultural touchstones as Nanook of the North, Loretta Young in Call of the Wild, and TV’s Mary Richards) through to the final product of a spectacularly successful event, director Douglas Keeve cleverly avoids over-analysing the cut-and-sew aspects of fashion. Instead the film concentrates on the engaging designer and his disarming views (Mizrahi on fashion: ‘It’s about women not wanting to look like cows’).
Among the highlights are an outrageously camp rendition of the theme song from the Mary Tyler Moore Show , an impersonation of Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (both helpfully augmented by video clips of the originals), and an overwhelming meeting with a larger-than-life Eartha Kitt. Mizrahi’s relationships with woman are in fact central to the film. His mother describes how the young Isaac would choose outfits for her and soon began designing clothes for her friends. In Mizrahi’s friendly company, the models come across as being very amiable and accommodating. So much so, in fact, that many of them agree to change outfits at the fashion show in full view of the audience. But despite the presence of Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell (‘she always has a new engagement ring’) and other super-models, Mizrahi remains the centre of attention and steals the show. He emerges as a fascinating and sympathetic character with a sharp wit and an uncanny ability to create hilarity even during the tensions and frustrations of organising a large event.
Aided by some inventive cinematography by Ellen Kuras (Swoon, Postcards From America), Keeve’s film is a dynamic and entertaining portrait of the fashion world and a gem to add to the recent slew of impressive documentaries.