Tag Archives: fashion documentary

Sole Man

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams

by George Wolf

Have you ever seen a high-end shoe being assembled?

Director Luca Guadagnino makes it an oddly transfixing experience in the opening moments of Salvatore, Shoemaker of Dreams. We watch the construction silently, priming us for Salvatore Farragamo’s proud admission.

“I love feet, they talk to me.”

Guadagnino (Bones and All, Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria) may not have much audio or video of the celebrated shoemaker to help tell his story, but what he has is used wisely. Hearing from the actual Salvatore provides the needed personal insight to support the remembrances from family and friends, still photos, and narration from Michael Stuhlbarg.

And even if don’t share Salvatore’s skill as a foot whisperer, his is a truly compelling story of determination, celebrity and arch support.

Salvatore opened his first shop in his native Italy at the age of 12. He came to the U.S. as a teenager in 1915, settled in Santa Barbara, California and soon was outfitting the most famous feet in silent films. When the film business moved to Hollywood, so did Salvatore, also finding time to study anatomy at USC so he might understand how shoes could be made more comfortable.

“Fashion with comfort, that’s what I give.”

He applied for thousands of patents, got rich, went bankrupt and got rich again, forever changing society’s expectations of footwear style and comfort in the process.

Guadagnino’s inclusion of Martin Scorsese in the interview parade only underscores how Salvatore’s journey unveils like a classic American drama. It becomes a sprawling family legacy built on immigration, dreams and a solemn vow to never give up.

Shoemaker of Dreams is a fitting tribute to the fascinating life of a man ahead of his time. And while the focus on the earlier part of Salvatore’s story is more inherently interesting, Guadagnino crafts a sweet warmth for the film’s final act, complete with a surprise chef’s kiss.

The closing moments find Guadagnino collaborating with stop-motion animator Pes for a mesmerizing “shoe ballet” that sits perfectly poles apart from the no-frills intro.

These dancing shoes rival the synchronized shopping in White Noise for can’t-look-away sequence of the year, so keep your own feet right where they and don’t miss it.

An Eye for Style

The Times of Bill Cunningham

by Brandon Thomas

In 1994, rookie producer Mark Bozek sat down with New York Times fashion and street photographer, Bill Cunningham. The casual chat about an award Cunningham was receiving was supposed to only be a quick 10-minute in and out.

The interview didn’t end until the tape in Bozek’s camera ran out.

Twenty-five years after conducting this interview, Bozek makes his feature documentary debut with The Times of Bill Cunningham. Less a look or critique of the New York fashion scene, Bozek’s interest is sharply focused on the unassuming Cunningham. 

Bozek uses the ample footage at his disposal to let Cunningham share his thoughts and insights about his life and career. Cunningham’s almost child-like zeal for his work comes across as both disarming and curious all at once. From his beyond-modest “apartment” in the old Carnegie Hall Studios building, to his uniquely un-chic wardrobe consisting mainly of hand-me-downs, Cunningham wasn’t your typical New York fashion figure. 

As the layers peel back more and more, Bezok is able to capture and celebrate Cunningham’s genuine kindness — whether that be his enthusiasm for catching people “as they are” on the street, or the financial support he showed a friend who was fighting a losing battle with the AIDS virus. 

Peppered throughout the film are many of Cunningham’s photos. The juxtaposition of these wonderful photographs with his animated interview makes for an appreciative experience. Many of these photos were splashed across Cunningham’s weekly spread in the New York Times. A few gems, however, were never published during Cunningham’s storied career. 

Sparse narration by Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) provides needed connective tissue and context. It’s one thing to take Cunningham’s word for it, but highlighting his accomplishments in the broader fashion world is a poignant statement on how important he was to the fashion industry and to New York City itself. 

Documentaries focused on one individual aren’t new. Specific filmmakers, politicians, and athletes have all received this treatment. What’s so different, and enthralling about The Times of Bill Cunningham is how much Cunningham gets to speak for himself. It’s an honest, unfiltered look at a man that did what he loved — and did it well. 

God Save McQueen


by Rachel Willis

The life of iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen is the subject of director Ian Bonhôte’s documentary, McQueen. With writer and co-director Peter Ettedgui, Bonhôte creates a richly artistic dive into the controversial designer’s life and art.

Dividing his portrait into sections, Bonhôte uses home videos, archival footage, interviews with family and friends, and scenes from the catwalk to highlight McQueen’s unique—and oftentimes controversial—work.

As Bonhôte highlights with sensitivity and warmth throughout the film, fashion is an expression of McQueen’s experiences. It’s clear McQueen puts his feelings into his designs, and his collections become deeply personal. “I would go to the far reaches of my dark side and pull these horrors out of my soul and put them on the catwalk,” he says of his art.

The fondness with which people speak of McQueen in the documentary’s many interviews offers a picture of someone who made an impact beyond his creative output. His friends, many of whom were part of his design team, speak of the dedication and drive behind his designs. There is a love for McQueen that shines throughout the film.

However, the darkness in McQueen, at first kept to the catwalk, begins to come through in his personal life. As his success grows, the energy behind his work grows darker. Some of his long-time collaborators end their working relationship with him, something he takes personally. For McQueen, there was no such thing as a work-life balance.

It’s clear through the course of the film that the world of haute couture is a stressful one, and no one seemed to take on more than McQueen. In an interview, he mentions assembling 14 collections a year. It’s a staggering number given how much time, energy, and effort must go into each piece of clothing, not to mention the hair, makeup, and set design that made up McQueen’s unique and stunning exhibitions. What’s unclear is if McQueen’s inner turmoil drove him to work nonstop or if it was the work that fueled his inner chaos.

Bonhôte and Ettedgui produce a mesmerizing narrative. From McQueen’s early apprenticeships with tailors to his meteoric rise as one of the most sought-after designers, the filmmakers cultivate an interest in a subject that many may be unfamiliar with. They highlight the art in fashion design, utilizing footage from many of McQueen’s collections to show this artistry.

Coupling the fashion world and McQueen’s creativity with a captivating score, the documentary pulls the viewer in from the first moment and never lets go. It’s a fascinating, compassionate portrait of an imaginative genius.