Unzipped (1994)

The journey starts with a depressed fashion designer whose last show did not go over well but he is plunging forward with the next one. Judging from the cover and synopsis of Unzipped, it might be a film only suited to high fashion aficionados. Fashion and modeling no doubt attract a small devout following but do not seem to have such a general appeal. The film worked very well, however, in that the subject was engaging and interesting and the clothing was a motivating undercurrent. One of the main reasons the way Mizrahi is shown works is because he is not exactly what is expected. We have a stereotypical image of a male fashion designer and he would fit the mold perfectly but only at first. As the film progresses, we see him as a dedicated artist and not as a prissy prima donna. Despite the effeminate mannerisms and frilly surroundings, it becomes clear that this is hard work and he has a very difficult job to do. This realization generates an amount of respect for him because he doesn’t cry or break down and bemoan the circumstances. He works through problems that would drive me to violence and that is quite admirable.

            While some of the shakier handheld segments cry out for Dramamine, the film has a lot of interesting and innovative techniques. One technique that works well was the idea of the character narrating his actions. Having a voice over while we watch Mizrahi silently go about his designing works much better than watching and hearing him talk at the same time.  It is also very amusing to see how the models give the camera a dirty look when it is turned on them.

Some of the more interesting scenes and the ones that make Mizrahi genuinely likeable are the intimate ones that only came about because of the closeness between the director and Mizrahi. Scenes like dinner in a small Paris café give us a much more personal connection. One scene where he is sitting in bed watching Nanook is emblematic of how he was portrayed overall. He hasn’t gotten out of bed but seems perfectly comfortable there, smoking and taking notes on the hundred year old documentary Nanook of the North. That film eventually inspired the guiding design principle behind the show.

            This documentary tackles a subject that usually appeals to a very specific audience and makes it accessible for a more general audience.  The style of visual storytelling is certainly a large factor in making the film compelling but the real success comes in the character development. We see a disparate designer the day after a failed show and after going through thousands of cigarettes and fabric swatches, he emerges triumphant with a new, unique style and a successful show as well.






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